Cultivating a learning culture

Cultivating a learning culture

Learn and earn-this statement holds significance only when the former supports the latter. Renuka Vembu tries to dig deep into the action plans of pharma companies to inculcate a culture of learning within their organisation

It is rightly said that learning is a continuous process, and when this progression cracks mid way, stagnancy starts creeping in, ultimately leading to stagnation and low morale. Every individual wants to and should indeed move up the learning curve. When organisations fail to satisfy an individual’s appetite for knowledge, they end up losing the employee. So, just like employees need to be adept with skills and constantly on their toes to fulfill the job requirements efficiently, companies on their part too need to be well prepared to keep employees challenged at all times. In the pharma industry, it is all the more important for organisations to keep employees involved and engaged, and to breed a culture of learning.

Learning has essentially moved away from the conventional classroom education that was typically imparted earlier. Apart from induction programs, trainings, seminars, conferences and conventions, education in the modern age has assumed varied forms like peer-to-peer learning, outdoor and group activities, and online education—the focus being on the experiential form of learning. Educative initiatives have to be cascaded down to the bottom—most level for it to have the utmost impact. They have to be periodically reviewed, measured and amended, keeping in view the organisational goals and individual requirements. These steps on the learning ladder, to involve the workforce, are a functional responsibility of all

the concerned people across the organisational hierarchy—from the senior and top level management, to the team leaders and middle level managers, who directly deal with the taskforce, to the HR team which is into recruiting people and formulating training programmes.

“Institutionalising the process for preparing people to take up higher responsibility and improving their knowledge is a challenge a learning organisation faces”

– Prakash Shanware President, Human Resources


“Learning is a continuous, strategically used process-integrated with and running parallel to work.

It focuses on creativity and generative learning”

– Alok Saxena, Director (International)

Elder Pharmaceuticals

Building a learning organisation

Col B S Ahluwalia, GM, HRD, Anglo-French Drugs and Industries said, “In order to create a learning organisation, it is imperative that a proper and conducive environment is built by involving the employees in the process of learning. Once the enthusiasm is built, the next step is to identify the skill gap in consultation with the employees. The actual process may involve giving specific assignments to employees in small groups.” He added that this journey was followed by assessing the due compliance to time schedules, reviewing the performance, rewarding them appropriately, and finally, drafting an action plan for enhancing the learning curve, making it more creative and innovative for both—the trainers and the learners. This process is then concluded by rigorously implementing the finalised plan, overseeing the progress and initiating corrective measures for any deviations.

This implies that a learning organisation not only furnishes its employees with avenues to learn and grow, but also embraces change, constantly finding paths to make learning not only more meaningful and productive, but also interesting, continuously bringing in the element of wholesome employee participation. This spins a web of improvement in the functionality and services of the organisation and a change in the attitude of all its members. The entire structure of these learning centred training programmes encompasses the organisational hierarchy and its people, infusing a sense of knowledge and purpose within and amongst its employees. Therefore, a learning organisation is one in which all the employees voluntarily and wholeheartedly, are immersed in creating, imbibing, nurturing and reflecting the attitude and culture of the workplace they belong to. Alok Saxena, Director-International, Elder Pharmaceuticals, spelt down the dimensions that constituted a learning organisation-

  • Learning is a continuous, strategically used process—integrated with and running parallel to work. It focuses on creativity and generative learning

  • Systems thinking is fundamental

  • People have continuous access to information and data resources

  • Workers network inside and outside the organisation

  • Activities are characterised by aspiration, reflection and conceptualisation

  • There are well-developed core competencies that serve as a taking-off point for new products and services

  • A learning organisation readily possesses the ability to continuously adapt, renew, and revitalize itself in response to the changing environmental impact

Nicholas Piramal India (NPIL) believes in tapping people’s capacity to learn at all levels. Their action plans for building a learning organisation reflects their dedicated towards employee enhancement, formulated by a group of initiators after thorough research, and accepted by their employees. Their clearly defined vision and perfectly executed material works on five levels. They stated—

  • Systems thinking—supports employees in making their thinking patterns clearer, and helps them to see how to change things effectively and with the least amount of effort; to find the leverage points in a system

  • Personal mastery—It is the discipline of clarifying and deepening an employee’s personal vision, focusing on their energies, developing patience in them, and seeing reality objectively. It starts with clarifying the things that really matter to them, of living their lives in the service of their highest aspirations.

  • Mental models—They are deeply ingrained assumptions, generalisations, or even pictures or images that influence how employees understand the world and how they take action. The discipline of working with mental models starts with turning the mirror inward, learning to unearth their internal pictures of the world, bringing them to the surface and holding them rigorously to scrutiny.

  • Building shared vision-involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrolment, rather than compliance.

  • Team learning—It embarks with ‘dialogue’, the capacity of employees of a team to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine ‘thinking together’. Team learning is vital because teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units in NPIL, which feels, “Unless teams can learn, the organisation cannot learn.”

