Tag Archives: learning

Building a Culture of Learning and Engagement – Part 2

Continuing with the ideas I had shared in my previous post, Building a Culture of Learning and Engagement, we need to find processes for learning and engagement that engage the mind-body-spirit of our employees. This would help to make employee engagement not just an intervention but a way of life in our organizations.

I received some excellent comments from readers to that post, and now I’m sharing some ways in which I believe we can achieve our goal:

        1. Creating a purpose driven work-force
        2. Including conversational processes in Learning
        3. Having a ‘Jugnu’ approach
      1. Creating a purpose driven work-force: Purpose can be described as the reason for our existence. Organizations are not always purpose driven but they are definitely vision driven and have clear goals and strategies. As part of alignment, we do help people see how the organizational vision connects to their role.Suppose we flip this approach. Supposing we start with each employee instead. Get each employee to identify their personal purpose and values – what matters to them – why do they exist – what makes them wake up with a spring in their step – what makes their eyes shine? Questions that perhaps they have never considered.Jobs don’t really require an answer to these, do they? Yet, a purpose statement helps us to understand the reason we exist, live and work. If we facilitate this discovery for employees, we build a sense of confidence and self-discovery in them. Only then should we link it with their organizational roles and the vision of the organization. We at Pragati Leadership strongly believe that this would enable a realizing of potential and power within people and they would then be able to be better engaged and involved with themselves and the organization. If I don’t understand myself and what I want, how will I understand what the organization aspires to achieve and my role in the same?Giving people the freedom, resources and autonomy to be able to pursue their personal purpose at work (along with their organizational role) would help to bring out both positive energy and involvement. Hindustan Petroleum has done this in a remarkable way with great success.
      2. Including Conversational Processes in Learning: Most of our OD and HR interventions are highly structured and well planned. They enable sharing of knowledge and building of skills.Yet it is informal conversations that lead to collaboration, connection and co-creation. Informal conversations lead to sharing of ideas, best practices and innovation. Organizations need to create spaces and forums to operationalize this. Two such conversational processes are: Open Space Technology (OST) and World Cafe. What is common among both of these is that a theme is chosen and people voluntarily sign up for areas or issues they are passionate about. This leads to learning and passionate ownership of actions. Many companies have experimented with regular monthly or quarterly forums where OST is introduced to employees . This has led to new ideas being generated, and more importantly,  people coming forward voluntarily to take responsibility for their implementation. These processes are sustainable, cost effective and require no external intervention. These are critical ongoing OD interventions that can build engagement and learning.
      3. Having a Jugnu Approach: The word ‘Jugnu’ means ‘fireflies’. Fireflies glow in the dark. Where there is darkness, they show the light. In an organizational context, Jugnus refers to those people who show more learning luminosity than others. In order to enhance the vibrancy, learning and luminosity of an organization, the HR/L&OD team can identify a cadre of employees called ‘Jugnus’ or ‘I-Catalysts’. These are people who are internal change agents for learning and engagement. They are naturally interested in sharing, learning, have a positive and optimistic approach and are natural communicators and magnets for others. These people can be identified through seeking nominations and selected using a check-list. With some degree of I-Catalyst training, they can become the extended arm of HR/L & D in order to catalyze learning among employees. I-Catalysts would typically be line managers .They would help to promote learning among employees by organizing and facilitating informal learning e.g. brown bag workshops, best practice sharing, debates, peer assist sessions, films, storytelling etc. Research has shown that the trend in learning is that organizations are moving away from formal training to informal learning where they don’t need to be in a classroom for picking up new skills etc. I-Catalysts can spearhead this process of informal learning within the organization.


Photo credit: pareeerica via Foter.com/ CC BY-NC

When a culture of purpose, conversation and learning gets created, it automatically leads to greater employee engagement and involvement. People’s strengths and talents are used better. There is higher ideation and innovation. People meet across departments and silos and there is a naturally higher collaboration. There is less fear and more joy. More importantly employee engagement is no longer an HR intervention, rather it becomes each person’s priority. When this happens, the goal of the HR department has truly been achieved.

Are some of these ideas adopted at your organization? I would love to hear readers’ experiences and share knowledge so that we all learn and grow.

by Anu Wakhlu


Business Leadership vs Functional Leadership

One of the most important development areas of senior leaders in business is the transition into business leadership roles  after being in a functional role.

Enabling senior leaders with the mindset and paradigm change required for this role is a very common industry need.

In most typical organizations,technical expertise and the competencies required to execute around one’s immediate business area is always the key priority.


Development actions and new learning is also around the same. People are also measured and evaluated on their immediate KRA’s which too are usually linked to functional performance. Its therefore typical that at senior levels,most people are experts in their areas of work. The challenge that this throws up for the organization is that there is  a whole bunch of functional experts  who are extremely good with what they know  and yet there is no leadership talent that looks at the “big picture “ of the organization. As consultants and coaches for  Leadership development,we have consistently found this to be a recurrent gap across different sectors of business- Manufacturing, BPO, IT, Pharma etc.


The CEO doesn’t really have a team of business leaders to support him. He invariably has  an excellent team of functional leaders. This hurts the organization since there is a tendency to look at most issues from a functional perspective rather than a business angle. The approach to resolving also becomes very “my function/department-centric”.  This is also one of the main reasons why “silo-working “ and “silo-thinking” happens even at senior levels.

What can be done to mitigate this risk?

think tank

One of the ways is by identifying a Leadership Team whose sole responsibility is to look at the business of the company as a whole and come out with perspectives, approaches that cut across boundaries. This team must not look at what each department is doing but more at what the business is doing and what needs to be done to meet the business challenges. Developing this mind-set and paradigm change will take time but it can be done.

