Learning and Development should be the essential part of the organization aligning with its missions, vision, objectives and strategies.
Mr. Binod Shrestha is a Head of HR and L&D of Helen Keller International Nepal, oversees Nepal country office and Partner organization staff, and leading the HR working group of 120+ INGOs working in Nepal for the last 2 and a half years. Binod exhibits a decade and a half year of experience in comprehensive Human Resources Policy, HR for Business Planning, Top-line, and Bottom-line focused Strategic Initiatives, Developing people managers, and Talent Acquisition. Binod is specialized in Learning and Development, Employee Engagement, Compensation, and Benefits, along with identifying growth opportunities to enhance organizational value and performance.
Mr. Binod is interested in the latest HR trends and technology such as HR digitalization, wellness apps, people analytics tools, and improving physical & mental health tips. A strong believer in the power of positive thinking in the workplace, Binod is proud to contribute to improved efficiency and satisfaction organization-wide. He has personally found great benefit in implementing wellness measures in his own life, including meditation and hiking.
How would you introduce yourself to someone who is not familiar with you?
I am an HR and an L&D professional, certified HR Analyst, a strategic HR business partner, HR consultant, and a visiting lecturer with a demonstrated history of more than 15 years plus in Human Resource Management in the UK as well as in Nepal across retail, airlines, F&B, NGO, and automobiles sector. I am currently associated with an American NGO called Helen Keller International(HKI) as a Head of HR and personnel development, the organization working to improve the Health and Nutrition of people of Nepal in 42 districts. Also, for the past 3 years, I have been leading the HR Working group of the Association of INGOs (AIN). AIN has around 125 INGO members.
Can you share with us your professional specialization and journey?
I started my professional career with a supermarket retail giant in 2001. I learned management tools and techniques working as a supervisor and later as a retail store manager in the earlier days of my student life in the UK. I was studying Management Information System (MIS) and working part-time before 2005. I had to quit MIS due to the college being far from where I used to work and live. I did my bachelor’s degree in business administration after that, in which HR was my major topic.
I started working in the HR Department after my degree and gained some experience. I started my HR career with the HR assistant role. Taking care of the Recruitment process, management of Personnel records, staff Compensation, and Reward, staff Leaves, and absence management, etc. were my regular duties. I feel lucky that I had great HR people who not only intrigued me to become one like them but also mentored me to become better every day. After I completed my MBA, I joined another retail chain as a Head of T&D and Talent Acquisition Manager and continued for 4 more years. Working 6 years in HR in the UK, I exhibited skills in Learning and Development, Reward and Recognition, Employee Engagement, Compensation, and Benefits.
In 2013, I came back to Nepal. I was completely unaware of the HR job market in Nepal. At that time, I did not find HR was a much recognized and valued field in the Nepali market. There were departments in organizations but mostly HR personnel was performing administrator jobs. Rather than joining companies, I decided to learn about the market trend and the opportunity. The best way to do that was via consultancy. My professor always used to tell me that if I want to learn and earn at the same time, be a consultant.
I joined a management consultancy firm that was one of the pioneers in providing management and HR services to various Government Agencies, I/NGOs, and Corporates of Nepal. For 3 years, working with multiple sectors, I tend to excel in T&D, Compensation & Benefits, Talent Acquisition, Performance Management, Strategic HR, HR Policies, and HR Information System (HRIS) development.
After the 2015 Earthquake disaster, once I was engaged in the salary and benefits survey for one of the Embassy in Nepal, I was called up for an interview for a full-time HR and admin manager job in an American humanitarian organization. I loved the opportunity and the company. So, I joined the company. My career as a full-time practitioner started. They were new in the country, so it was an opportunity for me to establish a brand new HR department from a scratch. It was a challenging time. I was involved in developing the HR and operation policies for the organization. After 2 years of service in the humanitarian organization, the company phased out from Nepal, and I joined the Airlines Company for 6 months, to set up an HR department. My initial task was to establish a modern HR department, prepare an in-depth training and development plan for engineers and pilots for their development, and tracking their progress. After the short assignment, I joined Helen Keller International, at the beginning of 2018. In HKI, I am a part of a country Management team which is a decision-making body of the overall organization in Nepal.
What does actually the term "Learning & Development" mean from an organizational perspective?
Just in the title, “Learning and Development” encompasses the range of activities for employees at any level in an organization that may enable employees to enhance their skills, abilities, and performance (their job effectively and efficiently now and in the future). When an employee joins an organization, they have an induction whereby the employee learns about the organization’s policy and procedure. The L&D can help a new employee integrate and socialize with the company’s cultures and colleagues, which is a process also called onboarding. Orientation is also one part of the onboarding process, but it is a sound foundation of training and development activities in any organization. Sometimes it is substituted with T&D. (We often hear T&D and L&D term used by experts. They are pretty much the same. In training the ownership is on the employer and in learning the ownership is on the employee.)
