The responsibility of learning new skills rests with the employee: Sujit Sahoo
"L&D functions are moving away from standalone programs to designing learning journeys," says Sujit Sahoo, Vice President – Human Capital Development, Trianz. Check out this exclusive interview to know more about how Trianz integrates learning into employees' everyday work and how organisations can create holistic learning experiences for the hybrid future of work. Sujit also shares some of his "aha!" moments and his thoughts on resilience, curiosity, and failure.
Organisations have had to rapidly repurpose and reimagine their learning & development (L&D) strategies in response to the pandemic. What key shifts have you witnessed in the learning landscape due to the challenges presented by COVID-19? Do you think you had an edge in bringing rapid digital innovations to support remote employee learning when the crisis happened?
Amidst the uncertainties propelled by the pandemic, human capital leaders are engaged in a multifaceted battle characterised by reduced employee engagement and satisfaction, skills shortages, and a lack of business goals and talent strategy alignment.
At the start of the pandemic, our key concern was employees' safety and well-being. As the industry began to normalise, it became all about employee experience, global cultures, and training for a digital future and the new ways of working remotely. The obvious next step was to reinvent how the business operated and become digitally ready to advance HR operations, talent onboarding, employee engagement, digital workplace culture, organisational change management and communication.
Leaders had to adapt their style to the VUCA world – countering it with empathy, communication, and positioning learning as the key differentiator. It also entailed identifying 'second-in-commands' to take over seamlessly should a contingency arise.
As people started working longer hours and juggling between the office, home, and office-at-home, managing priorities and boundaries became important. At the same time, infosec became critical to enable new and secure modes of working from remote locations.
Staying open and agile to changes in the system, process, delivery, and feedback helped us navigate the changing landscape swiftly. Our focus shifted to:
• Enhancing the learner mindset with more virtually engaging content; Improving digital learning cadence with micro-learning nuggets available anytime, anywhere; and
• Enabling collaborative learning with flexible and custom learning pathways.
I believe Trianz had an edge to pivot quickly since we were digitally evolved and at the cusp of going fully 'remote and virtual'. It took us just two weeks to go completely remote. The frameworks that governed any training intervention remained primarily the same – however, the style and mode of delivery changed.
Our technology training was mostly virtual-/instructor-led, allowing us to seamlessly transition to hybrid with webinars. Faculty were trained on conducting effective virtual sessions, learning labs were shifted online, case studies became virtual, and soft skill training was moved from the classroom to ILT (instructor-led training). The training calendar and the nomination process remained the same — participants and their engagement increased!
With the shelf life of skills steadily shrinking and new skills being rapidly introduced as a result of the pandemic, the talent pool is struggling to adapt and stay relevant. How do you tackle the upskilling and reskilling challenge at Trianz?
Trianz is a global consulting and technology services firm focusing on simplifying digital evolution (or digital transformation, as others call it) through the practice areas of cloud, infrastructure, security, analytics and digitalisation. We are at the forefront of helping our clients deploy and adapt to new technologies and transform their value chain to help them create connected, consistent, and endearing experiences for customers, employees, regulators, influencers, and leaders. This puts the onus on us to make them successful, and we cannot do that unless our teams are fully equipped.
Inputs on areas currently pursued by our clients – the cutting-edge tools and technologies and the latest trends and updates – are generated from a multitude of sources, including client partners, practices and project delivery teams. Based on these inputs, we revisit our Technology Competency dictionaries every quarter and constantly upgrade our partner mix to provide the most recent content.
However, we believe that the responsibility of learning new skills rests with the employee. Therefore, every individual within the organisation has a significant weightage in their KRAs dedicated to professional development. When we add on the fact that these competencies tie into their career ladder, learning new skills becomes self-driven.
The training programs include the individual's interest areas. Employees can log on to our LMS and access the available training programs and relevant content from their laptops or mobile, anytime, anywhere. Recently we added Percipio (Skillsoft) as a plug-in on Microsoft Teams to make access even more seamless.
Some areas on the tech front and soft skills that have gained traction recently are:
• Fullstack development
• Cloud Competency on AWS / Azure
• Python & scripting languages
• Data Analytics & cisualization, AI / ML
• Infra tools and technology
• Resilience, mental health
• Stress management
• Employee well-being
Today, people are overwhelmed with content. Many employees feel jaded by the information overload (an enormous amount of accessible information) and noise (relevant information getting crowded out by irrelevant information). How do you create the right learning experiences at Trianz?
That's true. There's far too much content available, both internally and externally, leading to many choices and multiple trainings to be completed within a limited time. We have partnerships with several content providers for technology and soft skills. However, we follow a key tenet — to make it available first and then curate it for maximum impact.
• We established 'Trianz University', which considers both internal and external knowledge bases, experiential learnings, and dissemination of aggregated information at both the L&D and Knowledge Management fronts. Trianz University enables internal SMEs to become a part of the knowledge and training cycle, making these pieces of training more effective and relevant by bringing real-life experiences to the fore.
• We have incorporated dimensions of complexity into our learning channels. Our L&D team develops the various elements of learning channels and categorise them as Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. Thus, along with self-paced learning and anytime-anywhere available content, our associates can learn as they like.
• We are exploring Adaptive Learning – AI-/ML-based training programs that match the associates' understanding and proficiency levels. Assessments during and at the end of an intervention point are the best way to ensure that it's appropriate for the learning style of the associate.
