Sunday, 30 October 2016

What does Future hold for the Training/ Learning and Development Function in India?.

Attending a professional evening meeting on the subject "The Challenges of  workforce training & Development- Are there any Lessons India can learn?" is reward and motivation  enough for any Training/ HR professional to mark his or her presence. The additional bonuses for me  on 26th October, when I attended the program of the Indian Society for Training and Development (ISTD), Bangalore Chapter, was the opportunity to witness two historic events - namely release of the first E newsletter and unveiling of  the Logo of  of one of the oldest chapters of the society in the country.

The auspicious event started with the lighting of the lamp. On the dais were the speaker of the day, Dr Moorthy Uppiluri, CEO,Randstad India, Prof J.Philip, President of XIME ,Ms Meera Venkat, Chairperson of ISTD, Bangalore Chapter, Mr Atul Sharma, Southern regional council member, ISTD and Mr Renukeshwar,CPM, Bangalore Metro transport corporation in whose premises the event was held. The honours of releasing the E newsletter and unveiling the Logo were done by Dr Moorthy and Prof Philips respectively which was followed by the discussion on the topic of the day.- "The Challenges of  workforce training & Development- Are there any Lessons India can learn?"

Right at  the beginning of his talk the speaker Dr Moorthy called attention to the changing scenario and  approach to learning. He predicted that in future there would be less of class room learning and that  the focus would shift to E learning and webinar modes, He opined that this would be more so as there is an attention deficit in today's Gen Y students who would prefer learning at their pace through online courses. The learning courses of top universities are now available through Coursera and other online sites.According to Dr Moorthy  instead of a general syllabus, the future would see students learning in a manner that meets their unique needs. Student  gets to choose his professors and decide the  basket of subjects he would like to learn.

The speaker underscored the importance of customization in the modern times which is likely to become even more in the days to come. He gave the the example of the Starbucks coffee. Customer  who pays Rs 15/ for a cup of coffee is prepared to pay Rs 100/ for Starbucks because of the customization and value creation. He is open to differentiated pricing if he gets to decide whether the milk used is non fat or otherwise, sugar free or the exact number of sugar cubes he likes.  With regard to education however, Dr Moorthy felt that in India, the ability to consume the content is a challenge for the students and this would actually become opportunities for ISTD and other such forums to prepare them for digesting such content .

Dr Moorthy then discussed the problem of skill gap between the expectations of the employers and the actual skill sets of students who pass out from colleges. The corporates find that they are required to spend a lot of time and effort to orient freshers from campuses  to the real work place. At the same time the students are equally frustrated to realize that after having acquired professional degrees, they are still not held competent to have a go at the job straight away. The speaker felt that something needs to be done immediately to address this problem. He suggested that industries adopt community colleges in their area. This would enable them to provide inputs as to the actual requirements of the industry and the students can also be given opportunities to visit and see for themselves how work happens in real time. This would be a Win- Win proposition as students / interns are assured of  ready employment and the employer can look forward to better retention.

My own experience and observation  on the level of appreciation and co operation between industries and educational institutions can at best be termed  as 'dismal'. Educational institutions do not make the effort to find out from customers as to what their 'real needs' are, when drawing up the syllabus nor do they have a  mechanism for continuing interaction with the industry. Professionals are hardly ever  invited to share live experiences with students nor are people with industrial experience preferred as faculty. The stand taken by educationalists is that those from industry do not have a PhD degree and therefore do not 'create knowledge', little appreciating the fact that a few from such a background would give a more realistic and holistic touch to the  knowledge, skill and attitude imparted.

Similarly, executives working in industries  feel that they are 'too busy' to spend time with students who have come to do projects with them. The exercise is seen more as a favour supporting the students in the part fulfillment requirement of their course. The students are not seen as future employees who need to be equipped with practical aspects so that they can contribute effectively on the job later on . Interestingly,  in view of being too busy some line managers decline requests to be members of the campus selection team. Yet, they later complain about the inadequate  competencies of those recruited. I have discussed this  irony in a poem titled "Interview". ( ). Adopting of community colleges by industries, as  suggesed  by the speaker could be a step in the right direction. Yet what is basic and most important is that educational institutions and industries see mutual benefit in promoting closer ties and interaction with each other.

Dr Moorthy stated that work as we know it is likely to change in dramatic ways. The jobs in the market place may not exist in the same way. All repetitive jobs may be  assigned to robots and people would not be  going to designated places to work but work would  come to where they are stationed. Known opportunities could disappear with many new unknown ones emerging. Lot of horizontal movement could  happen with production guys moving into service and those in service getting into production. In such a scenario opportunities would open up for training establishments.   