Sanjay Muthal, President, Human Resource, NPIL added to the above pointers, “All these lead towards Metanoia—a shift of the mind—which is at the heart of a learning organisation, from employees seeing themselves separate from the organisation to connected to the organisation, from seeing problems as caused by someone or something ‘out there’ to seeing how their own actions create the problems they experience. NPIL is a place where employees are continually discovering how they create their reality, and how they can change it.”

“In order to create a learning organisation, it is imperative that a proper and conducive environment is created by involving the employees in the process of learning”

– Col B S Ahluwalia GM, HRD Anglo-French Drugs

and Industries

“The heart of a learning organisation is employees seeing themselves connected to the organisation, seeing how their own actions create the problems they experience”

– Sanjay Muthal
President, Human Resource


Programmes executed

IPCA Laboratories conducts all the requisite trainings like induction for the new joinees giving a brief overview of the company, its history, policies, role and function of departments and the company’s current set-up and future plans. Guiding and preparing employees to face the industry challenges call for a detailed training to be imparted on both the work area as also the soft skills, which are a widespread occurrence across industry verticals, and within industries as well, irrespective of their sizes. Team work has assumed greater importance over the years, so have concepts like cross-functional skills, peer-to-peer learning, mentoring and indulgence in outdoor activities, which are still in the nascent stages in the pharmaceutical industry.

These group activities act as a means of gauging a range of individual abilities—right from team bonding, building and strengthening, to assessing an individual’s emotional strength, mind-frame and resilience under testing circumstances. These trainings are normally spread over weeks, and some companies also employ well-experienced trainers from outside, apart from their own internal trainers. Companies have mandatory training programmes that all employees have to compulsorily undergo, as well as a certain number of hours of training to be completed, in specific cases. This ensures that in rotation, all employees get exposed to multiple skill-sets and come across people with diverse backgrounds, bringing in new waves of creativity and an air of fresh talent.

NPIL shares its training philosophy:

  • Incisive—to create an impact

  • Distinctive—to enhance visibility in market place

  • Relevant—a solution to current business needs

  • ROI—measured through growth in business

Requirements and challenges

While it is easy to chalk out an action plan, it often involves hurdles pertaining to resources, infrastructure, people, etc. The first challenge is to get an employee out of the comfort zone and bring him/her out, to face the newer, untested aspects, because without an individual’s willingness, no amount of efforts by the organisation will materialise as desired. All the requirements must be met and challenges en-route countered, to make it a successful investment venture. To summarise it, Elder Pharmaceuticals feels that any organisation with a top management enabled vision, strategy, structure and systems, is the best bet to embark on these learning plans. NPIL looks at attrition as a big challenge. Muthal mentioned, “We invest a lot of time and efforts in making sure that all the developmental areas of our employees are addressed and they are certified and trained on all the areas, which will help them perform well. After all this, when employees resign and leave, we have to re-invent the wheel and invest in the new recruit all over again, which is a very big challenge.”

Prakash Shanware, President, Human Resources, IPCA, opined, “Opportunities to learn, experiment and implement, and ensuring that genuine mistakes are not punished, facilitate a learning culture. Individual initiatives vary and employees due to fear of failure or other unknown reasons are unwilling to try out new things. Institutionalising the process for preparing people to take up higher responsibility and improving their knowledge is a challenge a learning organisation faces.”

While many believed that employee retention was an important area to be addressed, Ahluwalia was also of the view that finding and recruiting talented individuals posed a concern in itself. Getting prospective employees who were not averse to the industry working was an expectation, a tad difficult to meet. He substantiated, “The quality of people entering the job market is a big challenge. Fresh graduates from colleges and engineering institutes lack the necessary technical and professional skills, rendering them unsuitable for gainful employment to meet the business requirements.”

Collective role

A learning organisation is not an individual effort of one person or any one team in isolation. It is a collective endeavour that percolates through many layers in the process cycle. The onus initially falls on the HR team to pick out the best available talent as per the business needs of the company. Thereafter, it is the duty of the managers and leaders to keep the workforce motivated, constantly throwing challenges at them, and not sidelining their necessities in the company’s larger picture. All these aspects come into play and can be implemented if the top management gives its consent and is supportive of the plans and processes that are incorporated. Finally, it is the employees, who need to carry, pass and share the beam of knowledge.

Striking a balance between an individual needs and organisational goals, not working on an authoritarian and centralised controlling power principle, endorsing employee participation as much as is possible, timely recognition and acknowledgement of employee performance par excellence, showing support to employees needs, being flexible in approach, all these working principles help galvanise the process of learning, directly and indirectly.

Learning is a collective sustained effort, embarked by the organisation and taken to the fore by the users. In comparison to the IT sector, a learning organisation in the pharma industry is still lagging far behind in terms of ideas, initiatives and implementation schemes. In an industry which emphasises the need for a strong knowledge base, this knowledge renders itself meaningless when left beneath the carpet. Greater realisation from the people involved at the designing levels in these industries for a pressing need to explore frontiers, deepen and penetrate the agendas, and transform the employee mindset is a task in hand to be considered.