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March 19, 2019 - No Comments!

Webinar Summary – Aligning learning needs to business requirements -Insights from the BigBasket culture

Learning is pivotal to stay in business and keep scaling. One of the biggest concerns for HR and L&D professionals is perhaps aligning learning needs to address business challenges. In this webinar, Subramanian Kalpathi, Senior Director – KNOLSKAPE Insights Centre and Author of The Millennials is joined by Hari TN, Head HR at BigBasket, an Indian online grocery story, to discuss:

  • The role of learning in addressing business challenges
  • How leaders can drive learning agility in the organization
  • How HR and learning professionals measure the impact of learning initiatives

The webinar also highlighted the findings of the ‘Bridging the Outcome Gap: Aligning learning needs to business requirements’ study conducted by the KNOLSKAPE Insights Centre

Bridging the Outcome Gap

The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 drastically altered the business landscape. Since then, the need to ‘do more with less’ has been deep-seated in business. As businesses continue to look for ways to optimize resources and maximize value, this study looks at the outcomes of this mindset.

52 organizations across 18 industries in India and APAC participated in this study, which focuses on 4 core areas:

1 - Learning Strategy and Training Needs Identification:

Learning needs-1L&D works best when it solves business problems. A 70:20:10 model to learning is what works best, where 70% of learning happens on the job where learning happens by being thrown into the deep end; 20% of the learning happens by insightful conversations and social interaction. Only 10% of learning happens in a formal construct such as the classroom. Therefore, organizations must really focus on leveraging the 90%.

Several organizations, however, make the mistake of focusing on doing the 10% reasonably well, but ignoring the 90%. This is true specifically for fast growing and large organizations – learning cannot be divorced from daily work.

Unfortunately, leadership buy-in maybe largely missing in the learning strategy.

Learning needs-2Pro Tip: A key way of building learning is to invite people from your team into problem solving sessions even if they aren’t required, because that’s a great learning opportunity. Skills such as managing conflict and collaboration cannot be taught in a classroom.

At the end of the day, the effectiveness of these tools is dependent on how committed and imaginative one is in creating learning experiences for their teams.

2  – Linking learning to performance

Learning needs-3There are two issues that L&D leaders need to understand:

  1. A lot of leaders cannot articulate what the training needs are – they would state the training requirement at a high level, because it’s not easy to figure out a causal relationship between training input and business performance.

Pro tip: Figure out what the core problem and exact learning requirements are, through a series of questions. For example,

  • Is the problem that employees need to be sent for a 3-day training or is the problem that a leader is unable to find successors when somebody leaves the team?
  • If the problem is succession planning, do you need succession planning for every role or certain key roles only?

Only by getting to the root problem can L&D teams address how best to address the problem.  This is when L&D teams make themselves relevant, delivering on the current KPIs.

2. Identifying behavioral indicators for each competency helps strengthen the learning process. For example, clarity of thought is a competency. The behavioral indicators for individuals with good clarity of thought are:

  • Will ask a lot of questions
  • Will cut through the smoke and noise, and get to the root of the issue
  • Can define a problem correctly
  • Can break down a problem to its different pieces and figure out the important components to be addressed
  • Will figure out the right assumptions to be made

Determining competency level is based on how well and how often an individual is displaying the behavioral indicators. Having identified the behavioral indicators, it is easy to also outline a learning path to help learners improve their competency level, without having to send them for long-winded training workshops.

Instead, customizing interactions with the individual, and putting them in situations where they need to employ the competency will have them scaling up very quickly.

3 - L&D capabilities in creating a robust learning strategy

L & D learning needsThe most important question here is if L&D comprehensively understands business, to be able to solve the critical challenges it faces. The answer is, not quite.

So, what can L&D teams do to be become real consultants and trusted advisors to business?

It is obvious that HR and L&D need to understand business reasonably well. Otherwise, they end up being nothing more than preachers and professors, making learning very academic, and losing credibility over time.

4 - Measuring Learning Impact

Learning needs-5Learning measurement is a difficult task. A 10% improvement in profitability cannot clearly be tied to ROI from training. There are several factors that are in play. At the same time, learning impact can be measured by behavioral changes that occur post training.

However, behavioral changes are subjective. As long as leaders can conclude that behavioral changes have happened, to whatever degree, then that is acceptable. Behavioral change cannot be attributed by a number or percentage.

At the end of the day, when it comes to measuring learning, L&D leaders needs to be clear about what they want to measure and focus just on that.


You can listen to the complete webinar recording here.

To access the slides presented in the webinar, click here.

The complete findings of this study and their implications can be downloaded here.

March 15, 2019 - No Comments!

