How to institutionalize lifelong learning?

February 28, 2020

Jobs losses due to advancement in robotics and automation are causing concern to everyone. Constantly changing workplace environment demands workers to be regularly skilled and re-skilled. Experts feel the only way we can manage this change is by focusing on lifelong learning.

“Organizations learn through individuals who learn” –  Peter Senge

What are five things organizations can do?

Redefine the objective of performance appraisals:  Employers need to take a re-look at their performance appraisal system and make learning a critical objective. A forward-looking learning objective – linked to the interest and aptitude of the employees and needs of the organization – should be identified; learning paths and processes should be identified; and continuously monitored.  Organizations should award those who achieve their learning objective. In short, learning should be a key performance area.

Train managers in giving feedback: Organization can benefit a lot by offering training to their managers on how to give feedback, positive as well as negative. Feedback, if given in the right way and at the right time, can be motivating. It improves performance. It offers job satisfaction to employees and contributes to their learning.

Look at the attitude while hiring: In addition to looking at job-related experience and competencies, organizations need to hire people who have an attitude to learn, to acquire new skills and to keep pace with the changing environment.

Invest in developing skill-enhancement courses for employees: Organizations need to invest in developing courses for their employees that provide them with necessary knowledge and skills throughout their working lives. There are several online courses offered by companies such as Coursera, Amazon, Udacity etc. Universities are also embracing online and modular learning. Organizations needs to look into these and explore the option of developing some tailor made courses for their employees to enable them enhance their skills, which are critical for meeting the organizational goals.

Learn from other organizations: Even though each organization is different, there is always a possibility to learn from each other. Having a dialogue with different organizations and looking into different practices can benefit all.


Seeing “value” in our work

November 30, 2018

I was recently asked to deliver a session on “Communication and attitudes at work” for interns working in my office. In order to assess their needs better, I sent them a short questionnaire before the session.
Answers to my first question — where do you see yourself five years from now — were as follows:
1. Not sure!
2. Not in a precarious work situation;
3. In a position that I appreciate and feel challenged to do more
4. See value in what I do.

The responses provided a good beginning for the session.
Not being sure of your goal cannot be an option. Every road will take you somewhere if you don’t know where to go. In fact, being in a precarious work situation is often a result of not having a clear goal in mind.

The third and fourth points are critical. People need to appreciate what they do, feel challenged to do more; and see value in what they do.

How can we see “value” in our work?

See the bigger goal: At times our work looks trivial, mundane, or meaningless. But actually it is never so. Step back and think. There is always a larger purpose. When we keep the larger picture in mind, we value our work, no matter how small it may appear.

Accept challenges: Challenges at work help us grow. They may be different: tight deadlines, unsupportive colleagues, a rude boss, multi-tasking, not achieving the desired results etc.
The success lies in handling them, not giving up. Remember the old saying – a calm sea never makes a good sailor!
And, when the going gets tough, take a break. Take a walk. Enjoy the nature. You will come back refreshed, rejuvenated, and raring to go again.

Do what you like: In one of my earlier posts — find relevance in your work — I had shared the story of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. Knight was failing as a salesman, not because he was not good at selling, he was not selling the product he was interested in. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled. So, we should look for the work that we like to do.
Pursuing a goal that we believe in gets the best out of us.

Experience the problem you need to solve

October 30, 2018

The Chairman, TATA Steel, Jamshedpur, India was holding a weekly meeting with his staff. One worker complained about the poor quality and maintenance of toilets for workers. In contrast, the toilets meant for the executives were of top quality having the highest standards of hygiene and cleanliness.

The Chairman found this was unacceptable. Workers should have access to clean toilets. He asked his top executive how much time they would take to set it right. The executive asked for a month’s time.

The Chairman said “I would rather do it in a day. Send me a carpenter.” The next day, when the carpenter came, he simply ordered the sign boards to be swapped. The sign board on the workers’ toilet displayed “Executives” and the Executives’ toilet displayed “Workers”. The Chairman then instructed this sign to be changed every fortnight. The quality of both the toilets came at par within three days.

This incident was shared as an example of leadership by a friend, which indeed it is. But it also shows people need to have a feel of the problem they need to solve. Workers’ toilets would not have improved so quickly if the executives would not have had to use them.

One-third of the global populations still does not have access to a clean and hygienic toilet. Close to 900 million people across the globe continue to practice open defecation. The sustainable Development Goal 6 aims to achieve access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Achieving this goal requires a change of mind set to approach solutions. Leaders and managers need to get out of their comfort zones and experience what people around them go through. Then only they will find quicker solutions.

My father was a police officer. I remember he would often go unannounced and eat in the canteen meant for police constables. He ate where all constables used to sit and eat rather than being served in the officer’s dining room. This ensured that the food caterers consistently gave attention to the quality of the food, cleanliness of the canteen, its washrooms and crockery. And, this was also good for the morale of the hard-working police constables.

How should you present your initiative to the boss?

November 19, 2017

A young colleague, who was working on an idea to move forward, recently asked me, “how do I present my initiative to my boss”? She had been trying but was a bit frustrated to see it not moving forward.

Several Initiatives get killed at the stage of an idea. Why? Not because they are not good but because they are either not presented in the right way or not presented at the right time.

According to Victor Hugo, Initiative means “doing the right thing without being told.”

This simple definition points out towards the real challenge. When you propose to do something you have not been told to do, risks are many: fear of failure, someone may block the work, you might get more work etc. Yet, taking Initiative is the right thing to do. It makes you different from others; and most of the bosses appreciate it even if they may not approve all initiatives presented to them.

