How do Organizations identify Learning and Developmental needs.

classify talent

Many organizations roll out the same training year in, year out, and are surprised when people finish a course questioning its relevance to their role. That’s because the learning and development needs weren’t properly identified in the first place, wasting valuable time and resources.

Learning and development (L&D) professionals need to ensure that the interventions they make do three things: first, are built on the accurate identification of the L&D need; second, focus on the organization’s priorities which will bring a positive return on investment; third, provide a valuable experience for the participants, raising the level of their skills and their motivation to do things differently.

Given the current economic climate, in which many organizations have been through bruising restructuring and downsizing, a focused investment in L&D has the potential to restore staff motivation, engagement and retention.

Identifying the needs

L&D needs are identified through a formal or informal Learning Needs Analysis (LNA). The analysis can cover the whole organization, a specific group of people or an individual.

An organization-wide LNA involves the structured gathering of data about the current skills and capabilities in the business. Once analyzed, the data can be used to create an organization-wide L&D plan.

A focused investment in L&D has the potential to restore staff motivation, engagement and retention.

An LNA can also be carried out on a specific group of people. For example, a company wanting to expand into international markets will need to identify the new skills and capabilities required of its sales force. These can be formalized in a competency framework which details the specific behaviors required for success in the role. Each individual’s L&D needs can be determined through a self and manager assessment which forms the basis of the individual’s development plan. The data gathered may also reveal some development needs across the sales force which can be used to design group interventions. These could range from delivery of pitch to improved peer to peer coaching or cultural awareness.

Development centers are another effective way of identifying L&D needs. Properly constructed and executed, development centers provide a comprehensive and objective identification of strengths and development needs, and can be used to assess current skills or potential. As they are relatively resource-intensive, most organizations use them selectively; for example for high potential individuals, where they are used as part of the talent management process.

An individual’s L&D needs can also be identified through the ongoing performance management process. In everyday situations, managers have the opportunity to identify the L&D needs of the people they manage and they can use this information to provide guidance and coaching.

Experiential Learning in Schools – Is India Ready?

kids learning

Here’s this really interesting conversation I had with my 7 year old – One of his new year resolutions is to learn swimming. He feels lazy about it and given that he likes to read, he asked me a very pertinent question – why do I need to get into a pool to learn swimming, why can’t I just read about it and learn it? Very good question indeed, given that most of what he learns in the CBSE school he is a part of is by reading/ watching videos etc. To him, that’s the most logical format of ‘learning’.

This question got me thinking about whether we can change the learning path of children at very early ages to actually get them to learn most of the stuff that they learn by doing. At present, a bulk of the topics covered in schools and colleges are theoretical and consequently disengaging. Children are not made to sit passively in a chair for an hour and listen – no wonder attention span is low and retention is low. Memory experiments conducted by Ebbinghaus show that in this traditional approach, students forget approximately 50% of the content just in the first 40 minutes after learning. The figure shoots up to 70% within a day. Constant re-enforcements of the topics at home through assignments and home tuitions help but only in the short run.

Consider the alternative – a more engaging learn-by-doing approach in schools. There is no debating the merits of ‘learn-by-doing’ or ‘experiential learning’. In fact, we were born to learn through experiences and as kids, there is no other way we can learn. For example, a child might learn to be wary of touching a stove after burning her fingers on a hot plate that had been used recently. As we get older, our learning experiences become less ‘concrete’ and we do start to learn visually or through music or reading. However, the most deep-set format of learning remains experiential.

Then why do education systems not favour an experiential learning format? Firstly, the traditional system of education is definitely more ‘efficient’. More concepts can get covered in a shorter time frame with a larger set of students. Consider teaching the Newton’s laws – the traditional format teaches these through textbooks. Experiential learning of Newton’s Laws, for instance, is when the learner is given a ball and asked to roll it and experience it coming to a halt due to friction. This approach is far more interesting, engaging and proven to exhibit higher retention levels over traditional means of reading a textbook. However, while in the former method, a class of 50 students ‘learn’ the concept in 45 mins, in the latter method only about 10 students would ‘learn’ the method in 45 mins. In a country with abysmal student-teacher ratios and very limited schooling infrastructure, adopting the experiential learning format would be inefficient.

Another factor that makes experiential learning less practical is the fact that teachers in India are not trained to impart education in this fashion. Consider that ‘reflection’ and ‘feedback’ are the key to learning from experience because it consciously focuses our attention on what we have learnt and thus consolidates it. Further, understanding the general principle (‘generalisation’) that they experienced and ‘applying’ the same to new situations are higher order skills required to complete the experiential learning cycle. Are teachers today equipped to guide and facilitate a reflection and feedback session with students effectively? Can they create an atmosphere in the class that stimulates higher order thinking and application skills?

There is no denying that the future of education is a more experiential format. But there are many steps that the education system in India needs to take before we can adopt such a format. Till then, we will have to make do with what we have.

What makes employee recognition programmes successful?


Here’s a typical conversation between an HR business partner and a line manager –

Line Manager – “We are facing a major problem of employee demotivation. I need to fix it asap before my results plummet badly.”

