Employee Training and Leadership – Episode 1 [Interview]

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With over 25 years of experience in General Management in international and domestic market, Birender Ahluwalia is one person who has the potential to turn around any stressful project into a positive learning experience. He has a limitless potential to stay positive in the hardest conditions imaginable and to raise others above their daily frustrations.

Here is an interview where he shares his experience and insight into topics related to training and leadership.

Given the immense amount of experience you have in the field of training and management, can you quickly walk us through the key challenges you have faced while handling a large amount of workforce and how did you come to a resolution?

Birender: See, there are basically five challenges or objectives that I would put out for the learning organization. And I am using the phrase ‘learning organization’ deliberately because learning or training is not the role of a department because learning starts from different levels. So I am going to use the phrase learning organization rather than a training function.

For a learning organization the first objective is an orientation change towards a certain growth that can be quantified in either revenue gain or in a behavior change or in a cost reduction over a period of time through productivity.

So, therefore learning really needs to become accountable for organizational results. So, even though you may have behavioral changes, but overall at the end of the year there has to be tangible organizational Dollar or Rupee returns. Therefore, the interventions for learning would range right from how do you increase productivity by mentoring high performers, how do you take best practices from one part of the organization to other part of the organization or even how do you mentor and I am using the word mentor, low performers so that they can come up the curve very quickly. So, that is the first one out of the five which is an orientation towards organizational results.

The second challenge or objective should has to be that the learning or change has to be rooted in positive deviance. And let me explain what that means, so usually what happens is when something starts going wrong or something is not as per plan you always tend to look for weaknesses, you look for gaps, you look for scarcity and then you try and plug that through learning interventions.

Instead what I always tell my clients is that there is equal merit in studying high performers. Understanding what they are doing right, catching them doing something right, understanding how they actually came about doing that and then replicating that across the organization.

So, that is the second one. The third one is a bit 30-thousand-foot level your learning has to be reflected and shared values and visions for the organizations. Well what happens is, this is shared values because an individual who is undergoing a learning intervention or learning process has to gear his learning towards his/her own personal values and the values of his/her organization. They both have to some linkages. And more often than not you will find similarities of values for example, a leader might have the value of integrity and the organization would also have the value of integrity. The organization would have a value of let’s say care for customers/care for employees and you might have a value of nurturing leadership and therefore when he comes down to aligning the shared value and then aligning the organizational vision to the person’s or the leader’s own personal purpose and meaning in life. And purpose and meaning in life goes beyond the normal goals and milestones. For example, it’s the vision of the company in one end and second is how do you want your legacy to be written in the company. So you could be a customer service agent or could be the CEO and you could be the five thousand people organization. When a five thousand people organization is pursuing one single purpose of the organization at the same time there are five thousand collective purpose and meaning in life, five thousand different hopes and ambitions and five thousand different hopes and dreams together. So that’s the third one, which is reflected in shared values and visions.

See how a large enterprise trained its 13k frontline users at 1/5th the cost using just the right strategy!

The fourth is each learning process now has to be highly customized, because each leader is different, she is different, the team she leads is different the unit she performs is different her entire context is different and more importantly her hopes and dreams are different her own milestones are different.

Basically, her own journey is different. And therefore if the leader and the team she leads if their journey is different, how do you customize the journey for a thousand leaders in the organization. So, that’s the fourth one that is being highly customized to each journey.

And, the fifth one is about learning has to now become to mastery oriented.

I have a firm belief that no one wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I am going to do a terrible job at my workplace.” I don’t think anybody does that. Everyone wakes up in the morning saying, “Look, today I want to meet my target!”

If she is a customer service agent she wakes up saying “I want to be the best customer service agent in the country.” If there is a sales regional manager she wakes up saying “I want my region to be the best target achiever in the country.” So every leader wakes up in the morning with the dream that today is going to be the best day of her life. And that is what drives people which is an orientation towards what we call mastery and therefore the employee engagement with the learning process has to be that of continuous learning. And one of the key drivers of the entire process of engagement is a constant growth towards mastery. And unfortunately what also happens many times is that may be training programs and training interventions end in the classroom. And I don’t know if you are a practitioner or any of our listeners are practitioners of yoga, but any good yoga instructor, what she will always tell us or what my yoga instructor Vandana always tells me is that while practicing yoga, once you leave class your actual delivery of yoga starts. You start living the yoga when you leave class. You are only practicing yoga in class. Now the implementation of yoga starts when you leave the class. That’s what she says and that’s what every yoga instructor says. So therefore the process of mastery has to start immediately after the training intervention ends.

