I presented a webinar ‘Digital Transformation and Learning: Connecting the Dotsalong side Anil Nair, COE Lead & Head Organizational Learning and Leadership Development at the Zydus Group, last Tuesday (5th May). As always it’s a delight and honor to co-present with an L&D champion like Anil who has 22 years of experience in learning and development, talent management, succession management, leadership capability building and sales. His ability to delivery knowledge bombs in an easy-to-understand way – through anecdotes and analogies – infuses every conversation with relevance and a vibe like none other. No surprises then, the Question and Answer (Q&A) segment on the 1-hour webcast was so well received that the number of questions outnumbered the designated webinar time. Which is why, I am putting together all the questions with their answers by me and Anil.

In these times when funding is an issue, how do you get over the digitization challenge?

Anil: An organization would never mind funding what it feels valued; it’s a clear exchange of business. For any entrepreneur what matters is ‘what I get in return to what I invested’. So as L&D practitioners, we should be able to bring the conviction in top management about the investment, because different organizations will have different viewpoints on it. And, the value has to in terms of business outcomes.Often, the values that we derive are about the number of people that will be trained, how people will be developed and they will deliver more. But business outcomes for organizations are usually three aspects – Productivity, Growth and Performance. So if you’re able to address these three variables by any of your learning interventions’ tangible parameters, probably not many organizations will mind because they will find some value attached to it. Performance, Productivity, Growth. Period.

Q. Will the concept of working hours and weekly offs, leaves, holidays go away in working from home and digital environment?

Amit: The sudden-ness of digital transformation has led to a diversification in working time arrangements. For one, there is a shift from the “normal” work week comprising a fixed number of hours for a fixed number of days. People are now adopting, either consciously or sub-consciously, a “flexible” working arrangement that works for them and their role/ profile. So while the fear of blurring of the boundaries between work time and family time is real, I believe, people are self-discerning to draw a line between professional and personal commitments without impacting one for the other. From the organizational POV, leaves, holidays and working hour expectation per se will not undergo any change as long as the professional output is aligned to the company’s goals. If anything, organizations will be compelled to have an employee-centric outlook and build a healthy working culture.

Q: What are some of the top skills talent leaders should focus on to become transformation ready?

Anil: First and foremost is Openness. Openness to learn about newer things is very important. Number two is absolute Curiosity. I don’t think conventional wisdom is always going to matter. The leaders of the future will not necessarily practice what the leaders in the past did. So, curiosity, adapting to newer ideas, trying and testing out new things, having the courage to experiment is critical. Third, learning should not rest in your brain but it should be actionable. It’s about Agility, the faster you are in the race, the further you are. Competition is going to be stiff now, more in the digital space.

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Q. Will there be a change in Top Talent Identification/ skills going forward. And what will be the best approach to develop them in future?

Anil: When it’s top talent, there are a couple of things that really matter. First and foremost – Agility. This (Covid-19) is the time, agility is going to decide the shape of the organization, because today, irrespective of an organization – big or small, except for the difference in the cash flows, all organizations are at the same level. You would say that every organization is starting from base zero. Nobody has precedence and everybody has started moving to a new order together. Who will move fast will move further. Point number two is, Connectedness with the people, because with social distancing being the new norm, practices are going to change. Some organizations may continue remote working after the quarantine/ lockdown period too. Some may adopt a hybrid model with remote working and in-office working. Whichever side the scales tip, he kind of connectedness that you need to build with the people will always be very high because you might not see them often and meet them often. So what would really matter is how you build Connectedness.

Q. In this process of digitalization of HR Processes ranging from Recruitment to L&D, how to keep the “Human touch” factor alive in the organization?

