Learning Organizations

Originally posted on
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The quote by Benjamin Franklin, ‘Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember and Involve me and I learn’ is a simple definition of what could 'development' mean to an individual, and which depends on how it has been delivered in different stages of one’s career.  

In today’s corporate world, the learning and training teams have evolved standard learning programs and modules at different levels. Largely, entry levels get basic on-the-job and soft skills training, mid-levels would get the first level managerial development programs, senior levels would be part of the leadership programs that are done enterprise wide and some globally. Those at the senior most management go through coaching and most of their development is through experiential and board level engagement, to help them manage enterprise level business.  

The challenge that we face today is that most of them are functionally or technically strong, but lack the knowledge and understanding of other functions in an enterprise, are not savvy enough to appreciate and lead enterprise, are inward focused, and lack in global exposure, innovation and creativity etc. Most of the public sector enterprises face a serious issue of qualified leadership pool to fill their leadership positions. As an example, this is the case in most of the public sector banks. While they have a good pool of people in their low and mid levels, they have not created a good leadership pool that can compete with their counterparts with the private and MNC banks. The other challenge is their ability to attract, due to restrictions in pay scales and perks that is not competitive with the open market. It is a risk to their sustainability and growth. Therefore, it is very important to prepare for the future at least 3-5 years in advance. Ideal is to have 80-20 principle. Build 80% of the talent internally and get 20% from outside, which provides a right hybrid mix and is healthy for an organization. The learning and development should be focused on future needs and convert them into individual needs to map both appropriately.  

Once, the CFO of a company asked the CEO, ‘what happens if we spend all the money and the person leaves’. The CEO replied, ‘what happens if we don’t train anybody and they end up staying’.  

In my experience one of the real learning for an individual, to craft out their ability, is when they encounter real life situations, learn to learn from them, seek guidance and coaching from within to help manage those situations. There is no substitute to it. More and more companies are moving towards identifying high potentials not only to train them to prepare for the future, but to create a pool of people, who could be used for critical and high impact assignments. They provide these opportunities to these high potentials to face challenging situations, create stretch goals and put their potential to test.  

This will break our traditional ‘climb the ladder’ approach. It is very difficult to identify one’s weakness and plan for development and expect to be precise about the results in a given framework of academic learning and development. The experiential learning will provide opportunities for the individual to identify their blind spots in a given situation and help them deal with them.  

It is like doing a real time case study - it helps in mentally registering their learning as part of their DNA along with exploring many dimensions of their talent which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.  

Successful organizations have nurtured talent internally by identifying well in advance and providing them the experiential learning, which is augmented through a structured class room style that helps to understand the concepts and promote peer learning. The key to success is to broad-band their experience and exposure. Making it multifunctional, cross border, multi-cultural and turnaround challenges, etc. makes it impactful and challenging, and also visible from an organizational standpoint.  

Creating a learning organization is the key to a learning and development function. It is culture building. Employees stay in an organization where they see individual growth and learning. The shift in responsibility to help an employee grow should vest with the manager. None could be a better coach than the manager themselves. The responsibility is equally with the employee.  

The country needs more managers, who are entrepreneurial and can manage the whole life cycle in a competitive global business environment. It is important to ensure that investments made for development is supported by good retention and attraction policies of the company. It is most dangerous position to be in, after all the time and effort spent for a high potential talent, the company lacks the ability to retain and engage them in the long term. It is not only the compensatory part, but the ability for the company to identify the right jobs and roles for them to realize, demonstrate and grow in their career internally.   

India will be different in the next ten years. Do we have the right leadership bench to take on global challenges and lead businesses? Are we prepared to invest in our internal talent or we will end up importing talent from other countries?