Self-driven employees propel a learning culture that builds careers and satisfies clients at India's NIIT Technologies.
Business goals are virtually inseparable from learning goals at NIIT Technologies Ltd., an India-based information technologies provider. Not only does its high-performing workforce drive revenue and maintain the company's competitive edge, but an enlightened corporate culture attracts and retains those career-minded employees.
"Our vision document states that the growth of the organization is derived from the growth of each one of us," explains Deepa Mukherjee, the company's head of training and development. She says individual learning is motivated within an ecosystem that is supported at every turn by the organization and tightly aligned with business goals. It also is fundamentally learner driven, she says.
Contrary to many workforce training philosophies, NIIT Technologies places the responsibility on learners to manage their career development, not the learning or HR departments. The company's role is to provide continuous encouragement, guidance, incentives, and ready access to learning content. It also offers career counseling and enhancement programs to help employees realize their ambitions.
To create this dynamic, the learning organization developed a training credit system called TRACK to award credits to employees who pursue specific modes of learning toward new competencies. Accumulated credits are considered during each employee's learning progression and for promotions. Higher credits are awarded for pursuing initiatives that contribute to improving company-set capability baselines.
The credit system is aligned with business goals that are adjusted annually. The learning function plays a vital role in identifying and incubating new competencies that are required to achieve them.
It creates a competency development plan from each workshop's output, and selects "competency champions" to own and supervise the development plan for their respective competency areas. For example, to support resulting learning projects in emerging technology areas, champions provide training and oversee mentoring programs for teams that design the learning solution.
The credit system is incorporated into the training programs. If the planning exercise identifies a product management certification as critical, for example, the system drives a product manager—and those who aspire to be one—to pursue the required certification via the credits.
Not only does the credit system meet a fundamental business challenge, it also is part of a learning formula designed to fit the mindset of the restless and goal-oriented Millennial generation now entering the workplace, says Mukherjee.
"We took a deep dive into understanding the key needs of this population, and what it is they really value," she says. A task force comprised of learning representatives, business leaders, and high-performing young executives researched the generation's mindset and devised a solution.
The resulting study put an exclamation point on Millennials' worldwide reputation—that its members require an abundance of attention in general and specific guidance in particular about their career aspirations. The panel concluded that today's young workers desire career growth, recognition, clarity, faster growth, coaching and mentoring guidance, and freedom of choice. They also want frequent changes in their lives.
The study created an immediate challenge for the learning department since no system was in place to dispense the kind of one-on-one career advice sought by its Millennial employees. Enter the Career Mobility Center, a new entity to address these priorities. Created last year by the learning department, it is a dedicated portal on the company's intranet to provide career growth and development solutions for every employee at any time.
The portal is operated by a newly minted team of "career mobility executives" within the learning and development function. It enables employees to explore career mobility options, access all learning and development resources, and provide personalized career counseling on the dedicated site. Options include a fast track career path for high-potential employees, and personalized coaching and mentoring.
Employees can even access personalized mobility maps to explore various career options targeted to their situations. The maps stipulate the competencies, credits, and other learning benchmarks needed to reach a given goal.
The new center has been enthusiastically received by employees of all generations, according to Mukherjee. She says individuals are better prepared to pursue their career options, including cross-platform movements and internal job rotations. That helps to boost employee retention numbers at NIIT Technologies.
By meeting the needs and expectations of the younger workforce, the center helps align the company for future growth and prosperity, explains Mukherjee. "Even in the new lines of business that we've started, we see that people want to shift into new areas across platforms," she says. "For that to happen, they need to know the opportunities and how to prepare for them. And they need support to move on their plans."
More important, the Career Mobility Center addresses a fundamental need of young employees for ready, nonjudgmental answers to personal questions. "People want attention. They want to be heard," Mukherjee explains. The center is an easily accessible option to meet those needs besides HR and other executives.
Meanwhile, other new learning priorities and programs have been created to address aggressive time-to-proficiency goals seen as vital to the IT solutions provider's competitive edge. An internal mentoring program called "Prepare" helps junior employees achieve technical competency, domain expertise, and a solutions mindset within a short time span. High-potential employees are assigned on-the-job projects to help them develop competence quickly.
Mukherjee credits the program with helping maintain the company's high standards of delivery, which she says has always been its strength. "Our customers expect us to proactively solve their problems," she says.
To provide the stream of competent business consultants with solid technology backgrounds, the learning department has created the Enhance program. It includes two streams of learning: a three-level blended learning domain knowledge series and a business analysis and solutioning program. The latter provides business analysis competence and functional expertise. Business analysts work directly with customers to improve their efficiencies.
Another learning priority launched last year helps leadership adapt to a new nonlinear business model. The company revised the learning content for internal general management programs conducted by its Academy for Future Leaders. It also invited external consultants to help its managers understand the driving concepts while internal experts emphasized experiential learning.