The speaker next turned to the subject of managers being outdated in their approach( two or three generations behind according to him). Today, they are required to deal with a generation of employees who have a mind of their own and may not be enthused to work merely on instructions being given to them. 'Standardization', while dealing with employees is no longer valid. Each person has to be dealt with as individuals. To highlight the fact that the present generation is different, he gave the example of his own son who in spite of having  option to work for branded companies  prefers to work for start ups. It is cutting edge and innovation than the Gen Y seeks over stability. Under the circumstances managers require training to unlearn and relearn management approaches to cope with the new scenario. This  is a challenge as there would be resistance in view of the fact they have become successful thus far with existing skill sets.

Training/ Learning and development needs to shift focus to customization and branding. It would not do to offer your standard training package for everyone. Customization for specific teams and individuals would be the key. As a lot of relearning is involved, reskilling 45 million people working  in the organized sector in India  is a big opportunity for the training organizations/ service providers. Dr Moorthy cited the example of the Apple smart phone to draw attention to the importance of branding. people are prepared to pay Rs 60 to 70 thousand every three months to get hold of the higher version simply because of the brand name.

The speaker said that Learning and Development needs to be flexible like trapeze artists in the circus  to contribute to a  work scenario in which the  way people learn are changing drastically. This would mean not only using more of E learning platforms like Coursera and planet Ganges but coming out with more local solutions, relevant to the country. As of now Indians have been very good in adapting Western solutions effectively; more of customized solutions addressing local needs is the need of the hour. He gave the example of Alibaba in China, a home grown initiative that has given global companies like Amazon a run for their money.

Elaborating further, Dr Moorthy stated that indigenisation  and changing  the outlook of people towards innovation (as against just execution), is what will make an  economic impact.Innovative ideas, would enable  access to a wide range of solutions for the same problem. The learning & Development function can contribute to developing learning platforms and help corporates move from knowledge retention to  knowledge creation . Rules of learning has changed and this needs to be highlighted. In the classrooms students giving a wrong answer or asking a 'silly'question is no longer punished. similarly in the industries, a climate where mistakes can be made without fear of punishment needs to be created, This would facilitate innovation. The speaker pointed out that those playing video games today do not give up on losing.They are motivated to treat it as a challenge and  try again and again until they win.

Dr Moorthy concluded his thought provoking and engaging discussion with the following observation. The challenges and priorities of work force training would no longer be limited to enhancing skill sets but would  also include  aspects of cultural fit and style fit to the organization.

After the talk by Dr Moorthy, prof Philip briefly shared his own thoughts on the subject. He said that in a university education students get inputs on three areas namely knowing, doing and being. While online courses can satisfy the requirements in respect of knowing, they would fall short in the areas of doing and being. These days students engage in a number of activities other than academic to develop their personality. Prof  Philip said that Harvard University  after 100 years of its existence had undertaken a study on this subject and came to the above  conclusion .

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, attending this program was for me a very memorable and rewarding experience. Apart from listening to the speakers I got to exchange notes with members including  Mr Prakhar, who was honoured on the occasion as  the architect of the E News letter. After moving from Chennai to Bangalore, this was the first meeting of ISTD  that I was attending . While  In Chennai I had the privilege and  pleasure of speaking to  ISTD  members on the subject "Palace of Possibilities",participation in Bangalore had somehow eluded me. When I finally did, it was like a triple blast before the Deepavali festival !

Note: Deepavali is a festival of lights celebrated in India and fireworks are an important part of the celebration. Dhamaka is the sound or blast that emanates from the fire cracker.     

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Leadership in Action

This article written by me in 2001, was published in the Deccan Herald, a leading newspaper from Bangalore. Please give allowance for the time gap in case readers experience  flavour of an earlier period...

Leadership is a matter of priority and concern for everyone, be it top management schools, corporates or training organizations. It attracts full  attention of reputed institutions like ASCI and IIM as also individual consultants.It is professed with vigour by senior  corporate executives from  public platforms or while  addressing employees. There are no two opinions that leadership is a key single factor that influences effectiveness of organizations.

Yet, the fact remains that in reality little of what is vociferously advocated is translated into demonstrative behaviour in day to day aspects of work. You often hear complaints of leaders (bosses) who prefer to pass the buck, are unwilling to own  responsibility or stand by their juniors when things go wrong and are unwilling to take the initiative to develop those reporting to  them. According to Mr Jimmy Walker, "Indecision is fatal. I would rather make a wrong decision, many of them than build up a habit of indecision.I have known men who build successful careers in spite of many wrong decisions; but never one built on indecision."

