During The Pandemic And Beyond

During The Pandemic And Beyond

There have been numerous instances wherein potential leaders were not equipped with readymade Playbooks for navigating the pandemic. However, mentoring programmes provided by the employer completely transformed their leadership style.


Papa, what date is it tomorrow?” Shouted 8-year-old Saisha. Her dad Nikhil looked up from his home office desk and checked  the calendar before telling her, “It’s 12th November, 2021, Saishu, and the day after tomorrow is Vijayadashami. You remember your dance performance for your online yoga class na ?”


As he said this, his thoughts raced back to 12th March, 2020 which was the last day he physically went to the office. It seemed like such a long time ago now! As the Head of Sales for one of the product lines, he recalled the sudden panic that had gripped his sales team and the entire company. The memory of his CEO announcing an immersive senior leadership development programme – CEO Next – during April 2020 seemed to be totally counter-intuitive. Remarkably, during this time, Nikhil had also steered the company into a new era of leadership in the digital service line. Now as he successfully completed the CEO Next leadership development programme and achieved a business milestone, it was time for some celebration and reflection. His thoughts went into what made him successful in the last 18 odd months. He began writing down his reminiscences in his journal :


The success of the programme and enabling Nikhil to steer his business


Strong Leadership buy-in: Neha, Nikhil’s CEO, had been working with a crossfunction team of sales, business and HR leaders to design the leadership development programme. She was convinced that this is the future of the company and completely sponsored the programme. She had also convinced the sceptical board members about the importance of this investment and had got their agreement to continue the investment even during the Pandemic. She spoke about the programme in internal and external forums and personally spent time in the design and review of the programme. She believed ‘Leaders build Leaders’ and spent significant time in the leadership development programme. In summary, Nikhil knew this was worth his time and effort.


Integration with business: Since CEO Next was designed along with heads of businesses involvement, it was strongly aligned to the business. The CIO brought in the strong need for digitalisation of the business. The function heads got in their insights from supply chain, Government policy, Business Development, Design and engineering and other areas to build an innovative and optimised leadership programme well integrated with business needs. The learning team got their insights on how humans learn, business understanding and digital learning platforms.


Silo breaking Social Learning: The CEO Next programme Cohort across the globe met regularly on Zoom meetings and also had a fun online-offsite. He got to understand other functions and geographies which gave a leg-up to collaboration between his team and other teams. He also made some best friends for life!


Building Digital Competencies: As part of his programme, he was sent on a 4week digital externship (a take on the term ‘Internship’) with Flexenture IT services where he (figuratively) rubbed shoulders with the tech whizzes who were working on real customer challenges. This was a life-changing experience. He practically saw that the best way to learn something is to get into a group where what you want to learn is the norm. This immersive experience transformed him from a digital dinosaur to a digital-savvy sales Leader.


Reverse mentoring: As part of the programme, Nikhil got a 22-year-old technology (reverse) mentor – Aparajita. She was such a wiz at everything technology and could articulate with amazing clarity! He came face to face with his tech dinosaur self and resolved to overcome his ‘tech disability’. With determination and focus, he scaled up on analytics, basics of data science and learnt quite a bit about the tech landscape and even did an intro course to Python! He was shocked to hear that Mukesh Ambani had recently learnt python, and he said to himself, ‘when the richest person in India is also learning coding, it definitely makes sense for me!’ As a result, he was now able to suggest various changes to how data is analysed, how reports are visualised and also inputs on new offerings for their digital service line.


