To be one step ahead of any danger that may befall it in the future, a wild boar in an Aesops Fable makes its tusks battle-ready by grating them against a tree stump. A fox mocks the boars overcautiousness by gekkering, looking overwrought as if a blast of hunters is on its bushy tail.
In a corrective tone, the wild boar tells the fox that when danger does show up, it would not wait, hat in hand, for its victim to engage in a last-minute tusk-sharpening exercise.
An organisation is either the sapient wild-boar or the smug fox. In recent years, with a surfeit of conversations around reskilling and upskilling, many organisations are wild-boarish about it especially where technology is concerned. Or at least, they know they should be.
The pandemic would only have heightened the sense of urgency where this already existed in some measure. Where this did not exist, the pandemic likely created it.
In a joint survey by TalentLMS, Training Journal, and Workable, 42 percent of the 282 training and hiring managers, and C-level executives have revealed that the pandemic has led them to take their skill training programmes a few notches higher. A same percentage of the 400 full-time employees have said they are focussed on making themselves relevant through reskilling/upskilling. Though the survey is US-centric, its findings represent the mood across the globe.
So, one might assume that goaded on by fears of a difficult future, organisations and professionals are exploring what it takes to have needle-pointed tusks.
So, what does it exactly take?
On the journey to effective reskilling, organisations and individuals have to look for three signposts. Without crossing any of these three, they cant consider the destination reached.
No hidden spots
Decades ago, in cricket, players not known for nimble feet and a reliable pair of hands might be tucked into less-demanding fielding slots. They would be kept hidden so that the batsmen dont take advantage of them. With the sport becoming increasingly complex and competitive, the cricket field does not offer hiding places anymore. Thanks to the twenty-twenty format as well as the high-scoring nature of ODIs, batsmen innovate with their stroke-play, and the leather now consistently finds all these erstwhile hidden spots. Take the phenomenal Dilscoop developed by Sri Lankan batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan. Using the bat as if it were a ladle, he would scoop a short-pitched ball delivered by a speedster, even a super-quick delivery, over his head and also the wicket-keepers. The result would usually be a boundary, if not a sixer.
So, today, every fielder is stretched to their limits. They have to count for something, with runs saved and half-chances converted into match-winning catches. Cricket with such demands on each player is analogous to the modern business environment with its complexities and need for agility. The pandemic marks an inflexion point from where work would take a new trajectory, swerving from traditional methods of collaboration and communication, internally and externally. Traditional and newer work models could intersect, requiring versatility from teams.
How about this work scenario of a team switching to a new model where 50 percent of the team members are remotely-functioning gig workers? Organisations can be expected to adopt this model to keep their talent structure flexible and keep ahead of the skills curve. The gig component of the workforce can be continually replaced with a new set of professionals, brought on board because their skill-sets match the requirements of an ongoing project.
How about a scenario where prospective clients display a bias towards connecting via digital platforms, where they once swore by in-person meetings? Remote-selling skills are whole new tusks to be honed, particularly where salespersons were accustomed to knocking on the doors of the prospective client. The pandemic got even such salespersons furiously brushing up on their remote selling skills.
The complexity runs deeper than what these two simple examples may suggest. And developing functional competencies alone will not ensure relevance anymore. Professionals, irrespective of where they stand on the hierarchical pyramid, may be required to develop ideational, digital-storytelling, people-building and even leadership competencies. In a crowded talent market that cuts across geographical boundaries, those who have these competencies well-honed have a distinct edge over those who dont. What does the future hold for workforces? Let them expect teams to be pared down to a bare minimum. Expect fewer supervisory layers. Expect teams and professionals to be more self-managed, an area where these competencies would prove invaluable.
