Neetubala Raina-Head of Talent Management and L&D, at Fortune 500 American MNC

Leaders must master the skill of staying resilient and yet be able to inspire teams toward randomness – Neetubala Raina-Head of Talent Management and L&D, at Fortune 500 American MNC

How has learning evolved over the last couple of decades?

When I started my career in early 2000s, I was a learning HR partner for a year and it did not excite me for lack of challenges. I moved on to spearhead HR function for start-up organisations in my initial years of career and then managed business partnering roles to stay close to the business, so as to understand their mind-set and how they viewed learning function and the expectations they had from HR. Being close to your customers is naturally important; it is an open secret to refine your customer focus skills. Learning space then, had not adopted collaboration with business as a natural behaviour. Learning function did not really have a say in driving the employee development agenda strategically, then. Today, HR function itself has undergone a wonderful evolution and Talent Management has emerged as a strong HR vertical. I opine LD is an excellent tool to drive the Organizational Talent and Capability Development agenda, strategically and forcefully as well.So, learning space is no more about a postman’s job, it has evolved as a strong business partnering role and supports talent agenda to satisfy various talent needs proactively. Today, in the era of globalization, disruptions and agile culture are the buzz words, talent development goals like building “multi-specialist talent”, cross-skilling and up-skilling of talent remains the focus of organizations across the globe.


How has leadership development evolved over the years? How is the Talent Landscape today?
About a decade back leadership development efforts were inclined more toward developing managerial capability and administration skills. Leaders operated more as supervisors who ensured the project deliverables were managed effectively. Change management was not so frequent a challenge then whereas today it is the way to exist and prevail. Long term vision yet a focus on short term challenges were not as strong a focus those days. Market and people dynamics have changed totally. Leadership Development approach and efforts today, are also focused on developing competencies to drive the future vision and the global roles eventually.

Customer is the God and customer experience has been a perpetual focus naturally. However with the evident changes in our job market dynamics, today your employees are your customers too and even more powerful ones; happy employees make happy customers undeniably! Also, we must not forget how Globalization has generated talent movement opportunities across the globe; sky is the limit today! Therefore managing customers, people, vison and purpose is a leadership responsibility! Today’s leaders are conscious if they focus only on their business goals and not people goals, there is a very likely possibility for them to get stuck in a situation wherein the skills they hired become either obsolete or their people may reduce to being under-skilled or skill-less resources. Keeping pace with the changing business and market demands is the only option to survive and sustain today. Somehow, I want to believe that even employees have forgotten to deal with the monotony! In this era of speed and agility, everyone desires variation and quick growth, which further makes talent development landscape very challenging for leaders and the HR function. I opine, today leadership development is about building capability and developing capacity to deal with a subtle streak of continuous randomness. Leaders must master the skill of staying resilient and yet be able to inspire teams toward randomness for the desired outcomes, and that is not a piece of cake clearly!


What have been your most significant learnings as a learning leader? Could you elaborate how does behavioural patterns of talent define an organization’s personality?
I have been managing business partnering role and talent lead roles for most of my career and now that I am leading learning vertical also in my current position , I think stakeholder connect is very important. Unless learning professionals understand their customers, serving them with the best menu is a futile effort ultimately. Gathering insights to analyse current and future needs and assessing current capability of the organization is important, instead of plunging into exploration of market trends to deal with the talent/skill gaps. To me, each organization is nothing but a large intelligent entity composed of many intelligent human beings. So to draw an analogy, each system/human body is different and depending on the fitness report; you must decide if the present efforts must be directed toward serving foods/proteins to build muscles or ensure fat loss. To go a level deeper, while one system may seek physical fitness but other system may desire emotional fitness. So a blanket approach to managing systems even within the organization is not a prudent effort and needs sincere attention and care.



My guiding principle in a leadership role is
Leadership is a potent combination of #Strategy and #Character, but if you must be without one, be without the Strategy! This will help you attract the right people to support your long term vision. My observation is desired outcomes of true Leadership efforts take time but the positive change it brings stays for a longer duration.


You may also read: 8 Most Familiar Leadership Styles


Is there anything you have had to unlearn along the way?
Yes! Of course unless you unlearn and learn the newer ways of managing and adapting to such a dynamic landscape, your career and you age before time as a professional. One important thing I had to unlearn was looking at things from a limited perspective; after every 3 years it was important to break conditioning of my system so as to widen my horizon of perspectives to accommodate and accept newer ways of managing things. But today in this era of speed and disruptions, I think almost every quarter I have something to unlearn and learn. Although I am hard pressed on time always but I think networking is important to gather perspectives.


What do you think are the top competencies learning Talent experts could benefit from today?
My experience says Learning Talent experts must practise DANCE to create memorable experiences.