The goal of L&D activities from the perspective of an organization or business usually is for improved productivity and ROI. However, learning for an individual is an opportunity to discover new things and upgrade their competencies for future promotions or rewards.
What do you think is the role of HR in learning and development? How can HR convince the Senior Management to invest in Employees L&D?
Well, L&D basically should align with the vision, mission, objectives, and strategy of the organization. I think L&D as an entity must be co-owned by the Business and HR department. L&D is important to the business and helps to ensure that an organization has the skilled talent needed to excel in its markets. HR is responsible for identifying the learning needs of employees by assessing the organization, tasks, and people, designing training structure, Implementing and evaluating the training results.
(About convincing Senior management) Convincing senior management is always a challenge to HR. I have faced this issue from time to time in some of the organizations I had worked in, most of the time (where) there was no specific budget allocated for staff L&D. In my opinion, senior management should understand that (employee) L&D may help a company with better productivity and ROI. It also helps retain and attract talent, motivate and engage staff, build employer brand, create a value-based culture, and develop staff’s competencies. HR can make senior management learn that it’s also important to invest in our employees to help them gain new skills and create more professional options for themselves.
What do you think are the dimensions that contribute to a strong L&D function that improves the overall individualistic and organizational capabilities?
L&D should be a part of everyday business. The staff needs to grow and when they grow, they are motivated and feel valued. The productivity along with the profit of the organization also increases. I recently read an article about a CEO whose name is Dan Price from the US-based company called Gravity payment. This guy who took a pay cut in 2016 so he could pay all his employees a minimum wage of $70,000, was first taken as a laughingstock by many. People thought he was being silly and would destroy his business. Six years later after the decision, Dan reports that the revenue has tripled, the customer base has doubled, 70% of his employees have paid down debt, many bought homes for the first time, 401(k) contributions grew by 155% and turnover dropped in half. His business is now a Harvard Business School case study. What an amazing guy! Here, it’s not just the money that did the magic but Dan has spent a lot of time, money, and effort in growing his people so that they can grow his businesses.
What L & D strategies do you prefer to support professional development and build capabilities across the company, on time, and in a cost-effective manner?
The organization needs to adapt to the changing labor markets and newly evolving technologies. A learning and development (L&D) strategy set out the workforce capabilities, skills, and competencies the organization needs, and how they can be developed to ensure a sustainable, successful organization. L&D strategy will be meeting the organization’s performance needs through the development of its employees.
Usually, L&D focuses on those identified as high-performing or high-potential individuals who are critical to long-term success. This can typically include mentoring programs with senior leaders, in-house development programs, and project-based learning. Some organizations have a broader range of interventions, adopting a more inclusive approach to employee development.
Many L&D functions embrace a framework known as “70:20:10,” in which 70 percent of learning takes place on the job, 20 percent through interaction and collaboration, and 10 percent through formal-learning interventions such as classroom training and digital curricula. Today, L&D professionals must design and implement interventions that support informal learning, including coaching and mentoring, on-the-job instruction, apprenticeships, leadership shadowing, action-based learning, on-demand access to digital learning, and lunch-and-learn sessions. Social technologies play a growing role in connecting experts and creating and sharing knowledge.
Here are few Strategies I would use to support the overall growth of staff and organizational capabilities:
- L&D in line with business strategy and people-focused: L&D strategy should be in line with the business goals. If a business has a goal of achieving a sales target of 20 lakh products by 2025, L&D professionals should know how that target can be achieved through the development of the people. Also, a strategy that focuses on people for eg, if a person in the department is good at data and spreadsheets but is given a field job, his interest in fieldwork may be just temporary.
- L&D to link with performance appraisal (KPI): Line managers, or Department heads who are responsible to grow their people should update themselves too. They need to learn and evolve with the new technologies and the new market changes. Hence, it is vital to give the target of at least this number of training they should attend and to provide an opportunity to the staff they look after by formally mentioning the target in the performance appraisal.
- Developing the Learning culture and environment: Informal training is key for any learning. L&D professionals should encourage line managers to create such environments so that informal information sharing with their peers becomes daily normal. Also, L&D can do a quick survey on in-house experts who can teach skills that could be useful for other staff. Learning online could be another way staff can be encouraged regularly.
- Updating the L&D strategy and measuring its success: Like the business strategy that needs to review time and again, the L&D strategy needs an update to keep abreast of the market changes and needs. Every training and other development activity is performed, they need to be assessed timely using various tools and techniques. Usually, if the training has brought any behavioral change in the staff, that is important.
What L&D trends will shape the Human Resource sector over the next five years?
In my view, 5 trends will shape the HR sector shortly:
Pandemic showed us that rapid adaptability is key to recovery. Managers and employees have had to quickly learn new ways of working, from new onboarding processes to remote career development. HR teams have provided the support and training required to perform the job in the new normal.
