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Do Learning Consultants own a magic wand?

By Pooja Velhal, Head – Learning & Leadership, Corporate HR, Schaeffler

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Pooja Velhal, Head – Learning & Leadership, Corporate HR, Schaeffler

With around 84,000 employees worldwide, The Schaeffler Group is one of Europe's largest technology companies. It has a worldwide network of manufacturing locations, research and development facilities and sales companies at approximately 170 locations in 50 countries. Pooja brings along 18 years of experience in HR, with a keen focus on Talent Development, Leadership and OD.

“I cannot teach everybody everything, I can only make them think”, as truly said by Socrates and my first impression ran “In today’s fast paced business world, where is the time to think?” In our every day operational world, time slips away like sand.  I remember earlier days, when a Training needs analysis used to be 6 box-files of documents, a bunch of appraisals and some excel sheets. Today, TNA is a consolidation of Business needs, statistics on Competence levels, findings from a Skills Audit, Inputs from some Global Survey trend analysis and significant verbatim from the CXOs. L&D Calendar is a total passé!! …and in is the concept of building Critical Organizational – Capability – Blocks.

I wish to mention of another scenario here...

In 2016, we are the ‘here-and-now’ operators of business. We are well informed on how the Macro environment is shifting its paradigm. It is definitely much more competitive, aggressive and demanding, and customer driven today. The wiser enterprise is quick in identifying and seizing the opportunities which help them create wiser solutions and offer better services. The VUCA environment poses unseen challenges for businesses; and sometimes surprises aren’t pleasant!

Has the learning function managed to grow up and catch speed?

How many L&D professionals today create measurable score cards that could act as ‘trampolines’ to success in this VUCA world?

This is exactly where learning Consultants pitch in and find a scenario.

They build this very trampoline for Organizations which need to create a prompt business case for Change. As businesses change, Organizations need to inculcate a wider variety of functional and attitudinal skills within employees (customized to their experience and expertise levels). One module-Apply all, may lead to adversity. Most Organizations today, would want to equip their Hi-Pos with more than adequate ammunition in form of unique skills and an attitude to think and act as entrepreneurs.

The need to invite on board, a Learning Consultant does depend on the Organization’s AS-IS status and TO-BE framework, its ability to respond to the environment around and its inertia against this change.

“A bunch of right answers on an answer sheet will prepare a kid for high scores.

 But solving authentic problems, using creativity, thinking and hard work?

 It will prepare the kid for life.”

Do we need an immediate ready-to-apply solution? An off-the-shelf product? Or do we need a well researched sustainable plan? This requirement has to be penned down in precise terms. The bottlenecks need to be well identified and highlighted with all their pros and cons.

As the word goes, a “consultant” means someone who would hold a bag of tricks, tips and benchmarking information required for the trade. While you bring to the table your business context, this subject matter expert needs to bring in research and analysis of latest trends and demonstrate a superior ability to think beyond what is quantified as a problem statement.

Learning Consultants today have the opportunity to spread their wings much beyond the scope of learning, methodologies, conceptual frameworks, learning content, idea-generation brainstorming etc.

After all, the client hasn’t hired them to tell the king that he is naked!

For any organization,

  • They need to focus on the foundation first, how does their solution weave into the Business Scenario for this Client?
  • What are the Business vision w.r.t people capabilities and what are the key metrics?
  • Diagnose what the learning culture looks like,
  • How receptive/responsive is the audience,
  • For example, is there scope to cultivate teaching communities and learning clubs?
  • What happens to the environment if approach X works, or approach Y fails?

Integrating this approach into a wholesome solution would keep this profession in demand for days to come.

The L&D function, on the other hand, is quite focused on its own up-skilling and is establishing revolutionary methods to rejuvenate it.

Shedding the old skin and now gearing up to wear multiple hats – that of a Learning-Business Partner, a Mentor, A Master facilitator, an Instructional content writer or a ADDIE designer and of that of an ‘entrepreneur’.

Unlike before, we do see many more certified experts in instructional design, specialists in psychometrics and HR Metrics as a result of focused acquisition.

We do see learning as one of the most established processes of talent development, and today it is also one of the most innovative. The 70-20-10 is a way of life for many. With IT systems integrating well across this function, learning has come a long way. In years to come the term ‘blended learning’ will also mean entertaining mobile learning apps, social learning tools, extensive use of online simulations and e-learning technology.

Unless they imbibe these business-friendly adaptive learning principles, Learning Consultants and L&D professionals won’t find their righteous place at the Business Table.

Adaptive learning is a methodology that challenges historical models of one-way-teaching and gives employees the freedom to learn at their own convenience. This trend finds its advantages with the ‘Millenials’ entering the workforce, a vibrant population that values flexibility and is driven by fun-&-learn.

Speaking of being on the top of the game, benchmarking in it is not a onetime project. Learning Consultants and L&D professionals, both need to realize that this is a continuous process. Know the competition, global trends and the latest tools. These could support as excellent sources for workable ideas.

This way I can also see L&D professionals playing the role of a ‘Consultant in-house’.

My urge to both the parties is “Don’t be reluctant to look at the learning industry beyond your scope or your sector! Best practices are everywhere. There is no limitation to creative thinking and experimentation….this is much beyond your country boundaries” …Something that I learned from some of my experiences.

Having been there myself, I must also speak of hidden pitfalls I see for a Learning Consultant…

  • In consultancy, the Consultant is the product.  One need to make sure that the ‘product offering’ is perfect – there are no second opportunities to make a first- impression”         
  • Be conscious of the environment in which you operate at the Client’s site. One will need to be agile and adaptable enough to maneuver though changing demands, dynamic business scenarios or in-born rigidity of the Organization.

The learning strategy of the future must be in-synch with the big-picture in order for companies to achieve results. Be it selecting the right training-partner or investment in a set of people; a buy-in from business leaders will help ensure that learning is adding real-time value to elements like talent-retention, competence build-up and performance.

In days to come, I see many Corporates hiring full time Learning Consultants on board, and upgrading existing L&D/Talent & OD staff to match the speed. I see the approach and expertise of a Learning Consultant to be in demand, provided it adds real –time business value.

Neither of the parties will escape the VUCA demon…

If Corporates don’t adapt, the Consulting World it will continue to flourish. Being aware of this threat will keep the Learning Consultant on their toes though.

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