So, to sum up these are the five objectives or challenges I’d put out to any learning organization.

Number one, being oriented towards organizational results in dollars. Number two process of change rooted in positive deviance. Number three learning organization which is reflected in shared values and vision. Number four, every learning process which is highly customized each learner and her journey. And, number five being mastery oriented and not just plain evolution or improvement oriented, it has to be mastery oriented.

So, drawing on the idea of implementation, how do you gauge the effectiveness of your training at the end of your session? Is there a specific amount of time you allot to feedbacks and reviews?

Birender: That’s a very interesting question and it is a question I am always posed on. I am going to use the metaphor of weight loss. So, let us say someone wants to undergo the journey of weight loss and let us say the person weighs eighty kilos and the ideal weight according to height and everything is seventy kilos. So, the person has to lose ten kilos and the person gives himself or herself a target of one year lose ten kilos. Now say today is Tuesday 12th of July and the person makes up his mind to say “You know what? I need to lose weight.” Now, the process of losing weight starts the next instant. It does not start on 13th of July or it will not start on 14th of July, it will start right away. So, I may not lose ten kilos right away but I have made up my mind and I start doing the little micro steps that go towards my ultimate goal of losing 10 kilos. So, therefore you might plan that I want to buy gym clothes, so I will buy the gym clothes today. And now it is lunch time, so therefore I would eat a little bit lesser than what I ate yesterday and I usually don’t go for a walk in the evening but maybe I’ll just for a twenty-minute walk. So, the process of change has immediately started. Again, he/she will not lose weight by today evening but the process would have started and the process if continued with resilience would continue. And that’s what I always like to call because somehow all my training sessions start taking place on Thursday’s, Friday’s and Saturday’s. So what I call this is Monday morning leadership. So, whatever you have learnt in the class on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday you should be start implementing them on Monday morning.

So, if you cannot implement whatever you learnt on Monday morning or at least take those little steps on Monday morning, you might wonder if the training program has been successful. So I like to put all my training initiatives that I do for the organization. Let us say here are the five things you can actually start doing Monday morning onwards. And, therefore start seeing a little bit of a difference in the way you present yourself, in the productivity that you deliver to the organization and the engagement of people that you lead.

For example, although every organization wants a feedback on training which is very useful for me to improve my own training and the delivery of the training. But what happens is I like to take accountability for the training that I do. And I go back a week later, not later than a week – to find out if people have actually started delivering on the training. So usually what I would do is even though I am an external consultant for an organization, two weeks or three weeks or a month later I will again deliver my training programs. So what happens when I deliver my training programs, a couple of weeks before that before I submit my proposal, I speak to people who will enter the training program to find out what the challenges are and two to three weeks after the training program I usually call them up to ask how much what they learnt in their life. Because if you learn something on 10th of July and if you cannot implement that on 13th of July, the chances that you will implement it on 20th of July is slightly less, the chances that you will implement it on 20th of August are even less and chances are that by 20th September you would have already forgotten all about it. I mean it is impossible for a human brain to remember all of that. So, therefore it’s exactly like weight loss. You should never start a weight loss program saying “I am going to start a weight loss on 12th of September,” you would never do that right? Or if you are in a relationship and you want to change the dynamics with your girlfriend or with your partner. You don’t say that “I will start treating her better than what I will be treating her a month from now.” You will say that “I will do it right away.” Even though it will be a very tiny step, it may be just a WhatsApp message, talking to her asking her how her day went and how is the day going to change the dynamics of the relationship. Maybe, you had a fight the day before maybe it’s just to say that you are sorry. It may be a very tiny step. She still may be very angry, But you never say, “Look, you know what I am going to make up to you next time, but I am going to call you one week from now.” So, the process of positive change starts and people decide to make that investment instantly. So once you decide “I will make my investment and I’ll get a return on my investment.” So once you make a mind to invest in yourself, the investment has to be made immediately. Do not waste a month, two months or three months to make that investment. The effectiveness has to come on Monday morning and not later than that. The quality of your delivery? Yes, you may want to ask that. For example, if you want to ask the quality of the material, you may want to ask that at the end of session. You may want to ask the presentation skills of the person who delivered the program. The best time to ask that is at the end. So, if you are testing the training methodology and the training delivery. It is good to ask those questions at the end of the training program.  But the real effectiveness comes on Monday morning and not later than that.

Employee Training and Leadership – Episode 2 – Read here.


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