  1. The role of the CEO is very critical in this. He must ensure that he moderates the session in such a way that people stop thinking of their “turf” and look at the company instead.
  2. Building skills on business perspectives, commercial  acumen, strategic thinking would be critical. The team needs to be exposed to the external world and needs to go and study other businesses and learn from them.
  3. Networking and collaboration would help to make this happen. These are critical skills for being a good business leader.
  4. The members of the Leadership team need to be given opportunities to lead sessions on application of strategy to business, creating business plans for the company etc. Peer reviews can help.

Some of these would ensure that the CEO has a bankable team with him for the present and the future.

By Anu Wakhlu 


What Organisations can Learn from Masterchef Australia

I don’t watch much TV, and I definitely don’t watch reality shows, but in a contradiction of all of that, I do get to see Masterchef Australia pretty regularly because of my better half’s interest in all things culinary. I’ve been following the 2012 edition on Star World.

I’ve always admired the show for the warmth of the judges, the lack of obtrusive background music and melodrama. In contrast, whatever little I’ve seen of Indian reality TV, is replete with melodrama, playing to the gallery, their harsh, rude judges, and is therefore so (how do I put this mildly) unappetising.

Apart from the inherent civility of Masterchef Australia, one thing that strikes me is that it’s a role model for how organisations should be run. Consider this:

Aspirants come to the show relatively raw. While it’s a contest, what stands out about the show is not the competitive spirit of the participants but the camaraderie. At stake is a big, prestigious prize, but there’s no bitter rivalry that is visible. How do the judges, producers etc. manage to keep things so civil despite the “recipe” being ripe for acrimony?

It’s a great statement for Australia, generally thought to be a rude and boisterous country, mostly because of what we read about them, especially about their cricketers. (Even their cricketers seem better behaved these days!)

There are two lessons in there for Organisations.

1. Competition doesn’t need to be cutthroat. You can compete like crazy, but always be gracious in either victory or in defeat. And the Leadership can create a Culture that is more camaraderie & collaboration than competition. More We than me.

2. How your people are seen by the outside world, does a lot for your Brand as an organisation. This, coupled with the above point could have telling implications on the type of employees who will want to come and join you.

Now, these raw aspirants are brought on after checking how good their skills are. Meaning that they are being hired for tasks that they have demonstrated the competency to deliver on.

Next, they are put through cooking test after cooking test. Their skills are tested, they’re constantly challenged. What is noteworthy is what happens during this process. The judges or the experts walk around to each of the contestants briefly asking them how they’re doing. They give them gentle suggestions on what may be going wrong (or could go wrong), they give them tips and suggestions as to what they could do right.

Once the dish is done, and has been tasted, the feedback from the experts is exemplary. Their demeanour and tone is friendly, gentle and encouraging. The feedback is never personal; it’s always about that particular dish/attempt. They talk about what went well with the dish. They give specific feedback on what didn’t go well. And they also say what they would have liked to see instead. And this feedback is being provided in public. And at the end of it, everyone applauds the “effort”. It isn’t “all about the result” kind of show.

Lessons for Organisations (3, 4, 5 & 6):

3. Hire for competence or skill. Get your people trained on and using Competency Based Interviewing.

4. While your people are at work, walk around, supervise, offer suggestions, but don’t hover around. Make an attempt to offer your expertise, don’t just sit there waiting for the work to arrive at your desk. Invest some time in coaching your people, in between if not during tasks.

5. Get your Feedback Skills right. It’s the difference between a boorish workplace and an encouraging one.

6. Applaud the effort. Just because someone got it wrong, doesn’t mean he/she didn’t try hard. As long as you saw them (refer to # 4 above) try hard, praise their effort, offer feedback on what they should do going ahead, and send them on with words of encouragement.

Whether you’re a top leader or a manager, make sure that you and all your managers have got all these above skills right.

While it’s a competition, the Masterchef journey isn’t primarily viewed as that by the participants as that. They seem to look at it as a tremendous learning opportunity. Replete with tasks, feedback, Masterclasses, restaurant and market tours, foreign locales, and what not, each participant knows that he/she is learning more by the day.

Let’s move to the exits. Mercifully, isn’t through audience voting! It’s through a panel of experts who judge with absolute transparency.

Every time a participant exits the show, they seem to be saying the same things – How wonderful they thought this opportunity was, how thankful they are to the show & the judges for the opportunity, to have learnt so much. And many if not most of them move on to their dreams of starting restaurants or being chefs at restaurants! It really seems to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for them!

 Lessons for Organisations (7, 8, 9 & 10):

7. Organisations while they’re chasing down projects, targets, deadlines, should primarily seek to be Learning Organisations. Each day, each task, each project (because of # 4, 5 & 6 above) should be seen as an opportunity to excel, but also to learn something new, master a new skill.

8. Organise Masterclasses by Experts, for your people to learn/hone skills from these experts. The organisational equivalent of these expert Masterclasses would be Training.

9. Mix it up. Make sure that people keep learning new things. If you let monotony set in, you only have yourself to blame. Refer to Csikszentmihalyi’s work on Flow.

10. Imagine a workplace, an organisation where people thank their managers and leaders when they get fired. Where they step out smiling, knowing that what they have learnt will stand them in good stead. I’m not recommending you fire anyone. If you do the above things right, you may never have to, but consider this more likely scenario: Your people are learning so much, having so much fun, have such great leaders & colleagues-comrades that they don’t want to leave! If people have to leave, or move on, they do

so most unwillingly. And even when they do, they leave grateful for all that you have done for them.

Do we have set-ups like that in the world of business? Yes we do. Can you become one? Yes you can. Masterchef Australia is showing you how.

By Aman Zaidi