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Lead to Regenerate

How to apply principles of regeneration for self and organizational development

Learning Organization

For real benefits to accrue, not just people but the organisation, as a whole, needs to learn

The new recruits were huddled in a conference room large enough to hold all top and middle level managers together. The huddle was in one corner of the conference table. They were waiting for the CEO to address them. It was 10 minutes past the scheduled time of 2:30 PM. At 2:42 a HR junior came in panting. He breathlessly announced that the boss would be there any time, looked around the room and ran out.

At 2:45, the Operations Head walked in looking into his phone. He gave a quick glance and nod to the huddle and settled down some distance away from the Chair. Supply chain and HR Heads walked in later, both with phones to their ears.

One of the recruits got up and started moving towards the door. He was stopped and asked to return to the huddle by the HR Head, who frantically waved him back.

At last, the CEO walked in. He smiled at the huddle, and gave a disapproving look to the Supply Chain head, who was still on his phone. Without a word he went to the white board and wrote in block letters

‘Learning Organisation’

He then looked at the huddle and glanced at his senior managers meaningfully. “Hope someone already told you that we are a learning organisation,” he said. There was a murmur among the huddle. He took that as a yes and looked at the seniors. The HR Head got the cue. He said: “We have arranged many training sessions. We have a metric for learning in terms of number of learning hours per employee. They are aware of the training programmes they will need to undergo during the year.”

The recruits didn’t seem too happy. One of them had found out that all the training programmes were in-house. They would be held in the same buildings during the weekends.

The reaction would definitely have been positive if HR had planned some beachside resorts or hill resorts as venues.

The boss interrupted the HR Head: “Excellent. But I hope the learning is not restricted to the training programmes.” Looking at the huddle, he asked encouragingly, “So friends, I understand that you are with us now for over a month. That qualifies you as veterans! What did you learn here?”

The one who had tried to go out conference room raised his hand and said: “I learn that everyone is very busy. So busy that nobody can keep his or her appointed time for meeting us.”

The seniors shuffled their chairs uncomfortably. The CEO responded: “Is that so? There is no doubt that we are busy out here since we are pushing the envelope. Looking at the seniors, he added: “But we must spare time for these young people. They are our future, aren’t they?” The seniors explained that they took special efforts to meet the young group even if they had to stay back late to do so.

Another recruit asked, “Sir, what do you mean by a Learning Organisation? Does it mean that it is an organisation of people who learn or is an organisation which learns as a whole?” The CEO responded, “Well! They go hand in hand, don’t they?”

“No Sir, I don’t see how.” The young man wouldn’t give up. The meeting came to life.

“Young man, we encourage frankness here. But let me show you a bigger picture.” For the next 30 minutes the CEO then proceeded with his presentation, talking about numbers and challenges. He ended the session saying: “The HR Head will address your concerns about learning. Have a Good Day.”

The CEO did what any smart person does when confronted with a difficult question. Change the subject. In this case, he proceeded with his stock presentation.

The discussion could have also gone like this

CEO: Why don’t you see it that way?

Recruit 1: They are two different things.

Recruit 2: Yes. For example, everyone learns something or other every day — things like how not to annoy a customer, or how not to disagree with the boss. How no one keeps promises, so how to pad up time estimates, and so on. Someone may also learn a new technique in production. But this doesn’t mean that the organisation as a whole learned anything that is beneficial to it.

CEO: You guys make sense. So let’s see how to make sure that the organisation is learning as well. Do you have any ideas?

Recruit 1: Yes, Sir. One way is to find out of the organisation is doing anything differently based on some experience and its analysis.

CEO: Can you give an example?

Recruit 3: Let’s say that we have a way of handling normal and urgent shipments. We collect data and find that urgent shipments take as much time, or not much less, than the normal ones. This annoys customers. Based on specific data we can diagnose the workflows to find out errors or impediments. Then we can modify them and try them out. Finally, when a better workflow is implemented, we can say that the organisation has learned something new and better.

CEO: Excellent. We should use this for almost everything we do here.

Hoping that something sticks?

A usual learning ‘strategy’ is: Let us throw a lot of training (X hours per employee per year) at them. Let’s hope that something of that sticks and they get better at what they are doing. Budget permitting, we can plan some training programmes at holiday resorts. We can also send some high performing people abroad for training.

