“Structured learning is deliberate, purposive and helps understand concepts that are more strategic and impactful” Emmanuel David

Consumer facing businesses, which fall under the classification of ‘satisfiers’ in the Herzberg two factor model, need to adopt a ‘learning on the flow’ approach, Emmanuel David, director, Tata Management Training Centre, for HR 2020 Forecast


Structured learning or learning on the flow

This debate is very topical. However, if we have to choose between the two, we should make a choice. Looking at learning from my vantage point, the accent is on ‘structured learning’.

Having said that, we need to take a step back and understand the changing business delivery models. In a steady state, we tend to rely on structured and well-known approaches.

Emmanuel David

For me structured learning is deliberate, purposive and helps the learner to move from byte-sized learning inputs to concepts which are more strategic and impactful, the learner understands the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ and is not focussed on the ‘how’

We are however at the vortex of change in many spheres of society and the business requires employees to be more responsive than reactive. This requires a certain agility which ‘learning on the flow’ offers. Businesses which are more consumer facing, particularly those businesses, which have products or services falling in the classification of ‘satisfiers’ in the Herzberg two factor model – for instance, hospitality, housekeeping and call centres – need to adopt a‘learning on the flow’ approach. This will help them mitigate risks and cope with the issues at hand. However, I am not so sure if learning actually takes place. On a second thought, are we giving a nice name to ‘remembering and doing’?

For me structured learning is deliberate, purposive and helps the learner to move from byte-sized learning inputs to concepts which are more strategic and impactful, the learner understands the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ and is not focussed on the ‘how’. To remain competitive, we need to be innovative and collaborative in addition to domain specific inputs ( topics such as sustainability, mental health challenges, risk management)
which I believe will help in transformation or disruption. It would be good to see more of structured learning.

Tech influence on learning culture

Technology is an enabler in making learning capsules interesting and exciting. Technology also helps in the process of content creation, curating and customising capsules and furthermore the whole piece of data capture on the lifecycle of learning.

Furthermore, the whole accent on training is based on a linear relationship between training and on the job performance. Most of the metrics measured are for self-reporting on course completion rather than on accrual of learning. There is an opportunity to actually measure the accrual of learning.

Are we willing to ask a few uncomfortable questions?

Who is responsible for the employability of any worker? Is it the reporting manager or learning and development professionals or the worker himself or the HR manager? If you have picked anyone other than the worker, learning may not happen. It is important to help any worker understand that he alone is responsible for his employability. This would help them connect the dots between learning, certification and superior on the job performance.

In this context, technology will be able to support the whole value chain of learning and thus help create a culture of learning. I believe we have the opportunity like never before from 2020 to create, curate, deliver training and measure learning for all segments of the organisation.

Future of experiential learning

Jazz music evolved in the late 19th century and early 20th century after centuries of classical music. It now has a reasonable listenership and established genres. I see the same parallel with respect to experiential learning as it is an evolving methodology. Similar to jazz, the attributes of ‘improvisation and collaboration’ are present in experiential learning. We need to add another attribute called reflection to complete the learning cycle.

I prefer the word ‘learning’ as opposed to ‘training’. Learning is at the volition of the learner whereas training is something the instructor teaches. If we are able to create a context where the learner wishes to learn we have achieved a lot.

In today’s context, time is becoming extremely important and a limited resource. Companies consider it a luxury to spare their talent for extended periods of time. I have also noticed that there is the element of fatigue to sit for many days in a classroom coupled with diminishing attention spans. Therefore experiential learning assumes importance. In organisations therefore we can choreograph experiential learning events.

With one company we reduced the classroom time by about 40 per cent, however we introduced a day on ‘unconventional and immersive learning’. There was an element of being tentative on how it will be received. Interestingly this particular session has had extremely high ratings and recall of learnings. The key in experiential learning events is mature facilitation. Else we may make the mistake of thinking a visit or activity to be an experiential learning where there would be some learning but will take place at a surface level.

The elements in my view, for an experiential event to be successful are simple, an experience, an expression and a reflection. It is also easy on the cost. It is therefore possible to democratise learning. Finally in my view ‘a shared experience creates shared learning’ and ‘a shared learning creates shared accountability’ so experiential learning may be the order in 2020.

The next CHRO – the learning officer, the talent officer, the HRBP or the engagement officer

The chief human resource officer is a strategic role in any organisation. I have distilled three important qualities for professionals occupying such roles in addition to other threshold competencies identified. They are strategic perspective, business understanding which in my view is clarity of where value is created and how it is eroded, and finally courage.

Emmanuel David

I prefer the word ‘learning’ as opposed to ‘training’. Learning is at the volition of the learner whereas training is something the instructor teaches.


A study I read several years ago is relevant even today. It is about the paradox of the CHRO’s development. The study found that in their formative years, HR professionals, amongst other things get recognised and rewarded for being customer friendly. The euphemism for ‘customer friendly’ is doing what the bosses ask you to do. The study found that the limiting factor of being customer friendly is developing courage and a strategic perspective. I would therefore not give the benefit to one designation or be unfair to the other titles by singling out any one.

My take is any one of these: the chief learning officer, the chief talent officer, the HR Business Partner or the chief engagement officer have an even chance to be a CHRO, provided they have or developed the qualities, I have outlined. Moreover, any professional, it could be finance or marketing, who is able to display these qualities, could aspire to be a CHRO.

HR as the ethics keeper

We see the emergence of AI to pervade many aspects of our diurnal life. We are actually enjoying a romance with AI and enchanted with the seeming benefits of AI. As we have noticed there are some dilemmas arising out of negative consequences of AI. An example is accidents in driverless cars. Let us build on that example. In any accident, you can put accountability on the driver and the law takes its course. In a driverless car, the decision on where the car should move to has already been taken much before the event can take place. The algorithms which determine where the car will swerve have been written by coders much earlier.

I perused through the competences needed for coders and found they are essentially from a ‘STEM’ background. I also found that while several professions have codes of conduct, we are yet to develop any code of conduct for coders. It is important to develop that sooner especially as negative impact of algorithms based on flawed logic could impact many people for several years.

While that happens, I think it is important that HR professionals look beyond ‘STEM’ and move to ‘ESTEEM’. While the word ‘ESTEEM’ would ensure esteem for all stakeholders. ‘ESTEEM’ also includes ‘STEM’ and goes beyond. ‘ESTEEM’ stands for ethics, science, technology, engineering, empathy and maths.

HR by playing a simple role in looking for ‘ESTEEM’ qualities in coders would perhaps take the baby steps in integrating ethics into AI, which would be momentous for sustainability.

(This article was first published in HRKatha print edition)

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