Yet we come across many individuals  in leadership positions who more often than not opt for the easier alternative of indecision.Leadership in the real sense is "leadership in action."It is not what we say but what we do that constitutes real leadership.In a career span of many years, employees seldom come across many "real leaders". But the few such leaders, who can be counted on the fingers, could make an everlasting impact on their lives.

During the early part of my career I was working at Bhadigund Limestone mines of  Visvesvaraya Iron and Steel Ltd ( VISL)  as welfare officer, in charge of all personnel and welfare matters at the mine . All of us officers reported to the Mines manager who was the head of the project. He was known for his clarity of thought and clear instructions.From the headquarters at Bhadravathi, the monitoring was done by the Deputy General Manager (Mines), through frequent telephone calls and occasional visits.He was known to lambast officers over the telephone and had a vicarious pleasure in fault finding.

Once, during one of his visits, while we were seated in the Mine's manager's office, the DGM, started attacking me for some action taken by me. Immediately, my boss the Mines manager intervened and said "Sir, he has only carried out my instructions. The mistake is mine.I assure you it will not happen again." Thus, very early in my career I had learnt an important lesson that of "owning responsibility." The DGM who felt powerless before such an officer was heard to lament "What do you do with such a guy? He immediately accepts the lapse and assures that it will not happen again."

It was the year 1989, the year VISL was taken over by SAIL. During the initial stages of the take over, the full SAIL team of the chairman and directors were to visit VISL for the first time. While elaborate arrangements were being made on all fronts, the chief (P&A) picked me to play the role of what he called "Officer in waiting" to the Director (Personnel), according to which I was to accompany the director to all the places he goes during the visit, answer all his queries and be available to make things easy for him in a new environment.Although I did not consider myself cut out for such an assignment, I immediately agreed since this was the first major responsibility that the new chief had assigned. "Follow him like a shadow and be available at arms length" he instructed. Being an important responsibility, I was keen to literally follow the instructions of the leader.

On the evening of the arrival of the Director, Chief (P&A) introduced me briefly and I was asked to report sharply at 8 AM to the guest house the next day. However, when I arrived at 8 AM. I found to my dismay that the chairman and directors had already moved to the dining hall and were seated at the table for breakfast. Since I was to be the shadow of the Director (Personnel), it was important that I also finish my breakfast on time. I therefore went to the corner of the table and sat down uncomfortably. From the strange looks I received from those seated at the table, I felt something was amiss. While there seemed to be annoyance with a trace of anger on the face of the executive director and CEO of our VISL plant,the face of the Director ( Corporate Planning) registered amusement. Around this time my leader, the Chief (P&A) entered the room, looked at me for a moment and hastily went away.

I soon forgot the incident and got fully involved in the activities of the day. I enjoyed myself thoroughly as I accompanied the director and  participated in all the activities that included plant visits, meeting with union leaders, meeting with personnel executives and an evening function organized by the Officers'association. I surprised my colleagues and myself with the energy and enthusiasm in my participation and involvement. Many came and commented on it days afterwards.At night a cross section of the officers was invited to dinner with the top Management team of SAIL.

Towards the end of the dinner, my leader gently took me aside and reminded that in the morning during breakfast, I had sat at the same table with directors."They discuss their personal matters during such interaction"he said.The enormity of the faux pas hit me only then.I felt deep regret at the amount of embarrassment I had caused him.I told him how I was totally new to the role and "had to learn things the hard way."

As I was returning home after a tight, incident packed, exciting day, a flood of emotions passed through me.I was overwhelmed by the gesture of my leader.He had chosen to wait and give the feedback at the end of the day. Had he done it at 10 AM instead of at 10 PM and in a harsh manner, my whole day would have been ruined and I would have gone through the motions as a zombie or robot. Once again, I had witnessed demonstrative leadership worthy of learning and emulation.

Much later in my career, I came across another leader who in spite of reaching the level of  Director (HR), in terms of status, did not allow that to come in the way of always treating junior colleagues with respect. He gave a lot of priority and importance  to learning and personally  accompanied our training team for selecting suitable management books for the library maintained by the department.. A lesser person would have held the activity too trivial to demand the attention and priority of a director. This leader belonged to a class of a rare few whose primary focus and interest was in "doing something"rather than "being something" ( Title/ Designation)

Leadership is a key factor that contributes to the effectiveness of organizations. But it will have to be taken out of the text books and from speeches in seminars and applied in day to day situations. Leadership in real terms is "Leadership in action."

