What can L&D functions do in new normal- Tech Mahindra
The biggest challenge with the New Normal is that it is New but not yet Normal. In fact, no one knows what will become normal in the coming months and quarters.
Thus the new normal is a process of discovery and dealing with the here and now – a here and now that just a few months ago would have been described by words like ‘never’.
“So with this article, we attempt to share an approach that is working for us at Tech Mahindra and you will have to see what of that will work for you.”
How do you navigate in an ecosystem where your visibility is only a ‘meter’ into the future, into a terrain which, not just you, but no one had ever traversed before?
We had been talking about the VUCA world for the last few years. What the pandemic did was put us directly in that VUCA world. We adopted a 3-pronged approach to deal with this world.
The first step was to LISTEN
The L&D is a serving function – it serves the individual and business aspirations of the organization. In situations like these, the needs change dramatically and the biggest mistake one can do is to do the same thing but more vigorously. So the first thing we did was to Listen – listen to what has changed in the environment, listen to what changes our associates and our customers were suddenly up with and how it was making them feel. And we heard that suddenly everybody was working independently from their respective homes, that sales-people so used to wine-ing and dining with the customers were now forced to operate virtually, that customers had suddenly become finicky of every dollar that was flowing out. Overnight Staying Remote and Cash Conservation became the two major themes, with the support that comes from being physically together as a team taken away. The first thing we did was launched a daily virtual calendar that focussed on Wellness, as that was clearly the priority one in the minds of every person. Eventually, we added tracks of Leadership and Business to it as we realized that different elements of Leadership and Business would have to be learnt to deal with the changing environment and priorities.
People were not just working from home, but also working at home. This required us to be both flexible and tolerant in our approach than what we would expect in a regular virtual classroom.
We also realized a unique opportunity as we continued to listen – that this changed environment provided great access to the families of the associates. So we designed programs that were aimed to engage the families. We realized that the pandemic had sort of levelled the landscape and that our customers were also managing the same challenge as us and thus we extended some of our programs to our customers as well.
We saw a dramatic 300% surge in consumption of learning.
The second step was to EXPERIMENT
When nothing is like what it was before and is like something ever seen before, old strategies don’t work and new ones have to be discovered. An approach of rapid experimentation thus becomes critical. As every experience shifted to virtual, there was soon bound to be screen fatigue and webinars began to be seen as torture. At L&D we started the process of experimenting with formats much before (webinar fatigue) set in. We played with various sources to integrate games and quizzes. We introduced a WhatsApp based Q&A focussed learning format that provided direct expert access, we launched a Language Studio for people to learn new languages and we piloted a Deep Dive format where associates could bring their real-life problem statements on the virtual ‘hot-seat’ for in-session coaching experience.It was a huge success. Most of our leadership programs had become blended learning journeys over the last few years and we refined the blend now with these new experiments.
And we learnt a few lessons in the process – that what mattered most was the relevancy of the content and the authenticity of the presenter even if the experience was virtual, that different people liked different formats and thus you could plug and play with all of them and that the content had to be changed on a regular basis as the emotions and needs of the peopled changed with the various stages of the pandemic. What was true was associates were looking for experimentation and this was testified by a >77% completion rate of these journeys, even for busy senior leaders.
The third step was to LEARN
While you serve the organization and its customers business and the needs of the associates and their families, it is equally important to strengthen and serve yourself. Like new skills for them, the L&D function also needs to learn new skills for itself. While no one had an experience of a situation like this, we started analysing research papers on emotional states in a pandemic, predictions of future possibilities and tried to contextualize to our context and be ready for what could be the next stage. We identified the two key areas to invest our learning efforts – new technologies and new pedagogies that could refine the virtual experience and new content that may be needed. And we ensured that the Learning teams were provided adequate resources and time to ensure they were fortified to serve the rest of the organization.
Every crisis is an opportunity to serve and elevate your relationship to a completely new level – as you can directly impact associates and business in their times of utmost need. This is the rare opportunity available for the L&D function today to make a lasting impact or risk becoming irrelevant.
At Tech Mahindra, we have embedded three principles of Listen, Experiment, and Learn and made it a continuous process for the L&D function, and these principles we feel will help us navigate the evolving New Normal.
Because the New Normal is Work in Progress.