Author Archives: Ramesh

If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It

13 Oct , 2014,
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Imagine for a moment, your child came back from school and happily showed her report card and all that you can find is “84 man-hours” of learning.

It is in this context that I absolutely abhor one metric organisations use: training hours per employee per year. It does not make sense to me. How can sitting in a classroom ever qualify for training – particularly if there are more than 15 people in the room? Imagine a salesman’s target as “number of field hours per year”. Wrong goals lead to wrong approaches and therefore a poorly trained workforce. The common reason given is that there is little else available to measure. This is actually quite baseless in the context of product training.

A measurement hierarchy in the learning world is the Kirkpatrick’s Model propounded in the 1950s. It has 4 levels – reaction, learning, behavior and results. Where does the current metric “training hours per employee” fit in this model? Well, nowhere. Because this metric merely represents “effort”. While effort is laudable, it can’t be a measure of your learning program. In what field of life do we celebrate mere effort without bothering about outcome?

Now for the solution. If not effort, what do we measure? Here are 4 non-negotiable measurements that you need to bring in your organisation:

1. Learning effectiveness survey results on a dashboard
2. Continuous learning assessment across organisation levels
3. Competition benchmarking of product awareness through mystery shopping
4. Quintile study comparison of job output vs learning scores
Each of the above methods is a very practical solution towards making learning interventions more accountable. It is time to move beyond measuring effort to measuring outcomes. Only a rigorous process of continuous measurement can help you create a truly world class learning organisation.

The New Bedfellows!

23 Sep , 2014,
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A question I am asked often: how can people learn with phones? Trouble is, people associate corporate learning with big powerpoints, classrooms and dull e-learning tools. The truth is that we learn all the time, from our surroundings in bite-size chunks, though we don’t think of it that way. Phones are the smartest way you can push learning content, provided you think through what works and what does not in the medium.

I started using Blackberry about a decade ago, and could not imagine the profound impact it would have on me. I was handling mails quite effortlessly and painlessly through the day and at times, night. I found my balance a few years later and soon iPhone came into my life. The exciting world of apps, web, mail, games were now at a hands reach of desire.

In a recent research by a company called Toluna, it was revealed that two-thirds of US smartphone users look at their devices within 15 minutes of waking up. About a similar percentage looked at their phones last thing in the night before going to bed. The statistics were similar for other countries like UK, France, Germany and Singapore. Not surprisingly, Singapore is on the higher end of the spectrum. Also, one-third look at their mobile phones if they accidently wake up in the night. There is no other fact that represents better how much the mobiles have taken over our lives.

So irrespective of what you think or believe learning is, here’s a suggestion. If people are spending disproportionate amount of time on one medium – whether it is the phone today, or a digital watch tomorrow, get your learning content through across that medium.

Here are some brilliant tools for the new age: Short podcasts & videocasts, quick quizzes, Spaced repetition lessons, flipped classroom videos, learning nuggets, flash cards – I find each one of them awesome in their own way, fulfilling a certain training gap. Try them. I think you’ll like the new world.

Have you tried a Learning Week?

13 Jul , 2014,
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It is always an interesting challenge to mobilize change and support for a common cause in a short time. Nowhere is it as critical as it is in the context of corporate learning.

Everyone agrees that continuous learning has big benefits. Yet people seldom do it. Quite often, employees list down their learning needs (and that too during the appraisal period) and hope that the organisation helps them in execution. The ideal situation is when employees own their learning agenda and go about executing them on their own. Well, even better if the company joins in the effort and supports the learning journey. I find this idea of putting the employee on his own learning journey an excellent opportunity for organisations.

It is in this context that I love the concept of Learning Week: a concerted campaign; a 360 degree approach to reach every employee. There is plenty of content available on the company intranets, internet, publicly available websites, free and paid apps – the Learning Week should simply seek to awaken curiosity in the individual for her/him to find a way.