Such an approach assumes that:

– something is better than nothing

– a lot of it is better

– People get motivated by training, even if it is not utilised

Look around you to see if the above approach makes the organisation as a whole learn something that gives it an advantage. Also check if people benefit through the ‘hope something sticks’ kind of strategy and if they themselves stick around.

Has to be need-based

A learning organisation doesn’t get built through a ‘hope something sticks’ attitude and a training budget. Training must be planned based on the needs of the ‘work’ being done and the requirements of those doing it. Whatever is learned needs to be used immediately in one’s work with enough time for practice. If this is not ensured, the learning evaporates within days of employees returning to work. If managers don’t take responsibility for such systematic learning, the organisation, as a whole, can never learn.

( This article was first published by bloncampus.com here http://www.bloncampus.com/columns/jargon-jungle/the-real-meaning-of-a-learning-organisation/article9104455.ece )

Team work

Improving quality of day-to-day work is a surer way of building good teams #JargonJungle

This article written by me was first published by bloncampus.com here  

The annual company event took place near the beaches of Goa. Their MD, freshly minted MBAs, and techies were all there.

The program was chock-a-block with the inevitable strategy sessions and reviews. When the meet was being planned, the MD had stressed on the need for better teamwork. Everybody agreed. On cue, the HR organised many team building sessions — some outdoors, others indoors. There were adventure team games. Computer-based strategy games were also conducted.

The employees’ sore muscles and tired minds would find solace in the evening beach parties. Professional entertainers and employees’ music groups performed, much to everyone’s delight. Smiles and bonhomie filled the air. In the concluding session, the MD said he was impressed with the electric atmosphere. The whopping bill seemed justified as people returned home, happily exhausted.

First day at work

The smiles were still there, albeit a bit tired. But that was understandable, given the amount of work and partying that went on for two and a half days. People started picking up pieces of work — overflowing inboxes could still be ignored.

Day two at work

Overflowing inboxes could no longer be ignored. Meetings were lined up on both sides of lunch; even a quiet cup of tea was out of the question. An argument broke out between marketing and operations. Charges were traded. Teamwork within those departments, however, was intact.

Frowns replaced smiles.

Soon, everything about the ‘team building outing’ — except the Goa gossip —was forgotten. The MD was having lunch with heads of marketing and operations. HR head was there as well.

Over desserts, the MD asked, “How is the teamwork these days?”

The marketing head said, “It’s great! I just hope we get our deliveries on time”. The operations chief said, “It is definitely better. But the hard work our boys put in isn’t fully appreciated”. The HR head quipped, “We need this (Goa) at regular intervals to keep up the team spirit”.

So why don’t such expensive interventions improve teamwork?

We all know that openness, fairness, co-operation, communication, empathy, emotional intelligence, engagement, spirit of innovation, adventure and such soft aspects help build teams. But they won’t go far enough because teamwork is implicitly defined as “If I miss something, my team-mates should accommodate it”.

Implicit definitions of teamwork (as we see it)

1) Others should accept and correct my shortcomings.

2) Bonding only over non-work related subjects.

3) Avoiding professional disagreements and making compromises that hurt quality in the long run.

4) Thinking ‘others should stand in for me if I am not free’.

5) And assuming ‘my mistakes should be the collective responsibility of all team members’.

At the outset, no one will agree with the above. But truth is, we do have such implicit expectations. That’s why the word ‘teamwork’ has a negative connotation. Yet, as a team leader, there is nothing more frustrating than seeing your people quibble, argue, and backbite over petty issues.

Building better teams

So how can you make it better? What you should definitely avoid is giving a pep talk on the subject. Haven’t you yourself been bored to death with such talk?

Instead, here are a few things to check for. Check if:

~ Your team’s goals are clear, measurable and achievable with some stretch.

~ If your plan is intelligently drawn with identified risks.

~ If your team members have contributed to making the plan, which can allow handling surprises.

~ If individuals understand what they must do and how that fits into their colleagues’ activity plan.

~ If your people’s attitudes and abilities match the work demands.