Here are three suggestions:

Timing is the key:
Even the best of the ideas discussed at a time when the boss is too busy, rushing for a meeting, stressed with something, or just having a bad mood will not receive a good response. You know your boss’s personality and working style. Handle carefully and find the best time and manner to approach him/her.

Pre-test the idea:
You should certainly have a plan on how will the initiative be implemented. Yet, present the idea first in such a way that you are also seeking inputs and suggestions to make it work. Managers are more likely to approve when their ideas are included in the plan. They want to call the shots! Emphasise why is the initiative in the interest of the organization, linking it with the organizational goals missions or priorities.

Don’t become too pushy: Remember, bosses don’t like to be bossed around. So, don’t be too pushy. Give them time to think and respond. You can certainly do the follow up in a gentle way.

Finally, remember that taking an initiative is also an opportunity for you to learn new things and new skills, which leads to your own growth and success. Ralph Waldo Emreson sums it up well, “Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”

Find relevance in your work

May 28, 2017

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, in his book — Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — shares some invaluable insights on success.

Knight’s first job was to sell encyclopaedias. He did not have much success. His second job was to sell securities. He did not do well here either. Just when he was beginning to lose faith in his ability as a sale person, he set up Nike and started selling shoes. According to Phil Knight, he succeeded this time because he was selling a product he believed in, and liked.

Knight had been an athlete on his college team. He loved running. He knew how important a good pair of shoes was to a runner. This made him a credible shoe salesman, and the rest is history.

Knight’s personal life story reinforces the point that secret of success lies in doing what you like doing. Knight was not failing as a salesman, he was just not selling the products that he was interested in, or had the passion for. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled.

Everyone is not as fortunate as Knight to find a job or a career of his liking, though it is worth trying. Not everyone is daring enough to make a career transition either.  As a result, there are people who have the aptitude for selling shoes remain stuck in selling shampoos. They struggle to deliver the results and don’t reach their peak. And, this affects their self-esteem.

No one likes all aspects of his/her work. We have only two choices: Either dare to change or find relevance in the work we do. Finding relevance means we should see the connection of our work with a higher level goal. Pursuing a worthwhile goal most often gets the best out of us.

In one of my earlier posts – Managing Self-Esteem at Work – I had made a few suggestions. Contentment comes in finding relevance in things we do; and in pursuing goals that give a sense of satisfaction. Since Knight had been an athlete himself, he did not just sell shoes, he believed in making shoes that would help sportsperson achieve their dream. This led him to constantly work on improving the design and features of his products.

Who scores the goal?  

June 28, 2015

Like many others, I like reading Stephen R. Covey. He presented some brilliant videos along with his book – the 8th Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness.

I would urge all to watch this video.

Comparing the office environment to a soccer match, Stephen in this interesting video, highlights what he calls “execution gaps” between formulations of goals and their implementation. Teams are often not clear about their goals, and team members don’t work towards the same goal. He quotes a study in which only 15 % people could identify the top priorities of their organizations, and only 19% were passionate about their goals. ‘Imagine the creative energy that would unleash when people are clear of the goal, and their own role in achieving it,’ concludes Stephen.

I showed this video at the start of our organizational retreat once. We went another step and played a game of soccer, making four teams. Colleagues loved the video and all – from the director to the driver – enjoyed playing the game.

After the game and lunch, we returned to the room and discussed the “goal” of the organization. People were much more receptive. They felt motivated to notice the contribution they were making to the overall goal of the organization with their individual work. They also appreciated the inter-connectedness of their work. The ownership of the goal enhanced manifolds when colleagues realized the contribution they were making to the lives of people. It is important to see our work beyond numerical targets and percentages.

Managers have a crucial role in engaging their teams with the goal. They should consistently discuss the goal with the team members and consult them in evolving the goals. This builds commitment, fosters team spirit  and brings the best out of the team. The only difference in  a soccer game and the work environment is that in the latter no single player scores the goal. It is the team that does it together.

How to handle someone who does not want to take any additional work?

May 30, 2015

There are some difficult colleagues at every workplace, just as there are some great colleagues. I stressed upon the importance of relationships and the need to keep the communication on with difficult colleagues.

I have been asked to share some thoughts on a very common problem: how to handle someone who does not want to take any additional work?

The first point that comes to my mind is that each organization has its own systems, procedures and work culture. Managers should find solutions within this context. Besides, every individual is different. Therefore, there can’t be a one-size-fit all solution. Having said this, the following points might help:

  1. Get to know the person well

In most cases, it will help to know the person well in order to understand his or her behavior at work. There are times when people are stressed, not in the best of their health or not happy in their relationships. They may also have frustrations for not being able to achieve their career goals. All this affects their behaviour at work. It will help to understand the reasons for behaviour. In most cases, this would offer ideas for handling the person better.

  1. Assign tasks keeping in mind the interest and strengths of people

All of us have our likes and dislikes. True, not all tasks assigned to us are of interest to us. But they have to be done. By and large the interests of people should be kept in mind while assigning additional tasks. Ignoring this might be disastrous. If you assign two tasks that a person likes to do, then you may also assign the one that he does not like and the person may not complain. But if you merely assign tasks that don’t interest him, he is more likely to resist. Also, If new tasks are assigned, it is also important to ensure that the person receives adequate training and support to be able to handle them.

  1. How you assign the task is more important that the task itself.

The manner in which tasks are assigned is the most important thing. People need to feel important and significant. Therefore, don’t just assign, talk to the person and explain why would you like the colleague to take care of it.

These approaches will basically result in enhancing ownership of colleagues and building commitment. Better results are achieved through building commitment rather than seeking compliance.