Q&A: Learning and Development strategies with Nilesh Godle

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This week we’re in conversation with Nilesh Godle, AVP HR, Thence: Digital Product Design & Development. We talk about Learning and Development strategies for an organisation.

The interview is edited for length and clarity.

What do you expect out of a good learning and development strategy and how important has been increasing over the years?

In today's business environment, workforce planning is crucial for scaling a business. It is essential to understand that after a certain point, you cannot buy talent, but rather, you must build it. To achieve this, a strong focus on learning and development (L&D) is necessary. L&D should prioritise three things: higher retention, professional growth, and personal growth. The objective is to invest time, money, and resources in grooming the talent to achieve better retention rates

What are companies doing wrong?

In my opinion, there is a lack of alignment between what employers expect from their employees and what they are capable of delivering. It's like expecting a fish to climb a tree - it's just not possible. Therefore, I believe that equitability is something that we should focus on. As an employer, it's essential to understand what would be the right fit for a particular employee and what resources they would require to excel.

For instance, some employees are self-paced learners and prefer self-paced training programs, while others prefer in-person or classroom sessions. Hence, understanding what works for each employee is critical. I firmly believe that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution, and it's crucial to align expectations with capabilities to achieve the desired results.

How do you think we can come to the alignment to have a mass customizable strategy for l&d? How do you think we can shape it for the mass employees but also have the flexibility to make it customizable?

It's essential to have clearly defined levels and skill requirements for each department. This includes what's needed for an employee to perform their current role and what's required to learn for advancing to the next level. It's crucial to conduct an internal assessment to identify where employees fit in this framework. Create training programs that help them scale up in their current role while also preparing them for the next level. For instance, in my organisation, we have four levels within the design department, starting from associates, designers, senior designers, design guides, to design managers. We've clearly defined the skills needed for each level, which gradually transition from technical skills to managerial and leadership skills. This process involves not only HR but also business partners, heads of departments, and guides in each department. Ultimately, having a well-defined skillset for each level across departments is crucial in enabling employees to learn / grow within the organization.

How can managers and HR support employees who are seeking lateral shifts and how can L&D programs be relevant to employees' goals and career transitions, even when those transitions involve learning skills outside of their current domain?

I believe that policies alone won't solve the issue of retaining star performers, it's the people who make the difference. If an employee is determined to pursue another role, it's important for L&D and HR to understand their perspective while also considering the organization's needs. It's crucial to have a backup plan for backfilling the role and a smooth transition process in place for the next person to join the team. In our company, we had a successful transition from an intern to a product consultant for a star performer. We provided self-paced courses and evaluation to ensure progress before investing more time and resources. The transition happened smoothly with training on live projects before moving to the new role. This shows that with a proper transition process in place, it can be a breeze for the company and managers to allow employees to pursue their desired roles.

We noticed how the L & D budget is underutilized. The adoption and utilisation are really really low. How does it work in your organisation? What are the inputs? And how can we bridge the gap?

To be completely honest, we are currently in the process of setting up the L&D function. It's important to have the right person leading this initiative, as 80% of our team consists of designers. Simply hiring a training facilitator wouldn't suffice, as they would only create plans that look good on paper but won't necessarily yield results for those transitioning into new roles. We've brought on a consultant with over 14 years of experience in design, product, and business, who is currently working with us to put together a training program for our designers and product team.

In my opinion, the reason why many companies underutilize their training budget is due to a lack of understanding of how to spend the money effectively. Many L&D experts are simply facilitators, and not the ones driving the functions. They work with other trainers, both external and internal, to create plans and coordinate with everyone involved. It's important to invest in the right trainers, rather than choosing cheaper options that may not add as much value. Additionally, a lack of interest from participants may also lead to underutilization of the budget. Overall, I believe that companies should prioritise investing in the right trainers and creating engaging training programs to fully utilise their L&D budget.

Why are there no participants in L&D programs? Is it due to alignment, policy, or time issues?

Companies often make the mistake of forcing training on employees without considering their individual growth objectives, leading to a lack of participation. This is why employees find excuses to avoid training they don't want. It's crucial to categorise training needs and align them with employee goals. For instance, if someone wants to become a product manager, a Java training course may interest them, but a content writing course may not. Aligning training with employee priorities and growth objectives can increase participation.

To cater to the growing range of learning and development needs, we see people subscribing to various resources like Harvard Business Review or seeking one-on-one mentorship for their side gig. The challenge is to create a well-defined policy that can accommodate all these needs. How can we create a policy that caters to these diverse needs?

I believe that having well-defined policies is important to cater to the varied interests and needs of employees. It's essential to understand the changing workforce and their preferences, such as working from home, in hybrid environments, or in remote work. It's crucial to understand what an employee actually wants to learn and cater to their learning needs. We have different avenues of learning, such as in-house and certified trainers, online courses, and mentorship programs, which provide employees with varied learning opportunities. It's essential to track the efficiency of self-paced learning and ensure that the L&D sessions are meaningful.

How often should L&D training sessions be conducted?

In my company, we prioritise frequent feedback and reviews to ensure both the company and employees are meeting their goals. We hold quarterly performance reviews where we focus on how employees are doing, not just what they have done. These reviews are based on clearly defined goals that are given to employees at the beginning of each quarter. We also provide ongoing feedback throughout the quarter to help employees stay on track. At the end of the quarter, employees receive a formal rating on a scale of zero to ten, which determines their quarterly incentives.

For L&D sessions, we don't have a set timeframe. Instead, we focus on individual needs and growth goals. During reviews, we ask employees about their personal growth goals and managers help refine them. We also have a repository of skill sets needed for each level, which helps guide the L&D process. Our training programs are tailored to the individual's needs and goals, which helps them grow in their roles and prepare for future positions.

How do you feel about people taking up the training and then leaving the company?

In terms of people leaving the company, it hasn't occurred much in my experience. I think it's important for employees to communicate their plans with the management so that they can align their goals accordingly. As an organisation, we try to provide all the possible resources to help employees learn and grow. If they eventually decide to leave for a better opportunity, we take it with a pinch of salt. However, when employees see that the company is investing in their growth, there's a mutual understanding of the exchange of value, and they understand that they need to stay and give back. Most of our talent in the company are homegrown and have seen the effort put into their development.

To conclude, learning and development (L&D) play a crucial role in employee retention as it takes care of organisational, professional, and personal growth as well. When all three of these aspects are aligned, there’s a clear vision of what needs to be done to achieve the desired outcomes. It's not just about conducting training sessions, but also ensuring that they are outcome-based.

Moreover, I have noticed that retention strategies for companies are changing as the workforce is getting younger. Employees are more interested in upskilling themselves in both personal and professional spaces than in other benefits. This shift in priorities is something that companies need to keep in mind when devising their retention strategies. Overall, I believe that investing in L&D can be an effective way to retain employees and promote their growth within the organisation.

Do you work in HR or Want us to cover how something in an organization is working? Email janhavi.jain@springworks.in or DM @janwhyy on Twitter.