Coaching and Reflection: This was something that surprisingly had maximum impact on Nikhil! As part of CEO Next, he was given a coach on the ‘Coach-Online’ Platform. It was phenomenally effective and personalised! His weekly 45 minutes conversations with his coach, Melinda, based in California, was something he was very sceptical about at the start of his learning journey. Now, he could not wait to have his next coaching conversation! He did not even realise how his relationship with his dad as a child was still showing in his aggressive, and at times, mercurial leadership style. Melinda got him to reflect deeply on his motivations, past behaviour, the impact of work and personal life on each other, and her skilful questions helped clarify quite a few ‘fundas’ of life for him in his mind. Melinda’s nudges through the mobile app gently reminded him even of things like setting-up time for important selfcare routines. He also got practical insights on his delegation style and how he held his team accountable which proved to be invaluable. His selfcare practice that started with a 21-day meditation became a regular and precious part of his mental and spiritual wellness routine.


Self-paced Social learning with global cohort and live online classes: When the pandemic set in, customer preferences changed rapidly. People stopped visiting malls and the sales of Amazon and Flipkart doubled in a few months. The valuation of the online conferencing tool, Zoom, increased from 20 Billion to 160 Billion! Food and Hygiene spends increased while discretionary spends reduced. Cosmetics sales decreased, but mascara sales increased! Everything went digital, including his ageing parents’ Satsang group! In this scenario, he wanted to understand customer preferences better and find out what other companies were doing. His company’s subscription of an online live training platform (similar to Hone) with participants from across the world from different industries helped him establish this connect and understand changing customer preferences and insights from across industries.


Immersive VR skill-practice experience: His most memorable experience was the Virtual Reality (VR) conversation experience. After a session on Manager connect and empathy, he had a one-on-one checkin conversation with a fictitious team member (a virtual character powered by AI). Only after the detailed analysis of the conversation with the bot did he realise some of his derailing behaviours like not listening to the team, starting with ‘yes, but’, cutting others and not encouraging diverse views. Just like an airline pilot who can afford to learn and make mistakes in a flight simulator but not in war, he could make mistakes in this virtual world. This built his ‘muscles’ to be a much more effective communicator with his team and externally with clients.


Immersive gamified, adaptive online learning: Nikhil was never a fan of online learning and thought it was a total waste of time. He was again pleasantly surprised to see not just personalisation, but adaptive technology in the new AI based learning platform- Talent Flix. Talent Flix did not just prescribe learning based on his role, but adapted intelligently to what he was interested in. This ensured he did not have to search for relevant content and most relevant micro-learning was available when he needed or sometimes even before he needed it! For instance, when he received a video on negotiation and contract management just when he was getting ready for a crucial price negotiation with a client. Talent Flix had accessed his calendar and nudged him with the most relevant video which helped him in his negotiation. He loved the idea of learning something, applying it and going back to work without spending hours on learning itself.


Contextual Nudges: His LMS synced with his calendar and gave not only justintime prompts but also proactive nudges. He remembered the one time when he got a nudge on the app which asked him – ‘Have you listened to the quietest person in the room?’ Very much unlike his normal self, in the next virtual meeting, he asked the quietest team member to share his view. To his surprise, he got some insights that were completely new and would make a big difference to the team’s effectiveness. He also got hyper-personalized nudges encouraging him to schedule time for strategic thinking which helped in coming up with quite a few outoftheordinary ideas.


As he completed his reflection, he realised that though he did not have any readymade Playbook for navigating the pandemic, the overall CEO Next programme had transformed his leadership style. He was also proud to be a digital ready leader now. What is more, he was sure Saisha would also be proud of her dad’s transformation!


Author’s note: This is a fictitious case of a leader who goes through the modern leadership development Journey during the Pandemic. The ideas have been inspired by the latest thinking in Leadership development and the below articles in particular:


♦ 2020/01/15/top-5-leadership-developmenttrends-for-2020/#64470f621f3a


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Rohit Shenoy leads Organization and Talent Development for Sterlite Power - a Vedanta group company. He wields an industry experience of over 16 years and has worked in DDI, Infosys, Accenture and Siemens. Rohit is a Mechanical Engineer and an MBA-HR and Marketing from SIBM, Pune. He is a certified Neuroleadership coach and has received an OD certification from Tata Institute of Social Sciences.


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