Anil: So, let’s understand what we do when we meet people. Do we hug them during recruitment, no we don’t. So we do when we sit across each other? We look at each other, we try to create some impressions by the way we dress, the way we talk, the way his/ her body language etc. There’s an English web series on Amazon called The Mentalist, played by Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, and what he does is observe and decipher people. When we are talking to each other, its very important for me when I’m talking to you, you are trying to have some impression about me by the language which I’m choosing, the way that I’m responding. But unfortunately, I am not aware about what is it that you’ rethinking about me. I can’t even see you, so that means some of the skills which matter are these skills for the people of HR. How can you make up even without looking at the person, from the tone of an individual, from the language that he chooses, the vocab that he uses, the words he minces. Similarly when you recruit a guy, these are certain things that will matter. So human touch is going to be replaced by a digital human touch I would say, but the human touch is there to stay, because we deal with humans, we can not just simply move on without the emotions being embedded in our conversations. So the human touch will only be preceded with one more word – digital.

Q. How to ensure the efficacy of organizational culture in a virtual environment?

Q. How to drive organization culture in the digital environment?

Anil: Culture is not something that employees create. Culture is something that the employees carry forward. WhenI said carry forward, definitely what they get is what they carry forward. And hence the top management will have a great role to play. L&D as a sole function might not necessarily make the transformation. There has to be a top order supporting and hence it has to be the mindset of the organization which will create a culture. What you see getting practiced is something that you would also like to practice it and carried forward. But L&D what it can do is, it can facilitate it, it can enable that thing to happen, it can exchange conversations and convince that this has to be done. So, for example, you are starting a new process and there are some things you might want to communicate directly as a L&D team but they are not many takers. But suddenly if the MD sends a mail informing every one of the value of the process and its importance to the employees, then there is a mindset shift leading to adoption. What that means is, as human beings, we listen and agree to people that are superior and senior to us – that’s human behavior. Only that we need to do as a facilitator is to make use of this thing in the right order, and helping facilitate the culture change – physical or virtual environment doesn’t matter.

Amit: What ever culture the company had, in context of Covid-19 – before embarking on this virtual environment and digital transformation, a lot of that culture will carry forward, carry through, and you have to just build on that. The key is to make sure that the assumptions are very less, so any team, HR team, L&D team or the top management team, they cannot simply assume that it is just a different way of working. It could be a broadcast from the top management, it could be a one-to-one connect, but we have to remove the assumption that it should be easy for everyone to just work remotely.

Q. Lot of studies have shown that learning by doing is the best in the most effective way, how do you think this can be practiced in the new remote environment?

Anil: Experiential learning doesn’t have any substitute. So the digital practice will also have to be added with new ways of delivery. This is critical because most of are used to uploading courses, modules, video or animation, but there are very generic. To build true experiential learning, digital practices will have to make them possible and there are examples – like business simulations. I recall, 3-4 years back, we were trying to run a model to run some HPLC machines for the new joinees in my company. These machines are very costly. And you can’t have a newbie on such costly machines because they could break it. So the answer is simulations. We created a 3D video of a HP machine which is as good as if you’re operating the machine. You can take them step by step through everything. And we saw that in a very short time all these new joinees were able to operate the machine beautifully. So nothing is impossible. It just needs a creative bend of mind, innovation and I would say it need not come from outside vendors, but it has to be the brainchild of the internal organization. There has to be co-creation and partnering.

Amit: The learning intervention has to be designed by the importance or how important is that new skill in the new environment. If we have anyways moved a lot of our activities to digital environment, some of the skills may not really be required. But what is remaining may still need to be designed. People have been training to be a pilot using simulators for a long time, and that works very well. So we have to find the right tools. It may be virtual reality, augmented reality, may be mixed reality, may be simulations, it may be an eLearning course, but we have to think deeper and figure out the best way to engage with the audience or the learners in that context. Any problem will have a solution you know just to make sure that we are really looking for one. If you are not looking for one, we only will find half solutions.

Q. As online learning becomes the new normal, does this mean the online distance courses will have better place in the world than today? Today companies and the world discriminates between the Full Timer and an Onliner. What are the panels view on it?

Amit: With changing times, the perception of qualification procured through a distance education program will change too. While it remains to be seen how much time it will take for it to be considered at par with a full-time degree/ certification, the needle definitely has been moved. For the online education providers, it’s a nudge to revise their syllabus and content to make it relevant for the new order.