HR business partner – “Well, there could be many things causing demotivation. First, tell me, what is happening about the reward and recognition programme we put in place?”

“Its happening .. but on and off, but that can’t be the reason. We have an awesome incentive plan in place. Its transparent and quite a few employees end up making good money. Infact, its been rated as one of the best ones in the industry”

One of the most common mis-concepts amongst managers is to equate incentive schemes with reward and recognition programmes. However, one needs to understand the very crucial difference between the two. While incentive programmes focus on the what (what was your target achievement this year?), recognition programmes focus on the how (how did you go about achieving such great results?). While incentives urge employees to attain a particular target in a defined time frame, recognitions are more long term. Recognitions revolve around the behaviours displayed by the employees to reach the end results especially behaviours that are aligned with your company’s core values. They recognize employees for the effort put in in achieving a set of results. Traditional annual performance reviews can be frustrating if there is no discussion and understanding of what employees have been doing. It is even more frustrating when employees have been going out of their way to deliver results, and they receive no recognitions for their effort.

As such, the first principle of an effective recognition programme is quite simple – give recognitions based on behaviours. Find a platform (newsletter, online forum, cafeteria meetings etc) where you share what your employees have done to get the recognition. Share specific behaviours and link them to the company’s core values.

The other important aspect of an effective recognition programme is that it should be continuous and real time. To achieve this, encourage your whole organization to give out recognitions regardless of their positions. Recognitions should not necessarily trickle from top to bottom.

One of the most pertinent examples of an effective employee recognition programme is NSF International, a public health and safety organization headquartered in Michigan. The company has tripled in size over the last 10 years, including opening new offices in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. As NSF grew and spanned across more time zones, real time employee recognition and engagement had become a challenge. They launched a global recognition programme, called ‘Give a WOW’ which helped connect all of NSF’s employees worldwide, regardless of location or time zone, to provide a platform for positive recognition and engagement. In addition, NSF incorporated their seven values as the recognition categories, ensuring that they were reinforced on a daily basis. Further, even in their performance rating mechanism, rating officials were encouraged to consider all relevant indicators of levels of performance, to include relationships between organizational success and individual employee performance, and between employee conduct and employee performance. Needless to say, the programme has been a huge success.

In conclusion, if you want your employees to do their best because they are passionate about your company and its mission and not just because you are giving them a financial incentive to do so, it is important to send out a message saying that you care about what they are doing, and you want to thank them for their efforts. A well designed employee recognition programme does exactly that.


How Institutions Built on ‘Pressure based Performance’ or ‘Stress based Learning’ are Killing our Nation!

Rstressecently, I shifted my 7 year old child from a conventional public school to a non-conventional school which follows the same curriculum but a very different approach to the way in which the learning gets imparted. In training parlance, both schools have the same learning content and learning outcome, but the mode of delivery varies. Whereas the previous school relied heavily on memorisation and endless practice, the latter relies heavily on learning by asking, doing and reflecting. The results are very satisfactory – my child seems to be happier, keener to learn and is discovering new things even about concepts learned earlier. To illustrate with an example, while he has known the concept of even and odd numbers for a long time now, its only recently that he discovered (on his own!) that when you subtract an odd number with an even number, the result will always be odd and so also for even numbers.

In the India of the past and to a large extent even today, it is believed that pressure and stress could increase our ability to learn. This is the philosophy behind getting students to scurry from 45-minute to 45-minute cram-for-test sessions, forcing resident students to work over 80 hours a week, and why corporations expect employees to learn and perform at peak levels while  working weekdays and weekends without respite. But the research into the effects of stress on learning is forcing brain-based educators to conclude that the systems favoured by our learning institutions may in themselves produce so much stress that not only is effective learning and creativity compromised but so too the capacities for big-picture thinking, future planning, and compassion. The result is scholastic, government, and corporate institutions are filled not with joyful, productive, creative, and compassionate learners but with disgruntled individuals who have behavioural problems and are unhappy and uninspired. No wonder then that we face leadership issues at the top, that while our workforce is well equipped in functional skills, they lack higher order skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, empathy, ability to envision the big picture – all critical aspects of nation building.

The need of the hour is to question the basic premise on which our learning system is based as that is what will impact the character of our nation going forward. Is it important to create competitive robots each trying to outrun the other on parameters of ‘how much I know’ or is it important to create emotionally healthy individuals who are tolerant, inquisitive, aware and nurture a deep love for learning? It is not only for educators and policy makers to imbibe the latter approach to education (and change the curriculum and the assessment and delivery approach accordingly), it is also for us as parents and guardians to change the principles on which we nurture our children. It is with this collaborative mind-set between the parent and educator community that the fabric of our coming generation can change.   


