Business

To Learn or Not To Learn

Digital is inevitable. And it’s no longer the future. It is the present. Jack Nicholson’s comment on how, “the minute you’re not learning, you’re dead” has never been more relevant.

Earlier this year, Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke gave his employees a ‘40 hour challenge’ through which to  accomplish 40 hours of learning during 2018. A year that has approximately 8760 hours in it, employees across the global office are being tasked with spending just 40 on learning. With more than 30,000 employees, this sets a stretch goal of potentially 1.2 million cumulative hours. At least 20 of these hours would be conducted on the Telenor Campus while the rest can be learning opportunities related to responsibility, such as on-the- job training (stretch assignments, mentoring, job rotation) or external courses to develop new skills.

Telenor isn’t the first company to do so. Many organizations around the world encourage self-learning and creation for the overall benefit of the company. The appreciation that ‘every employee has the capacity to make the difference’ makes sense. Doesn’t it? Better people means more business, which means the ability to attract better people, which means more business, and the cycle just continues.

Beyond just the training and investment into education, a lot of companies offer incentives to inspire employees to stay. For starters, ‘employees’ are ‘team members’ who can actually contribute to the bottom line of the business. Remember the 80:20 rule exercised by the big tech firms? Take some time to solve a problem and if it is promising enough, the business may buy into it, incubate it and nurture it into something bigger. The downside? Well, there is none except for the fact that you may work on an idea that will never see the light of day.

The dilemma from an employer perspective isn’t whether they should invest in the employee – that’s like a no-brainer. The issue most businesses have is how the return on the investment is going to be realized. Investment in any form whether it is education, training or bonus, has to yield in some manner… or does it? According to Kashif Rashid, “I feel everyone wants to learn and excel in life. If someone wants to learn, [as employers], we should encourage it. However, I don’t think it benefits the company as such to be honest.”

What about the runaway employee? You know.. The ones that look promising, yet are there for the benefit? Contracts don’t exactly help much. Which means if you invest in the promise, the promise may very well run away. Zainab Hussain-Dhanji explains from both perspectives. “My company promotes learning. I am currently doing my masters and while the company is not reimbursing me for it but they do give me paid time off to go to classes. They do that in order to retain the talent. I have been working there for the past 7 years and have thoroughly applied my mental capabilities to meet the demands of the job. I have a good relationship with the company and they would like for me to flourish.” What’s the downside? If you don’t invest in the future of the talent, they will leave.

But Zainab’s case is an interesting one because what she is studying, may not directly benefit her company. “It would definitely improve the quality of my current work, in terms of communication with the clients, problem solving and working under pressure.”

Inspired Learning

Is learning even important? After all, the core business of a for-profit company, is to generate revenue. Is creating a learning-positive environment really the responsibility of the company?

Jamil Janjua certainly thinks so. “[We need to] create a dynamic environment where the routine tasks and objectives are constantly changing and embed challenges and thereby new learning. Challenge the staff to create and design new training programs every month and raise the bar on successful initiatives.” It seems for the most part, that Jamil isn’t the only idealist. Imran Shirvanee explains that not only should the staff be ‘allowed’ to learn on the job, they should also be encouraged. “Ours is a teaching institution where staff is encouraged to enlist (for free, of course) in various courses we offer to [even] outsiders.” In fact, he even steps it up to explain that if the underlings learn more and perform well, the entire industry recognizes the company as the guru!

It really looks like there is more to it than an ego-boost. Naeem Ahmed has a simple rule of thumb: if he isn’t learning something new every 6 months, it’s time to find something new to do. “I extend the same expectation to those I take responsibility for. We need to invest in our people’s careers, and thereby in our company’s future. Yes, some will leave, but those who stay will hopefully be more productive, motivated and loyal. Natural selection of the values we espouse.”

Some companies go one step forward. According to Christopher Fabian, his company is really open to proposals from. He explains, “if someone has an idea to spend one day a week at a partner office or spend that time studying, we almost always accommodate the request. We find this approach gets better retention of staff, and also gets new ideas into the rest of us. We also engage in group-learning-afternoons every few weeks where we present something to each other.” Idealism sometimes really does just roll out of companies!

Talea Zafar explains, “I have always invested in learning. In fact, technical skills need constant updates because everything changes so quickly. I actually ask those who apply to us for jobs, as to how much time they spend learning. While it’s challenging to give them a lot of time to learn on-the-job, if I feel someone brings value, I will always provide them with the learning resources. Absolutely no question.”

The dreaded, much-discussed void between the industry and academia has nudged a number of companies into providing their own solutions. Former Oracle Pakistan head Ahsen Javed explains that his present company, he values employee learning at the heart of their operations. “We recently started a Grad program whereby we are inducting fresh IT and Business graduates and make them go through rotations across departments.” Much akin medical programs, Keystone rotates these recruits across Sales, Delivery, Pre-sales and Marketing in a 6-month program. “If they perform well, we can hire them.”

There is definitely an overwhelming sense of realization that everyone needs to update their skillset. The world changes at such an incredibly fast pace, it doesn’t take long for people to be ‘hot one minute, and not the next’. The need to remain relevant and ahead of the curve is more critical today, than ever before.

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