The sweltering last week of May found British actor Robbie Swales sitting at one end of a bright, cheerful training room in Salt Lake, watching his team instil the values of “simplicity, creativity and trustworthiness” to a telecom company team of executives. The other actors were locals selected through an audition.
The session started with a male and a female actor, playing the role of employees of a fictitious telecom company, discussing a “Clean Calcutta” project of their company. The female employee, who called herself Nisha Ray, was enthusiastic about it. Her colleague Abhi was not. Targets were more important than philanthropy to him. Nisha failed to convince Abhi, partially because of her poor communication skills.
But it was Abhi’s corporate responsibility to know about the importance of corporate social responsibility, which is how corporate culture has renamed philanthropy, and Nisha could not fail. “How can we influence Abhi to show some interest in our green project?” an exasperated Nisha asked the audience. The executives offered solutions: some said taking part in a CSR project would increase Abhi’s brand value, others felt it would help him win more customers through his social work and some thought it would improve his relations with colleagues from other departments as they worked together.
Whether CSR should ideally aim at an employee’s enhanced brand value or not is another question, but Swales had struck home. This was his first Calcutta visit. He had come to India in 1994 to shoot for a whisky commercial. He has been involved in corporate soft skills training through interactive theatre with his company Steps Drama for the last 20 years and has travelled to many places in the world. Companies are looking out for innovative training programmes for their employees and Calcutta is no exception.
Targets and deadlines are targets and deadlines, but an executive without soft skills is a dud. “Learning and development programmes” are being offered on a wide range of subjects: from mind mapping, better grammar, humour at work (employees should joke but not be jokers), bonding through emotional quotient and right use of idioms to respecting gender, handling office relationships, being a good leader and a good follower.
While employees are told that the training offers them a chance to grow as professionals, companies gain too. Their image improves and the training does its bit to check attrition in an atmosphere of economic gloom. Soft skills are fun. And employees feel valued when they are groomed, even if the increment is not satisfactory.
Swales said a good training session could change the way a man looked at his job environment.
Robbie Swales (right) with a team member at a training workshop
Nishma Kapoor, the head of organisational development and talent management at HDFC Bank, says in the past she would manage 20 soft-skill training programmes a month under the company’s Gurukul scheme. “Now I have to organise 100 such training programmes a month for our bank’s employees nationwide. This is over and above skill-based training. Soft skills and behavioural training has improved our employees productivity and is very popular among them,” she added from Mumbai.
The 6,000 employees of Magma Fincorp, a non-banking finance company based in Calcutta, have clocked 20,000 man hours of training last year. This year the plan is to impart 30,000 man hours of training a year. “Training increases productivity, makes bosses better leaders and teaches juniors how to exceed their targets,” said Brahmajyoti Mukherjee, the chief people’s officer of Magma.
As the demand grows so does the population of trainers. While many are independent, some are attached to the numerous learning and development companies that are coming up in the country. And all of them are innovative.
Jobs are scarce. A Calcutta-based learning and development company, Consultree, plans to counsel professionals facing mid-career crises. They claim it is a first of its kind in the city.
“We plan to counsel an unhappy employee and help him find out where he is going wrong. Ultimately he should be able to beat the odds and stay on in his current workplace,” said Anuja A. Kumar, a trainer who will be heading the mid-career crisis counselling.
Franklin Covey, an international learning and development and consulting firm, plans to launch “blending learning” in India, where the trainers need not be in the same room as the employees. An executive needs to just log in and get trained anywhere.
“In today’s economic slowdown this is a very cost-effective training module,” Raheja says.
The business card of 48-year-old Arindam Chatterjee is as interesting as his job profile. It says he is a CPBA, CPVA, Trimetrix, E-DISC and life-skill consultant. “Like a doctor, my abbreviations are all my qualifications,” he chuckles. CPBA is Certified Professional Behaviour Analyst, CPVA is Certified Patent Valuation Analyst, E-DISC is a behavioural profiling module and so on. In the profession for over 20 years, Chatterjee, or more popularly, “Chats”, provides all the kinds of training to a wide range of clients all over India.
Tandrima Ray Bhattacharya, a theatre actor, an MBA and a trainer for the last nine years, has coached her corporate clients in subjects as diverse as how to raise funds (for NGOs), rural marketing for self-help groups, impression management, mentoring and coaching, rehabilitation of youth and making them employable and on effective sales. She also renders life-skill training to schoolchildren.
“I once held a vision management workshop for semi-literate fourth-class staff. I taught them how to read signs and presentations that can help them in their work life,” she said.
The industry that had initially attracted women who needed flexible working hours or retired professionals is now drawing in many 40-year-olds (and some even younger), many of them men, having forced some of them to leave their cushy jobs for a more interesting future.
For 42-year-old Naveen Kumar, an XLRI graduate, training was an opportunity at entreprenuership.
“The idea of executive coaching is coming up in India. Before it used to be an in-house mentoring for managers and top-level executives. Now many multi-national companies are hiring executive coaches for their middle- and top-level managers,” he says.
“For top executives I sometimes need 12 to 15 sessions where I use almost 25 tools ranging from psychometry modules to practical feedback. I try to make a person realise his full potential, help him cut out his flaws and speed his career growth,” said Naveen.
“A manufacturing company approached us recently. Their MD would be retiring in 2014, and they wanted us to help them hunt for a new boss from within the organisation,” said Sibaji Bose of Consultree.
“When a company prepares its annual budget, learning and development now tops the priority list these days,” said Lovleen Raheeja, the chairman and CEO of Franklin Covey, India and South Asia, from Gurgaon.
Ravi Srivastava, the head of corporate training at Capgemini-Calcutta, says the employees of his firm have to clock a minimum of 40 hours of training a year. This also includes web learning. “If you learn and grow at a place, you might want to stick around a little longer there,” he said.
A training expert can initially draw Rs 1,500 to Rs 5,000 a session, while veterans can demand Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000 or even more.
Meanwhile, in another part of the city, a set of managers of a finance company were being told how to hone their leadership skills. Their trainer made them sit on the floor in groups and “draw” success on chart papers. The training room turned into a classroom as the “students” began drawing aeroplanes, grand houses and plush offices amidst giggles.