Sunday, 2 October 2016

A Celebration With a Difference

When the Dean of ISBR (Indian School of Business & Research), Electronics city Bangalore, Dr C. Manohar invited me to their 26th Foundation day celebrations, I readily accepted. It is always a pleasure to be in the midst of those engaged in learning. You get to listen to some eminent speakers and pick up some insights,  here and there. The invitation had indicated that there would be some felicitation of teachers as part of the celebrations. However, what happened live during the function was way beyond expectations and took my breath away. The chief guest of the function was the minister of Higher education, government of Karnataka, Mr Basavaraj Rayareddy.

 In his address the minister said that he was happy to be part of the foundation day celebrations of a reputed business school. He reminded the audience that economics and management education is not new to India and that  we have imparted, Kautilya’s Arthasasthra ( Science of wealth) in the ancient university of Thakshasila, to students from all over the world,
The striking feature of the function  was that the Gurus or teachers who were honoured were not only from ISBR or from the discipline of management alone, but  included personalities from other institutions; from all walks of life and from all regions of the State of Karnataka. The awards were wide ranging and touched all aspects of education right from founding/ fostering of education to its administration and actual roll out on the field. The award categories included Edu Poshaka, Edu Ratna, Sarthaka Jeevana award, institutional award, Motivational Guru, Acharya Purusha award, Teacher Extraordinaire, Uthkrushta Pradhyapaka and best teacher awards.

Some of the awardees were Shri K.C.Ramamurthy , President CMR Group and MP Rajya Sabha, Dr Vishweswar Bhat, Founder editor Vishwavani, Shri Premraj Jain, Adarsh Group of institutions, Dr Abdul Qadeer, Founder secretary Shaheen Group of institutions Bidar, Mr Balachandran Natarajan President of NHRD Bangalore Chapter,  Mridanga Vidwan Shri C, Cheluvaraj, Dr Anantharaman Professor ISBR, Dr MIM. Nehruzi , Chairman Gems Business school, Dr Sr Elizabeth C. S, principal Jyothi Nivas college, Dr B.G. Sathyaprasad ,Director, GT Institute of management, Dr T.V.Raju of RV Institute of Management , Dr RavindranathNayak, Director school of Business, Manipal university  Prof  V. Sashikala Principal,  RJS Institute of management, Dr K. Gupta, founder, KSG Centre for L&D, Prof ShivrajGoudapanour, Karnataka college Bidar, Mrs Ratna Cheramma  Coorg School, prof Sharmila Mallick Chouddhuri, Royal Concorde international school.

It was heartening to see a galaxy of talent in the field of education on one stage representing various age groups,stages of teaching (Professional,  degree, undergraduate and schools), and urban- rural areas. So much so a Mridangam vidwan (teacher of music) rubbed shoulders with teachers of management and those teaching in schools. They represented various geographical areas of the state-  Bangalore, Bidar. Manipal , Coorg and Mysore. The glow and excitement on the faces of the awardees was for all to see! This was certainly a wonderful and novel way to celebrate the foundation day.

The speeches, were apt and befitting the occasion. The address by Dr Vishweswar Bhat, Founder editor Vishwavani, while humourous and entertaining, underscored the importance of monitoring the quality of higher education in the state. He complemented the minister Mr Basavaraj Rayareddy for speaking out strongly on the performance of vice chancellors. He hoped that this will be followed by some tough action on the ground for enhancing the quality of higher education in the state.
In fact, all the speakers who spoke opined that the appointment of Mr Rayareddy is the best thing that could have happened to Karnataka. They felt that he had a progressive outlook and that they expect a lot to be achieved during his tenure.

 While many may consider it normal to praise the chief guest, it was obvious to anyone in the audience that Mr Rayareddy was clearly different from the general crop of VIPs or politicians. Normally, the chief guest of a function in our country tends to leave soon after giving his speech. It was refreshing to see the presence of  the minister right from the beginning till the end of the function. He participated enthusiastically in the process of honouring the awardees.

The young and dynamic MD of ISBR Mr Manish Kothari, in a presentation shared the following top 10 rules for success articulated by Jack Ma, the founder of  the Chinese E commerce company,Alibaba.  
  1. Get used to rejection
  2.  Keep your dreams alive
  3. Focus on culture
  4. Ignore the jibe “Little man!”
  5. Get inspired
  6. Stay focused
  7. Have a good name
  8. Customers are # 1
  9. Don’t complain. Look for opportunities
  10. Have a passion
  11. (  ) .This presentation by Mr Kothari was like the icing on the cake - of a unique, well organized function.

 As I  thanked and took leave of  the dean Dr C Manohar; I had the satisfaction of having  enjoyed every moment spent at the campus, right from the warm traditional welcome at the entrance, to the unique and lively function and a sumptuous quality lunch at the end.

 Yes, this was truly a foundation day celebration with a difference- A  celebration of education and learning with the entire learning fraternity!