Many organisations never know how much of their training has been absorbed or if their efforts have moved the needle on talent development. How do you measure learning impact?
The traditional style metrics of before and after assessments for understanding the effectiveness of training and how well it has been absorbed do not provide a 360-degree view of holistic talent development. In the end, it has to have a business impact.
Some of the outcome-based metrics at Trianz include:
• The impact on individual performance and employee engagement (job satisfaction; career progress; picking up a related skill or area of interest, thereby improving ESAT)
• Team effectiveness (project success; proficiency improvement; joint learning with client teams; CSAT)
• Business value delivered (business-process improvements; revenue alignment; time to staff projects)
Depending on the sector, the nature of the work that people do, and the setup an organisation prefers, companies are piloting a hybrid working model to combine the benefits of both co-located and remote work. How can organisations evolve their L&D strategies to reflect this shift in the future of work?
If we take it from the top-down, from a business view to the employees, here's what I would suggest:
• Get a Strategic Alignment for Future Business Readiness
Learning strategies should support the organisation's priorities and identify and enable the capabilities needed to achieve success. This approach will result in robust curricula that employ every relevant and available learning methodology and technology.
• Identify and Build Capabilities/Competencies
The L&D function helps associates build the most needed mindsets, skills, and expertise. This impact can be measured by assessing capability gaps against a comprehensive competency framework.
• Map Learning Journeys
L&D functions are moving away from standalone programs to designing learning journeys — continuous learning opportunities that take place over a time period and include L&D interventions such as fieldwork, pre-and post-classroom digital learning, social learning, on-the-job coaching and mentoring, and short workshops. The core objective of a learning journey is to help develop the new requisite competencies most effectively to support the transfer of learning to the job.
• 70:20:10 Learning Framework
The focus should be on experiential and on-the-job learning. Design and implement interventions that support informal learning, including coaching and mentoring, on-the-job instruction, apprenticeships, stretch assignments, shadowing, action-based learning, access to digital learning, and lunch-and-learn sessions. Collaboration technology such as Yammer and Teams play a critical role in building communities of practice, connecting experts, and creating and sharing knowledge.
• High Impact Onboarding
Having a robust onboarding program helps new associates gel faster with the culture, establish a connection with the organisation, and build the skills necessary to succeed in their roles. Provide new hires with access to digital learning technologies, connect them with other new hires and mentors, assess them, and track skill indexes.
• Systems, Applications, and Learning Tech
This includes learning-management systems, Learning Experience Platform, virtual classrooms, mobile learning apps, embedded performance-support systems, polling software, learning-video platforms, learning-assessment and measurement platforms, online courses, etc.
Learning technologies should fit into an overall system architecture that includes functionalities to support the entire talent cycle, including recruitment, onboarding, performance management, L&D, real-time feedback tools, career management, succession planning, and rewards and recognition.
• Learning for L&D Itself
L&D teams themselves need to be at the forefront of the new and effective means of delivering interventions. Innovative L&D programs must remain flexible and agile to build the talent required for organisations to be future-ready and prepared for upcoming business challenges.
UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL
While early job experiences may not be the most challenging or monetarily rewarding, they certainly are formative. Could you give us an account of an unforgettable experience at your first corporate job?
My first job experience was not something many can relate to now in the cutting-edge world of millennials. It was in the testing of mainframe code written on an emulator in JCL and COBOL. And our way to "test" was to pore over 200 pages of line-printed code and find logical and syntactical errors. Challenge accepted, anyone?
Have you had an ‘aha!’ moment when you learned and experienced something so profound that it changed you forever?
At an event for a special-ed class where we were supposed to go and read stories, we were told to describe "consultants" as people similar to doctors who help fix problems instead of diseases. We diligently explained what a consultant does by using the same analogy. Then came the response from a kid: "So you are here to fix our class?" It was an innocent question, without malice, but I have never seen a boatload of consultants so dumbstruck. Try putting yourself in others' shoes; it is harder than it looks. Perspectives differ, and there is learning all around you if you are open to new experiences.
What would we be surprised to learn about you?
I am a fan of both science fiction and philosophy, and I believe that they have way too many parallels. I also (try to) read faces, which is admittedly a little more difficult now to do virtually.
What’s something you are doing or want to do in 2021 that you’ve never done before?
I plan to take a trip to the Himalayas – just kidding! I plan to take two continuous weeks of digital detox.
What is your most significant learning from the pandemic experience?
Anyone can cook! And if you can binge-watch a mini-series, you can go through learning videos or podcasts in lesser time.
• Describe the year 2020 in 3 words: Disruptor, Quaranteams, Virtual
• Describe the year 2021 in 3 words: Acceptance, Vaccination, Re-normalise
• What’s a movie title that best describes you: Serendipity
• What comes to your mind when you hear these words?
i. Resilience: It's about being both 'firm' and 'soft'.
ii. Curiosity: The foundation of learning! And no, it didn't kill the cat; it just made it stronger and savvier.
iii. Failure: There can be no good success without it. The faster you try and fail, the faster you will learn to do something new and different, and the faster you will likely succeed.
• What's the one thing you miss most about pre-pandemic times?
Without a doubt, face-to-face human interaction. I miss being able to gather my team and break bread in one place.
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