Here are 7 simple suggestions for a successful learning week:
1. Build excitement through your own branding of the company Learning Week.
2. Conduct a Learning Styles survey to highlight to the individual their own style of learning so that they can pursue learning opportunities that suit them. Not everyone can sign up for a MOOC or learn through reading white papers.
3. Introduce daily learning chunks that induce curiosity to explore more.
4. Introduce daily quizzes about the company, category and general awareness with rewards that recognizes people who are good, and showcases to the others their specific gap areas.
5. Brown bag lunches with a guest speaker
6. Learning ambassadors who can help & guide other employees – typically drawn from senior managers , HR & training managers
7. Importantly, get the support & ownership from the top management. Nothing works like full passion from the organisation’s leaders.

Try a ‘Learning Week” in your organisation. It can be loads of fun too. And there is no nobler cause in Learning & Development that inspiring people to find their own self-learning journey!

Flash Card Genius

13 Jun , 2014,
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When I was 15, I knew the periodic table by heart. I also knew the capitals of over 150 countries in the world. It was 30 years ago; I don’t remember the exact process but tremendous amount of rote learning and creation of mnemonics were involved in the process.

One of the recent discoveries in my life has been the digital flashcard learning process. Flash cards have always been a great method of learning and memorizing, but time consuming. One of the flash card methods I was extremely impressed with was the Leitner method.

As Wikipedia succinctly describes it, “In this method, flashcards are sorted into groups in the Leitner’s learning box, according to how well you know each one. This is how it works: you try to recall the solution written on a flashcard. If you succeed, you send the card to the next group. But if you fail, you send it back to the first group. Each succeeding group has a longer period of time before you are required to revisit the cards.”

There is potentially one gap in the Leitner method. Your answer is either right or wrong, yes or no. It doesn’t leave room for your lucky or unlucky guess-works.)

Inspired by this insight, we have created a range of digital flash card method of learning. Every answer you provide, you can rate them as ‘sure’, ‘almost sure’ or ‘educated guess’. This drives the logic of how often the flash cards appear.

One of the most critical applications for flash cards in corporates is the company jargon. Most organisations make their business more difficult than it needs to be with extensive use of words and phrases unique to the category and their business. Perhaps not deliberately, but then that becomes a part of the culture. One of the unfortunate negatives is that it makes the organisation unfriendly for newcomers. Even old timers get stumped by some jargon and soon function-wise silos get formed. A great organsiation is one in which there are few boundaries between functions and a basic appreciation of business cuts across the company.

I think a simple digital flash card based process can help break barriers and build familiarity to the theory and practice of every business.

“Missionary, Not Mercenary”

6 Feb , 2014,
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The theme is inspired by a phrase from ‘the everything store’, a recent book by journalist Bob Stone on Jeff Bezos & Amazon. I love it. It says a lot. And I intend using the line in our company’s guiding principles.

In the context of Amazon, the book portrays this guiding principle as wishful thinking, given all its controversies and tribulations with lawmakers and competition. But undeniably Amazon has grown by keeping the customer at the core of its thinking. Infact, its corporate mission states, “We seek to be Earth’s most customer-centric company for four primary customer sets: consumers, sellers, enterprises, and content creators”. Impressive as it may sound, I am not sure what “Earth’s most customer-centric company” means, but hopefully their employees do.

What is your organisation’s missionary guiding principle towards your customers? Businesses are always about zealously increasing value to their customer. Genuine value. Nowhere is it truer than in the business of education. “Missionary, not mercenary” can be a profitable long term approach in the business of education. Not helping students passing exams but creating curious healthy minds. The top US Universities, while providing outstanding education also generate significant surplus. (I use surplus, since some of them are not-for-profit like Harvard & Yale universities).

We have a strange dichotomy in India: on the one hand, there is a serious dearth of talent, and on the other is high unemployment. Most recruiters feel that a large number of graduates are unemployable. Even given the twin factors of conservative nature of our recruiters and low job generation in India, the stark fact remains that the colleges have produced tutored exam-passing generation of students for the large part. This puts a huge onus on corporate learning too. How good is the training in your organisation? Do you work with missionary training goals to enable the organisation to deliver missionary customer objectives?

If only all our education is focused on instilling curiosity in minds, we would be building greater employability. Fundamentally, knowledge comes out of curiosity. While rote learning has an important part in memorizing, it comes only after the phase of understanding.

So, hopefully we will keep this all the way through our journey on Curiosity Road – missionary, not mercenary. Putting learners on the curiosity road driving their self-awareness & learning. I hope you will join us too.

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