If the above things aren’t done, day-to-day work can cause irritation, frustration, anger and bad trade-offs, leading to blame games. Interventions for improving soft skills won’t work in such situations.

No amount of team building activities planned can help unless such issues are resolved. Improving the quality of everyday work is a sure way of building good teams.

War for Talent

It needs talent to spot talent.  Next in the #JargonJungle series

There is a new war being waged in campuses today. It is called the ‘War for Talent’, undertaken by companies trying to get the cream of students onboard.

Teams heading to campuses for recruitment are like commandos — the HR heads and their support staff are the people running these war rooms. Their presentations combine powerful marketing pitches and high powered propaganda designed to bamboozle even the sharpest of minds being targeted. One would expect all this and more.

These ‘talented people’ constitute the prize catch of this war. One would expect the catch to be guarded with care bordering on paranoia.

“They told me that people like me were one out of every 50 short-listed from campuses of premier institutions. They said, ‘You (I) made it through our gruelling tests, group discussions, SOP (Statement of Purpose) filters, social media analytics and personal interviews. You should be proud’,” Vinaya had said in her exit interview, handled by an HR Consulting firm.

“When I walked into our office on my first day, I looked around proudly. No one noticed me. “Hey, I have arrived!” I felt like saying. I barged into one of the frosted glass cabins and announced myself. The woman there smiled knowingly, offered me a seat and helped me finish some formalities. She expected me to somehow come in precisely into that cabin and meet her.”

Vinaya’s cohort Sushant said in his exit interview, “They put me in a team without taking into account my interests. What’s the point in writing an SOP and defending it in the interview? I mentioned a lot of things which I have been doing even in my personal time to show them how serious I am about what I wish to do.”

The CEO of their company has been saying they must win the ‘War for Talent’ in order to sustain their success and growth. The company is trying hard to retain talent. In addition to compensation packages, it has also introduced facilities like generous work-from-home options, personal time offs for those unavoidable chores, and luxury buses for commuting.

Unfortunately, all this hasn’t helped — many from the ‘prize catch’ group leave within a year after joining. Many companies face similar problems in their ‘War for Talent’. But why?

Reasons they leave

There are many reasons for this.

One, these wars are being fought under the charge of HR. Using elaborate processes and technology for recruitment is necessary but it seems that they give an air of infallibility in spotting talent and ensuring a good match with the needs of companies.

Two, these wars must also be fought within, to retain, spot and nurture talent. Team leaders, technical and business managers must join this war. HR can’t do it alone.

Three, there should be clarity about what talent is and what the talented people are looking for.

Usually, companies rely on education and experience while selecting talent. Unfortunately, education and experience don’t solely determine a person’s performance, much less tell us anything about his/her potential.

Spotting the right fit

When we think of talent, we think of performance — dancing, singing, problem solving, coding… doing something well. But talent is also about innate potential. And this potential becomes visible though learning and practice.

While the environment must enable learning and practice, an individual needs to enjoy it sufficiently to overcome difficulties, tiredness, frustration and negativity, and reach a level of proficiency that is valuable to others.

Given all this, one can understand why truly talented people are:

~ Passionate about what they like doing

~ Restless

~ Evaluate themselves often

~ Take efforts to improve without being told to

~ Enjoy talking about the finer aspects of related performances (critical appreciation)

~ Don’t like to waste their time

~ Are willing to reach out to those who might help them improve

~ Want to take their talent to new situations and prove themselves all over again

~ Look for bigger reasons, like be part of a winning team or work for a worthy cause

When you need people for working on big projects or for developing complex products, they need to have critical and creative thinking abilities, the ability to summarise and expand, to define problems and build conceptual models, and the ability to frame and execute actions.

Their knowledge and experience can be useful only then. More importantly, the knowledge and experience won’t set limits to what they can achieve.

In conclusion

From the lost talent wars and based on anecdotal information about what goes on inside organisations, we can infer that most companies don’t do a good job of finding talent.

But it shouldn’t be that difficult. If you are like the people described above, you will recognise them. Talent recognises talent.

This ‘War for Talent’ can be won by spotting people with the qualities mentioned above and helping them realize their potential. It is your job to see how to use technology and alter your practices accordingly.

This article written by me as first published on bloncampus.com here

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