Harvard Business Publishing (HBP)’s corporate learning wing has been partnering with Indian companies over the last five years to develop customized solutions for management-related problems and implement them effectively.
As part of its research and work with Indian corporate clients, it recently conducted a study, Emerging Leadership Development Trends in India, of 43 Indian organizations that have more than 1,000 employees each and identified four key trends for leadership development here. Executive vice-president Ray Carvey, responsible for expanding the reach of HBP’s corporate learning business and its global strategy, outlined these key trends and nuances during a visit to New Delhi last week. Edited excerpts:
The survey points out four key trends in the Indian workspace. What was the most important learning that is specific to India?
The growth imperative of most of the Indian companies is top-most on their agenda and a major reason for them to be investing in learning and development programmes. This may not be the reason driving companies in other countries. Growth is a real issue that’s forcing Indian companies to look for scale-up opportunities. It is such a driver because the context was different five-six years ago. We’re asking people to do more with less. Organizations are very layered, so the way we manage resources is different. A few years ago you may have had a very verticle view of your resources, now it’s a more networked approach. Growth ends up being the driver for Indian companies and also setting the pace of work. And for such a scenario, they need mature managers, and they need them fast. A mature manager typically has more self-awareness and more strategic sense of where and how decisions are being made. Companies now don’t have the time to wait. They are looking for productivity, better decision making, in a much more complicated environment.
Leading the way: Carvey says middle managers are crucial.(Divya Babu/Mint)
In developing leaders faster and better, succession planning is key. What kind of trends showed up in that area?
We’re seeing an increasing demand on two fronts. One, the succession planning of high-potential employees that you want to nurture in your organization. The more global the company, the bigger the scale. If you want to send 30-40 of your people to executive training programmes, it’s better to develop a programme yourself.
Also, companies are starting to focus on the middle manager. It’s a very crucial set of people. Another question they are asking themselves is what happens to a new employee you’ve just hired and trained, till the time they’re ready to be part of the bench of next leaders. What are they doing in the time in between? There’s a tremendous group of resource there and a lot of companies are starting to focus on that. Companies also see that as a way to encourage engagement with their employees as well as finding some of those successors inside the company.
Blended learning seems to be a new tool in corporate learning programmes. Tell us more about it.
In the US we’ve been in this business for 17 years. The early roots of corporate learning programmes were e-learning, which is online and electronic. When we came to India, we found it was much more face-to-face and classroom-based.
Now, however, both markets have moved towards the middle.
So blended learning has evolved as a very definitive trend. It fits the right kind of learning to the right kind of problem and leverages each unique situation. For instance, if you’re talking about awareness learning or imparting basic skills, you can have an online programme, virtual or real time. You save time and money and you don’t have to bring everyone to one place. But if you want to teach something that is not just about knowing, but about doing, it requires a trainer to make you work in teams, go into the field and apply the knowledge. So a face-to-face approach is better. That’s a different part of the blend. The face-to-face interaction also throws up lots of ideas and feedback. That sort of exchange is good. In India, it’s a wonderful fit for both circumstances.
Where does innovation feature among the priorities of Indian companies?
Seven-eight years ago the context in India was very different from now. India is now faced with new challenges that need new innovative solutions. Earlier it was about FDI, about money coming into India. Now we’re talking about global Indian companies that see themselves in the global market space, not only competing there but managing global markets. They have offices in different countries and scaling that is a different problem from just being headquartered in one place. That’s the kind of innovation they constantly seek help with.
From what I learnt from the survey about innovation, the need to develop programmes in a scalable fashion rather than thinking about everything in one place is the new challenge they are facing. How can you have an impact on your managers across all levels and locations? That requires a different approach from bringing 30 people together in a classroom. It again pushes us into the blended space.
Talking about challenges, what are the kinds of gaps that are unique to Indian companies?
The scale of hiring, on-boarding and talent management is unique to India because of its fast growth rate. Similar scale issues may be true for China. When you’re talking about hiring 20,000-30,000 people a year, that’s an interesting problem.
Also, the education system in India has a very narrow kind of learning pattern. From what I’ve seen in business and engineering schools, there’s a linear progression from very early on. There is a lot of focused study of topics, but when they get launched into workplaces, companies ask how do we teach them how to work in a corporation. How do you get engineers to start thinking strategically? Which gives way to a lot of on-boarding programs and backward integration to education.
The survey constantly stresses self-awareness among companies in India. How important is that?
I think the answer is more and more and more. From my perspective it’s a very important component of learning. Whether it’s David Garvin’s learning theory or Peter Drucker’s first commandment—know yourself—to understand your own strengths and weaknesses is the first step to being a leader. People and companies understand that. When we talk about maturing faster, that’s exactly what we’re talking about, to build emotional intelligence and self-awareness into their leaders as quickly as they can.