A training ecosystem
On the subject of international sports teams, there is an elaborate training ecosystem around them equipping them with the resources to address any inadequacy that may arise. Besides the regular coaches, each tasked with imparting technique-training to the players, there could be special video-analysis experts; a posse of fitness professionals, including sports-injury doctors, physios, and nutritionists; and mind coaches specialising in resilience building. Organisations with an elaborate training ecosystem, largely internal and blended with regular processes, would obviously be at an advantage. This advantage may however cost considerable resources and time, which may be way more than what some organisations may be prepared or capable of meeting.
Executive coach Anand Kasturi agrees. Organisations have to be large enough to make that investment. Take the case of MSMEs; a majority of them wouldnt have a training manager or a training partner, and would be relying on an external agency for their training needs.
Kasturi suggests that going by the 70-20-10 rule according to which, 70 percent of the learning happens on the job; 20 percent through coaching, mentoring and hand-holding; and 10 percent through training and in-classroom learning having better on-the-job training programmes could do the trick.
The government can probably assign mentors through the National Skill Development Corporation to help MSMEs with on-the-job mentoring for their employees, says Kasturi.
(Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship holds 49 percent of the share capital and private sector the remaining 51 percent, in the National Skill Development Corporation, which is a non-profit)
These on-the-job mentors dont have to be tied down to any enterprise, but can divide their time among a group of MSMEs, adds Kasturi.
A learning ecosystem
There is a strong volitional element to learning. Learning produces best results when an individual purses it without being goaded to do it. Returning to the Dilscoop analogy, Dilshan worked on that whacky idea trying it out first in the company of bowling machines, and spending immense time perfecting the shot. An organisation with initatives of this kind coming from a good number of employees has a lot going for it. Though that may be the case, the organisation still cant abdicate its responsibility to create a conducive atmosphere for learning. So, do organisations provide the tools and resources for learning and step out of the way? Yes and no. Continuous learning programmes should not slip into exasperating micromanaging. However, there should be enough monitoring to make sure the learning furthers organisational goals.
During the pandemic, TO THE NEW, a digital technology services company, launched two initiatives. One was a Learning Challenge, organised between June and August, that encouraged employees across the organisation to pick up a certification, and challenge someone else to go the same. The course fee was reimbursed.
We got some 160-odd certifications done around that time, says Satya Sharma, CHRO & Co-founder, TO THE NEW.
The other initiative was more targetted, and Satya explains that in this one, a strong monitoring mechanism was employed, but at the same time, the intervention was kept subtle so that it did not come across as in-the-face or as micromanaging.
Explains Satya, Being an IT company, there would always be a certain amount of bench, and this group would be racked with anxiety. And our next initiative focussed on taking care of this group, begins Satya. In our organisation, we have a system where every HR partner is tasked with ensuring that the learning needs of 150 employees are met. From the day an employee joins the organisation to the day they leave, an HR partner is responsible for their learning, and this includes providing them with a learning plan. In alignment with this system, HR partners drew up a list of certifications that those on the bench during the pandemic could take up by way of upskilling/reskilling. We sought feedback from them trying to find out if they were enjoying this initiative or seeing it as micro-managing, with somebody constantly on their back, pushing them to do things. Fortunately, 99 percent of the people said that this was a great initiative.
Customised learning content would leave no room for ambiguity, for those selling smartphones and those, pizzas, will have a different take on learning, says Sameer Nigam, CEO, Stratbeans, digital learning products and solutions provider. When the customised content comes with the stamp of the consumers themselves, it has a connect that is immediate and compelling.
He illustrates it: During the lockdown, a question from a client-organisation on how to ensure their employees stay productive, led to an exercise where senior leadership in many client-organisations created customised video learning content for their teams. Sameer discussed that though some videos would have required additional work, the fact that the leadership was engaged in this customised content-creation exercise would have contributed handsomely to the learning outcomes.
Sameer says that in digital learning programmes, organisations have to create clear learning pathways, factoring in individual abilities and the organisations current skill inventory and future skill needs. Based on these factors, employees could receive automatic recommendations about content that would take each of them down the learning pathway they are supposed to tread, for their and their organisations good.