L&D could play the main part in appraising employee performance
An employee who is learning to adapt or to develop his/her skills and competencies may be considered as a top performer along with his/her productivity.
More adaptable leadership
Companies will be compelled to hire leaders who are capable of adapting to the economic and social changes taking place and more diverse leaders who can run businesses the digital way will be more in demand in the future.
Digitized organizations and departments
We are thinking of digitized business more than ever after COVID19. With the uncertainty of what the future holds, most businesses will quickly adapt their business function to the digital platform.
More focus on work-life balance and mental health
Many people these days are saying that they don’t have any work-life balance due to the odd hours they need to work during the remote working. There are no 9-5 boundaries while working from home. Many surveys also show that working from home has severely traumatized the employee’s mental health.
What are your views on upskilling employee training? Do you think they have a downside?
Technology continues to rapidly change the way most organizations operate. In response, companies and their employees must consistently add to their technical knowledge and skillsets. As job requirements change and new skills are required, companies are forced to either find new talent or fill the gap through upskilling.
Upskilling and reskilling employees are useful to fill the existing skills gap or a newly surfacing one due to the new working environment. It's an undeniable fact that COVID19 has accelerated the need for upskilling. To maintain their employability, people need to upskill more quickly than ever before. This is a demand of the time and HR will need to evolve to meet these kinds of demand. As per the McKinsey global survey in February 2020, USA survey, after the COVID19 outbreak 42% of employees pursued training on their own, and about the same percentage of companies stepped up their upskilling and reskilling efforts. 68% of companies invest in upskilling and reskilling training to handle changes within the organization and 65% to train employees on new technology to fill the gap. 91% of companies and 81% of employees say upskilling and reskilling training has boosted productivity at work.
Well, the real problem with upskilling nowadays is that the cost and availability of learning resources are no longer the barriers they once were. Instead, employees have to overcome the obstacles of time and headspace to be able to learn. From an individual perspective, time is the real obstacle to improving their skills. Therefore, some even seem disinterested in upskilling though business leaders do realize the importance of upskilling and are ready to invest in it. Another downsize to reskilling is that the situation has brought uncertainty in our health, job, relationship, etc which has caused many of us stressful, and full of anxiety. And inevitably it is hard for anyone to learn during a stressful time. The “Work from home” modality is making many people too much to handle. It is pushing people to do more with less, haphazard working hours is just opposite to the growth mindset in our people. We need to help people to become positive and have growth but a positive mindset.
What do you have to say about the L&D cultures of Nepali organizations? What are your suggestions for them?
Well, I am yet to learn about various organizations in Nepal but wherever I have been till now, I have found one common thing that management feels and thinks when it comes to learning and development. “It involves a lot of money”. This is a traditional and old-school mindset. Business is very competitive, and it needs to adapt to the changing environment real fast to close the skill gaps. Setting up L&D culture is useful because the job roles and their requirements are also changing faster than ever. Employees expect more opportunities for growth within their companies. The culture of L&D will increase employee satisfaction, boosting motivation, performance, and morale; and increase employee engagement as well as retain the good performing employee.
My suggestion for them is simple – it’s like “give and take”. This process never goes wrong anywhere. The more you give, the more you get. So, always treat your staff like your client. They are the ones who take care of your clients for you. Develop a solid L&D system where you provide equal opportunity for the deserving employee and help them grow continuously. Don’t just send staff for training for the sake of it. That will be just a waste of money and time. Develop the culture of learning within the organization. Measure the staff’s progress before and after training, reward staff if they progress, and support them if they need to improve.
Many times, these days, I hear that training is the main motivating factor for staff. Well, I don’t fully agree with that. Attending random training does not make you superman. You need to be trained on the skills that you lack, and training is a continuous process. One can be trained in one skill but until he/she is mastering it, you keep learning and attending higher-level training. For example, if you want to excel, go for foundation-level training. When you complete your training, implement the learning at your work. You need to go for a more advanced excel course after a while. Even more, if you want to master it then you may also want to try different data management software like tableau, power bi, etc. Those are more sophisticated ways to master your data management skills.
But one thing we tend to forget in Nepal is that our work is a part of the business and in business, we take with one hand and give with another hand. So, if an organization is spending money on you for your development, then obviously they want you to perform better afterward. They expect something more from you in the longer run. Ethically, I feel bad when I hear that someone left the organization right after the training because he/she found a better job. I know, we all have different ways to explain our situation but loyalty to the organization where you work matters the most in your career. Even when you apply for a job, HR always checks how many years you worked in your past organizations and what was your career progression.
Do you have any message to people who strive for continuous learning?
Never stop learning, keep updating yourself on the subject you are interested in, do lots of research regularly to keep yourself on top of it, and find the job that you enjoy doing, find your interest and passion, if possible, make your passion your job. When something interests you a lot, your mind, and soul live there. Even if you don’t want to learn, you will be dragged by your intuition every single day to learn about it because you are interested in it. So, finding the topic of your interest is very important.
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