Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Conversations with Harlina Sodhi, SVP at Reliance Industries, a change catalyst and Learning visionary

As recently appointed Senior Vice President of Learning and Organization Development for Reliance Industries, an ultimate Change Catalyst, and a believer of the “Tao of Cricket”, Harlina Sodhi is leading the effort to bring progressive and process driven, workforce training and development to Reliance Industries that is in line with company’s Strategic and Business Transformation goals.
This interview with Harlina is the eleventh in our series about learning, games, social media, crowd-sourcing and work performance.

RD> First, on behalf of the PAKRA team, we would like to thank you for being completely instrumental in implementing PAKRA system at your past employer - Genpact. Next, sincere congratulations for seizing this vast opportunity at your new gig -- Reliance. This is awesome news.
HS> Thank you. This is a huge opportunity for me to lead and execute on Reliance vision of getting to be the world’s best company for learning and development of workforce. And as you know, the reason I passionately spearheaded the efforts in Genpact for PAKRA is because I believe in the value that it offers. Right product and platform in the right place at the right time is PAKRA !

RD> So! Are you a gamer?
HS> I play Chess. A strategy-based game intrigues me. Also I am an avid car rallyist …but I am also pleased to share, ever since I got my smartphone, I don’t literally have to risk my life but am able to simulate the experience by playing mobile games like and Angry Bird

RD> How do you learn?
HS> I learn by doing. Tell me - Show me initially, and then I have to do it and then I can teach one. Learning that involves different levels of achievement motivates me.

RD> You and I are more or less in the same age group (Well! I am older ha!) -- do you think the way we learned and ways we were taught is different from the younger generation that is getting into the workforce? If yes, how different?
HS> It is completely different. The younger generation, in particular when you consider that places like in India and other emerging markets where the median age of an employee is 35 years, learn differently and want to be taught differently. For example, their attention span is short, (140 characters Twitter revolution), they learn on-the-go and they want to pull information when they need it in small chewable chunks. They want technology-enabled learning with streaming media, threaded conversations, blogs, games, simulations and not just a teacher delivering lectures and batch-based learning events.

RD> What role do you see for immersive learning using Games and simulations in today's workplace?
HS> The DNA is changing and being reprogrammed. In a place like India, that leap-frogged it’s growth using technology (i.e. the dabbawallahs, the dhobi, the Tuk-Tuk driver and the person living on the street all have cell phones and are probably playing Angry Bird as they stand at traffic lights), user-driven content is how information is being managed and leveraged. Also, many more women are in the workforce today than 25 years ago and they are influencing their children. This is what economic growth brings. In such type of a growth environment, immersive learning is what all are demanding. It is user-driven need and the role is very strong.

RD> How do you anticipate Social Media and crowd-sourcing will be used in business applications and Learning?
HS> It is coming and vehemently needed as platform for peer-to-peer learning. By “it is coming” I mean that not too many businesses are into it, yet. Like, any adoption cycle where you have innovators, early adopters, initiators, and laggards, here too there are businesses who are innovators and early adopters. Ease of use will drive the utilization of these tools. As you know, this is the ultimate Web 2.0 architecture. It will drive the business applications and how work gets communicated and learned. Based on what I hear from my colleagues and networking groups, there is a demand for a platform that enables the adult-learning paradigm. Brick and Mortar learning and communication channels are more symbolic.

RD> From at multinational companies like Xerox, Zenta, GE, Genpact and now at Reliance, what do you see as trends for Learning and Talent Development offerings in business environment?
HS> It has substantially evolved since I started my job at Xerox when I was 21.
First, for content trends: I am hearing and seeing need for short content and immersive focused delivery that enhances Leadership attributes. Also, I am seeing more demand to provide on-demand domain expertise.

From delivery perspective, I am seeing the movement away from the traditional Level 1 to 3 evaluation based Kirkpatrick model to Level 4; is “Impact on Performance” and ROI and significantly towards Bloom’s taxonomy based learning delivery.

For technology, I am seeing more and more demand for platforms (such as PAKRA) that provides on-demand push and Web 2.0 technology for small and targeted content, games and simulations for immersive learning, peer-learning online community and coaching and mentoring accountability where all this links it to real work performance.

When I first moved to Learning and Talent Development functional area, they typically reported to Human Resources. Progressive businesses are making Learning and Talent Development professionals report to Business and Operations leaders. The reality is that the accountability and responsibility of managing and recruiting high-performing employees still lies in the hands of Business and Operations leaders with Human Resources being an key enabler. That reality will not change in my life-time. With such organizational restructuring, these businesses are able to actualize the value of the monetary investment they put in on-the-job training and talent development efforts.

RD> What is your recommendation for someone entering the world of Learning and Talent Development professionals?
HS> Stop focusing on how many courses the employee completed. Stop focusing on how satisfied the learner is with the trainer or coach. Do not use test scores as the only way to measure ability of an employee to do their job. Focus on real work performance of the employee and how well they can apply the skill you just trained and coached them, to their day-to-day work interactions and the work itself.

RD> Thank you for your time Harlina. If some one can implement change and manage the associated change in an organization, you are the one. Wish you all the best at Reliance.
HS> You are welcome! Talk to you soon.

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