The India we are all Proud of

It’s the week of 15th August, a day when all Indians, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, pay homage to Mother India and feel proud at what we have created over the years. As a learning and development firm, we have tried to put together here some interesting facts about India and its contribution to the world of learning and education at large. Here is some food for pride…

  • When many cultures were only nomadic forest dwellers over 5000 years ago, Indians established Harappan culture in Sindhu Valley (Indus Valley Civilization)
  • Chess was invented in India.
  • The ‘Place Value System’ and the ‘Decimal System’ were developed in India in 100 B.C.
  • The world’s first university was established in Takshila in 700 BC. More than 10,500 students from all over the world studied more than 60 subjects. The University of Nalanda built in the 4th century was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education.
  • Ayurveda is the earliest school of medicine known to mankind. The Father of Medicine, Charaka, consolidated Ayurveda 2500 years ago.
  • The Art of Navigation & Navigating was born in the river Sindh over 6000 years ago. The very word Navigation is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘NAVGATIH’. The word navy is also derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Nou’.
  • Bhaskaracharya rightly calculated the time taken by the earth to orbit the Sun hundreds of years before the astronomer Smart. According to his calculation, the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun was 365.258756484 days.
  • The value of “pi” was first calculated by the Indian Mathematician Budhayana, and he explained the concept of what is known as the Pythagorean Theorem. He discovered this in the 6th century, long before the European mathematicians.
  • Algebra, Trigonometry and Calculus also originated in India.Quadratic Equations were used by Sridharacharya in the 11th century. The largest numbers the Greeks and the Romans used were 106 whereas Hindus used numbers as big as 10*53 (i.e. 10 to the power of 53) with specific names as early as 5000 B.C.during the Vedic period.Even today, the largest used number is Terra: 10*12(10 to the power of 12).
  • Sushruta is regarded as the Father of Surgery. Over2600 years ago Sushrata & his team conducted complicated surgeries like cataract, artificial limbs, cesareans, fractures, urinary stones, plastic surgery and brain surgeries.
  • Usage of anaesthesia was well known in ancient Indian medicine. Detailed knowledge of anatomy, embryology, digestion, metabolism,physiology, etiology, genetics and immunity is also found in many ancient Indian texts.
  • Martial Arts were first created in India, and later spread to Asia by Buddhist missionaries.
  • Yoga has its origins in India and has existed for over 5,000 years.


Retaining and Growing Women Leaders

Recently, the Confederation of Indian Industry released a report indicating that women comprise only 16 percent of junior managers, four percent of middle and senior managers and a mere one percent of organizational leaders. Thus, while women are adequately represented in the Indian workforce at large, they remain barely present in managerial positions. This is inspite of ‘diversity in workforce’ being the buzz word of a number of corporates in the recent past.

There is no denying that women bring a lot of value to table especially in today’s world of collaboration and innovation. Many studies have indicated that women prefer a collaborative and inclusive decision making process, they are more flexible and empathetic and have better interpersonal skills compared to men. They also are great at multi-tasking and masters of opportunity management, making them valuable resources especially at the top.  Then why is it that women hit the ‘glass ceiling’? And what would it take to  retain them in the long run?

It is a popularly held misconception that a flexible and supportive work environment is enough to keep a woman employee engaged and loyal. While there is no denying that flexibility is critical to help her hang on to a job, to keep her engaged and drive performance would require much more.

Constant challenges and an opportunity to learn is a critical factor. Women typically tend to excel in fields that interest them from within and challenges their latent creativity and problem solving ability.

An open work culture which allows women to express ideas and question norms is another critical factor. Women love to explore and reinvent and a non-threatening work environment allows them to prosper.

Lastly, a participative team environment which allows them to indulge their nurturing self and build consensus allows them to be at their best. Women are excellent networkers and work cultures that value this skill tends to motivate them more.

What Managers Can Learn from my 6-year old!

“You don’t know what you can get away with until you try.” ~ Philosophy of children everywhere

My 6-year-old is into crafts these days. Most of the day you’d find him bent down frowning over some craft material with scissors or a tube of glue in his hand. Lately, however, he has become quite experimentative. He has graduated beyond the run-of-the-mill craft stuff that I get for him and moved on to try out different fabrics/ papers etc which he can lay his hands on. He tries things on anything that is accessible (bear in mind that he is never reckless – he’s never laid his hands on expensive curtain fabrics or beads from the puja room!)– not always asking for permission, knowing very well that he is risking my displeasure. But he also knows well that if he does end up creating something nice, he will earn a lot of praise and my displeasure will dissolve immediately.

You know the expression, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” Well, it’s true. And watching my son, I have learnt an important managerial lesson. Good managers don’t wait for official blessing to try things out. They’re prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations: if you ask enough people for permission, you’ll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say “no.” So the moral is, don’t ask. Less effective middle managers endorsed the sentiment, “If I haven’t explicitly been told ‘yes,’ I can’t do it,” whereas the good ones believed, “If I haven’t explicitly been told ‘no,’ I can.” There’s a world of difference between these two points of view.

Smart managers are risk taking but also politically savvy (just like smart kids!). They know how much they can stretch the organization’s resources to try something that holds the promise of being worthwhile. They are ‘organizationally aware’ – they know which power centers to turn to for additional resources if needed and which power centers to ‘keep in the loop’. This is an important skill that is definitely not taught in B-School but maybe an important success factor.