1.Design thinking for a great Customer and Employee Experience

2.Analytical mind-set to stay Solution-Oriented 
3.Networking to gather perspectives and to stay informed 
4.Coaching skills to help your stakeholders find answers to their dilemmas
5.Emotional Intelligence to refine your leadership competence


Any advice or tip for learning professionals?
Like I shared based on my experience, as learning professionals, it is important to maintain stakeholder connect, understand the business needs and assess the current Organization capability and not rush to go by the best trends in the market; Organizations are like different personalities, same outfits do not really look great always on different people. What is best may not be right for you so continuous evaluation of your overall capabilities is always wise to ascertain. Also, stay aligned to your Talent agenda which must address your organization’s current/future talent challenges and continue to build on the identified strengths.

Any predictions for the future of learning? 
Learning space has numerous and countless options due to digitization and hence how we support our employees in choosing the right program and enable them to take the right decision will be some key parameters to create an impact. Programs like mentoring help in a huge way as a lot of “validated learning” can be passed on and shared with the aspirational learners.


Leadership and behavioural skills will gain even bigger focus. To cope with this era of speed, time optimization challenges will invariably lead to lack of patience; further our people dynamics landscape may possibly lead to emotional deprivation and emotional deficit related complexities. This must be addressed in a continuous and most dignified and respectful manner and yet with a personal touch but not in a very formal environment. Yes! That isn’t easy but is possible if we have and develop the right Servant Leaders.


Emotional brain has no chronological age. Humans inherently desire for care and want to be valued as that’s how we are programmed. I surmise while advancements like virtualization and robotics are great to have but workforce may become oblivious to the natural ways of displaying behaviours that reflect empathy and care for others. This further means competencies like emotional intelligence, Servant Leadership, mindfulness will become the most powerful and expensive skills to develop and chase!

This needs a serious attention in our professional, social and personal space as well.


Would you like to share anything in view of the current challenges in the Talent and Learning space? 
Today, the most common concern on people’s mind seems to be limited growth opportunities. It is fair to quit an organisation for valid reasons but one must evaluate if the reason to quit is a valid reason or a delusion related to growth. I strongly opine, growth is not about change of title and a few more dollars! The concept of growth as an individual professional needs a deeper deliberation to understand the reason behind your dissatisfaction with the current role/Org./career. Is the trigger relationships, culture, leadership or limited learning/recognition/money or actually “limited growth”? Why are organizations still struggling a bit to drive high performance goals despite the people perception that challenges and growth opportunities are limited; should organizations not outperform for lack of complexity and challenges? It is debatable but we may want to deliberate deeper over this dichotomy! Even nature has a strong meaningful message for our growth and development. Nature ceases our vertical growth after a certain age, so we focus on the development of our entity as a whole i.e. enrichment and fitness of our mind, body and soul. In doing so, I am positive we will surprisingly attract not only growth but joy and peace as well.


How employer branding will change in coming years considering more than 50% of the workforce will be temporary more and more highly talented people will not like to get into a permanent hire, but keep taking new challenges and earn more than their companies could pay them, all this complementing the GIG economy.
I have been extensively interacting with the Zee generation as well besides millennials and a common observation I have is their strong desire for flexibility and instant results and to top it all, their courage and conviction about what they want and desire for. Evolution is the secret for the next step and we are witnessing today how disruptions in the talent market have changed the equations completely; what used to be Employer’s market is essentially Employee’s market today. Also in light of the life style changes, resources, socio-economic dynamics in particular, different generations prioritise their focus areas; also processes evolve further while attracting acceptances based on what is supported by the changing landscape today. When the environmental changes support disruptions, naturally generations gather courage to desire, seek and support those changes. Thus, today I see the gig economy as our next step in this process of evolution.


Jazz musicians coined the term “GIG” to refer to performances. To me, gig economy is about flexibility, freedom and personal fulfilment and today’s environment is supporting this change. Most GIG workers are independent by choice. People have always found creative ways to turn their skills and passion into income and enhance their ways of life. For instance, some popular gigs like Tutoring existed since the age of Socrates and Plato. Gradually freelancing, online marketplaces and now ridesharing today is a way of life. That said, organizations will have to envisage such evolving dynamics, apply design thinking strategies to support and traverse through this journey to gig economy; this will also push us to review hiring policy, rewarding techniques while ensuring fungiblity of skills and in this entire process, performance management frameworks will undergo a huge change certainly.


Eventually this change will influence employer branding techniques in big way, revamping the “Employee Value Proposition” altogether. Decades back Corporate Value proposition determined Employee Value Proposition, EVP and now we see the inevitable change and that itself explains how highly talented people will thrive for the expertise they possess, relishing their freedom and personal fulfilment. Quoting Katrina Onstad , “Now we have a gig economy where many people are holding down several jobs at once. The whole concept of a 40-hour week makes people under 30 laugh.” Well! It surely is a wakeup call for organisations to review their EVP judiciously, so as to identify factors of competitive advantage they have over others to survive and grow in today’s rapidly evolving gig economy!



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