Mainak Maheshwari- Director of Talent Advisory, PeopleAsset- an organization that strives to make the right talent and leadership available to organizations. Mr. Maheshwari comes with over two decades of experience, primarily in business and HR roles. He is also a certified executive coach, a Leadership Development expert, and a Hogan personality assessor. Additionally, he holds a patent in the field of capability development. Mainak is an IIM Calcutta alumnus. Prior to PeopleAsset, he has worked with Hewitt Associates, Accenture, AbsolutData, Evalueserve, Heidrick & Struggles, Sterlite Technologies, and Upstox.
Creating tomorrow’s workforce today is every CXO’s responsibility. But let us not forget that the pandemic is steadily redefining the future of work, accelerating the need to be agile in our approach to learning and development. To move past the business and talent challenges presented by the current environment, CXOs need to prioritize learning and focus on strengthening their existing workforce with future-ready skills.
Continuous development, adaptability, and an openness to change are indispensable to organizational growth. The key attribute, as we have recently been reminded, is nimbleness and it must start from the top. Yet, most organizations are still hesitating to reshuffle their strategies and give re/upskilling the attention it deserves. At the same time, there is also a lack of adequate interest from the team. Even with L&D initiatives in place, leaders may have to struggle with the resistance of their own teams.
So, how can leaders make the most of this unique opportunity to sharpen and renew existing talent, and empower employees with the knowledge and skills to stay ahead of the curve in these unpredictable times?
We believe that the answer lies in building skill development strategies and initiatives that are aligned with company and individual purpose. Taking the following steps, CXOs can establish a culture that maximizes learning, equipping businesses with better performance, productivity, and of course, talent.
- Put learning first
Even the best, most experienced, and predictive minds are unsure about the changes the future will bring. Keeping that in mind, and the fact that none of us possess a crystal ball, opening up ourselves to continuous learning is critical. It is about time that we look at learning as a business need instead of a good-to-have employee engagement activity and embrace a learning-first culture.
Leaders need to weave it into every aspect of daily work-life by making it a part of employee KRAs, regardless of their department or function. Learning new skills and regular training need to be viewed as team goals. CXOs must proactively and regularly communicate the positive impact of building new skills to help develop a collective interest in their existing workforce.
To drive this culture, there needs to be a formal structure to how any kind of learning is implemented in the organizations. It is up to the leaders to ensure that their teams spend a minimum fixed number of hours every year on learning new skills and techniques or that they have specific learning goals that they need to meet by the end of each year.
Learning is a means to an end. Team managers and leaders must help individuals identify their learning needs and set clear objectives to meet them, at the beginning of every year.
- Be inclusive – all learning matters
Technology trends and innovations are not the only things we need to keep pace with. When we talk about being ready for the future, we must also take soft skills into account. Organizations must identify the needs unique to their teams and build focused learning solutions around them. To be holistic, all learning initiatives must include leadership training, design thinking, creativity as well as communication skills.
Take the current remote working scenario put into action by the pandemic as an example. Leading organizations have benefitted from introducing virtual learning and collaboration platforms, creating an opportunity for individuals to help each other navigate this new way of working by fostering soft skills like active listening, interpersonal communication, and time management.
- Focus on the learner’s needs
The main objective of developing employee skills seems to be undoubtedly tied to business success. Even with all the right intentions, this might prove to be the biggest reason why employees show resistance to any kind of L&D. ‘What’s in it for them?’ — a question that leaders must strive to answer if they want their teams to be truly invested in learning. This is where communication plays a key role. Before people managers introduce a training program, they must have a dialogue with their teams, asking relevant questions and listening for any articulated need. This way, every learning program is not just aligned with business goals but also with employee purpose. It is critical that everyone in the organization understands that building new skills serves all, and it is up to the leader to deliver this message.
- Provide opportunities to put learning to use
Every organizational learning and development initiative needs to be followed by opportunities to put new skills into practice. To do so successfully, leaders must allow room for mistakes, encouraging employees to experiment with ongoing projects, share and explore ideas, and use their new skills to the best of their abilities. Practice makes perfect; there is no other way to measure the success of a specific training program than to try out its impact in real-life scenarios. Fortunately, encouraging the practical use of skills also helps build a more confident, creative, and resilient workforce
- Golden rule: Lead by example
As a leader, it goes without saying that one must lead by example. How important is learning to a company CXO, what role has it played in shaping their professional growth, what are the new lessons that leaders have learned—leaders need to talk about their learning experiences, communicating how it helps them stay relevant. At every step, leaders must demonstrate how skill development is part of the organizational culture, regardless of hierarchy.
Learning needs to drive organizational and individual performance. However, leaders must be wary of putting blind L&D programs into action, not formalizing them with clear objectives and plans. It is important to ensure the skills taught are in line with the needs of the business as well as the learners. By implementing solid growth strategies and building a culture around learning, leaders can help strengthen their organizations for the future.