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Case Study: MSLGROUP Asia

Akankasha Dewan speaks with Amy Kong, regional director of learning and people development at MSLGROUP Asia, on the best practices to create a high-impact learning organisation.

Today, corporate training has assumed predominant importance in the corporate landscape. Employers and employees alike have realised that training improves the potency of professionals and ultimately helps the company to zip ahead on the corporate path.

In fact, according to the Q2 2014 Employment Confidence Survey by Glassdoor, 72% of employees stated they believed specialised training to acquire specific skills is more valuable than a degree.

Additionally, 63% of employees surveyed said learning new skills or receiving special training is more important than a big paycheck.

“The national conversation about the value of higher education and gainful employment is a topic alive within companies,” Rusty Rueff, career and workplace expert, Glassdoor said.

However, any corporate training programme, conducted in-house or outsourced, makes the biggest impact only when employees are willing to learn and undergo the shift in mindset that is required of them as they gain new knowledge.

Such a mindset can be inculcated with the help of a dynamic learning culture, says Amy Kong, regional director of learning and people development at MSLGROUP Asia.

“In this age of convergence and consumer empowerment, businesses now have to be more agile than ever to capitalise on emerging opportunities to stay ahead of the competition,” Kong says.

“Training is a development tool, but what is more critical for companies is to help employees build a growth mindset and create a learning culture. For example, at MSLGROUP in Asia, our entire learning and people development (L&PD) strategy is designed to encourage a learning culture.”

She highlights five unique ways her company’s L&PD team uses to build a learning culture to enhance the impact of its outsourced and internal training processes.

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Designing easily accessible training programmes which empower thinking

The first includes choosing and designing training programmes which aim to empower thinking, instead of merely providing answers.

“They are designed to teach thinking frameworks, applied to real-life situations that help our employees develop critical thinking abilities that allow them to find their own answers. It empowers the employees to be independent thinkers and it helps them to gain confidence when in a situation that they have not faced before,” Kong explains.

Second, the company surrounds its employees with learning avenues at different touch-points, offering different types of learning.

“When our employees want to learn, learning options are available. We have formal professional skills training in the form of workshops and regional summits, and a training library – called the Asia Agency Enrichment Collection – containing ready made training materials that supervisors can take to train their own teams.”

Learning has to be self-motivated, and forcing employees to meet a training hour quota is not going to encourage a positive mindset or personal ownership of one’s own development.
The company also has informal learning avenues, including ongoing knowledge-sharing emails, which are delivered into inboxes on a bi-weekly basis, email groups set up to share trends and knowledge across the network, and rotating subscriptions to professional e-learning libraries that employees can request for access for personal learning.

“We have two strong mobility programmes – the Asia Mobility Experience, a short-term work mobility programme that allows employees to work at any office in Asia from two days to three weeks, and the Together Work’s Better programme that sends employees to any destination across our global network to spend one week visiting the office and understanding another culture.

“We also have Grow! – our mentoring programme that pairs our top 100 executives across our network with emerging young talent across the world.”

Making learning clear and exciting

The third step to building an encouraging learning culture is to ensure all programmes, internal or external, are based on voluntary participation, as the programmes are not mandatory for everyone, beyond certain compulsory programmes.

“Learning has to be self-motivated, and forcing employees to meet a training hour quota is not going to encourage a positive mindset or personal ownership of one’s own development. This also ensures the L&PD function produces quality programmes that are relevant to employees and teams,” she says.

“We want to create a situation where our employees put their hands up in excitement when they hear of a training programme being offered, because when they step into the classroom or enter the programme, they are ready to learn. And when they leave, they should feel so enriched by the programme that they start recommending it to their colleagues, who will in turn volunteer to attend the programme. This then creates a virtuous cycle that in the long term helps to create a learning culture.”

The company also doesn’t believe in legacy programmes or training programmes which are being conducted only because they have been in place for a long time.

“If it doesn’t work, we trash it. And because many of our programmes are based on voluntary participation, we know quickly whether or not a programme is valued by employees.”

And finally, another important practice the company follows is to actively communicate the need for learning.

Kong elaborates the organisation’s emphasis on learning is a constant drumbeat, and the L&PD team actively communicates to keep the importance of learning and training programmes it has available at the forefront of staff’s minds.

“We update our senior leaders in Asia regularly on L&PD programmes and the results achieved. We have quarterly updates sent to all employees in Asia to update them on the L&PD activities conducted and which of their colleagues have successfully completed programmes.”

We are now in an on-demand environment, where people only seek information when they need it. So, immediate relevance to the employee’s job or career are factors that need to be considered.
Developing a relevant learning roadmap

“We develop overviews of the entire L&PD programme for the year that are distributed to employees to help facilitate their development conversations during performance appraisals. When any L&PD team member travels to offices in the region, we conduct in-person briefings to employees on the L&PD roadmap for the year.”

Kong adds having a good development roadmap is also the first step to consider when designing an effective employee training programme – both for leaders and employees. This step is integral as it enables training to remain relevant – something which is often lacking in organisations.

A Cegos Asia Pacific survey on major learning trends across the region recently found “a lack of dialogue in some organisations between professionals and the learning community” and concluded that some training provided may be “considered irrelevant, out-of-date, or simply not required."

“This is particularly true in our survey of participants from India and, surprisingly, Singapore,” the report stated.

Such presence of irrelevancy between training programmes and the needs of the professionals being trained in question is precisely why Kong stresses on the need to identify what the aims of training are.

“First, it has to be clear how the training is going to ladder up to meet the business strategy. Time and resources are limited, and if your business leader doesn’t see how the training programme is going to help meet the business strategy, he/she won’t see your value or support the programme.”

Kong explains it’s also integral for target employees to know how the training will impact them directly.

“We are now in an on-demand environment, where people only seek information when they need it. So, immediate relevance to the employee’s job or career, timing of the programme, whether employees are in the right environment and have the right tools to apply the lessons of the training are factors that need to be considered.”

To ensure such training remains relevant for the employees in question, Kong suggests incorporating real-life situations or case studies in learning programmes. Customising learning helps participants link their learning to their daily jobs.

“Finally, what training follow-up should be planned to ensure that employees apply the learning from a training programme into their daily work,” she says.

BACK TO MAIN FEATURE: Getting the blend just right

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