Anil: Does it mean online courses will have better place in the world? Of course it will have. When you’re trying to practice some kind of social distancing,which will become the need of the hour because the pandemic is going to stay for a while, eventually will become a new normal all together. I will not say necessary distance courses, but the way that it will be build. I mentioned about three learning styles (visual, audio, kinesthetic), and there will be some delivery styles that will become very prominent. So it will all revolve around how you try to deliver. Is it some an online module, or a SCORM course or a MOOC or kind of a video animation content, or a business simulation now, which have been quite useful.You may never know what is it that will impact the audience in your organization. But obviously the distance courses are here to stay and will continue to remain. We must start thinking on the new range delivery methods to allow people to be move towards these courses what the L&D has to offer.

Q. How do you transform a large traditional bank into a digital savvy bank?

Amit: Digital Transformation has equalized all industries in the sense that it has laid the same playing field for all businesses – big, small, complex, national, international etc. For the BFSI industry, in particular, it has set the wheels in motion for digital adoption across its processes and operations. Even with the Indian Government restricting the banking business hours to four/day, alternate day attendance and working from home, the need for digitization is clearer than ever as the COVID-19 situation grips all corners of the country. For traditional setups, it is a push in the direction of technology and tools, which necessitates workforce learning and training at scale. Digital savviness, like everything else, needs to be a top-down approach – a top management buy-in to start with – and percolated to all levels and functions of the bank through use cases, relevant examples and a well-planned training strategy.

Q. How we can implement gamification effectively in E-learning? To what extent it will help to increase employee engagement?

Amit: From a technical perspective, cloud LMSes today have a very well-thought-out Gamification module where it allows the company to incentivize every activity you do in the system. It could be for learning, it could be for system usage, it could be for collaboration, communication etc. For example, one of our customers uses a point-based system in which points which are given to an employee if they start a thread in a community and people discuss on that thread. In the end, the gamification has to lead to some incentives or some rewards too. Benefits could be tangible, could be non-tangible, and so the tools will have all the mechanisms to be able to create your own kind of rule engine on how to gamify the environment. But the actual motivation for the employees would be how do those gamification achievements translate to some materialistic or non-materialistic benefits.

Anil: I would add on only to say that gamification is only looked upon as a one-time tool, as a part of some kind of a process where people login. Soon they will not be interested in it, possibly one or two months down the line. So, can you implement gamification as part of the system? That proves crucial over time. If it is thought of as just an add-on or a side activity, it will not provide much value in terms of business outcomes. It is also important to think about what will matter for the employees and the generation that works for you today. 

Q. How about hospitality sector to adapt with this digital transformation?

Amit: There are two ways to go about any transformation – it could be inside-out or outside-inwards. So you could either start from your employees and just slowly move out to your customers and map the entire process. It could be flow of information, it could be flow of experience and you decide your core pieces and move those pieces into digital transformation aspect. Or you could move inwards, you could say – okay, let me first transform the way I work with my customers and then I move inwards. It all depends. So I think for some industries, the inside out of approach may be better where the employees are a big piece of the puzzle and they are working remotely. So the first step is to make them (employees) work in a better environment. You will have to move inwards out where you first let the employees work together and as they work they will also be able to impact the workflows which in the end lead to how a customer is experiencing the services and solutions we are offering. For some industries it may be outside inwards where you know the first priority will be to make sure the customer experiences is intact and then transformed at first and then whatever is that leading up to we transform that in a subsequent manner.

Q. What about blue collar employees’ functional training

Anil: We have huge number of blue collar workers in my organization, pharma enterprise. Thankfully what has happened is we need not consider blue collar workers separately today. What social platform like WhatsApp, TikTok have done is made these workers mobile literate. They know how to make use of those digital pieces. This is the best reason why does digital transformation is required to help the blue collar workforce. Everybody has a cell phone, everybody has a WhatsApp account. So the learning can a business simulation, if you’d like, which can extended by these kind of platforms. That’s how creativity will have to be coming in. There is no specific finite answer which can pacify everybody for the hour. There only have to be some innovative ways and creative ways to think about.

Check out the entire webinar Digital Transformation and Learning: Connecting the Dots

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