L&D priorities for 2019 – 8 goals to master this year

We’ve been in the learning and transformation space since the past 10 years now. In this time, we have worked with over 370 customers across various industries and geographies. Over the years, L&D priorities have changed slightly. While business is changing at a rapid pace, organizational learning hasn’t been able to match up just yet.

To help L&D teams accelerate employee development and align with business, we have outlined 8 top priorities that L&D teams struggle with and must master in 2019 to become true partners to business in their organization’s digital transformation journey.

#1 - Making learning and development employee-led

The smartphone generation, which is over 86% of us, are addicted to our mobile phones. In fact, studies show that 8 in 10 employees carry a smartphone.

Why is this relevant to learner-driven, self-paced learning?

It is because the same studies show that:

  • the average amount of time employees spend on their mobile phones is 5 hours.
  • by 2020, mobile phones will surpass TVs and Laptops as the most attractive medium.
  • employees already benchmark experiences against their experience on the smartphone.

Smartphones, social media and the internet have allowed us to access information at the click of a button. Therefore, while information is freely available, understanding and interest in different topics is unique to everyone. As a result, learning today cannot have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

While L&D teams are busy creating learning calendars for the year, employees are busy looking externally, while they take their learning and development into their own hands, either relying on Google and Wikipedia or going on the hundreds of eLearning platforms to take up courses.

What organizations need to be focusing on instead is:

  • Foster a learning culture, where employees are relentless focused on learning, self-improvement and development from the get-go.
  • Create the infrastructure for self-led learning, comprising a platform, content, as well as the opportunity to connect to coaches and mentors.
  • Design each employee’s career growth chart, which tells employees their viable growth within the organization, both horizontally and vertically, as well as a path to help them reach their various milestones.

#2 - Adapting learning strategy for the millennial workforce

Millennials have been a part of the global workforce for longer than 15 years. Yet, organizations still struggle to interact, train and engage with them. Millennials clearly articulate their needs. Organizations, however, struggle because what millennials desire drastically differs from what previous generations desire.

What L&D teams need to keep in mind is that:

  • Millennials seek work-life integration, not balance.
  • Millennials want more out of life than just being slaves to work
  • Millennials believe in working smart, not working hard
  • Millennials believe in a learning cycle that allows then to learn-implement-measure and repeat for sustained learning
  • 71% of millennials say that the internet is their main source of news and information
  • Millennials care heavily about their well-being, wanting to be healthy and active

It is important to keep these points in mind when creating a learning strategy or even a learning calendar. Being seated in a classroom for hours on end goes against several beliefs mentioned above. In perpetuating this archaic mode of learning, organizations are not just leaving millennials less engaged, they also run the risk of high attrition.

So, what’s the no. 1 tip to millennial learning?

Adopt technology. Millennials are quick to try out new technology. Google is their textbook and social media constitutes their primary mode of communication. In short, millennials are connected. ALL. THE. TIME. So, why not make use of an existing system that boasts of a high adoption rate?

It is important to remember, however, that integration is supremely important. Millennials are used to going through multiple social networking sites, because they are connected. A photo uploaded on Instagram can be synced to Facebook as well, increasing visibility and interaction in just one swipe.

At the end of the day, millennials live in a paradox of wanting options while also seeking a curated experience that is unique to them. Therefore, a networked-platform is crucial. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are making waves in enabling this. Are you on the bandwagon yet?

#3 - Enhancing learner engagement:

Research shows that 16 out of every 20 employees opt for learning and development. These individuals say that it improves employee engagement. In effect, ensuring that learning initiatives are mapped out for employee development can immediately boost employee engagement.

To main employee engagement, and more importantly, to improve learner engagement, certain additional measures need to be taken. While 80% of employees are interested in learning and development, a majority of these individuals are high potential and high performing. They want to scale the ladder quickly. For organizations to retain these individuals, catering to their need for hyper-personalized, self-paced, high impact learning is imperative.

How do you know if your learners are highly engaged, or engaged at all? This is a thought that applies to everyone in the workforce, irrespective of the labels that are attached to them. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the learning real, relatable and just-in-time?
  • Is the learning personal and relevant to the learner’s context?
  • Is the learning interactive?
  • Does the learning consist of a feedback mechanism?
  • Does the learning intervention fulfill the objectives effectively?
  • Is the learning creating demonstrable improvement in skill and change in behavior?
  • Is the learning providing learners with all the tools necessary for success?

Make it a point to ask the learners these questions, rather than assume the impact learning is creating. At the same time, remember that while consistency is important, novelty is also recommended. Therefore, it is important to constantly tweak your learning strategy as market trends and learner needs are constantly changing.

#4 - Increasing engagement of line-managers

Let’s establish the definition of a line-manager first. For the purpose of this blog, we define a line-manager as anyone who leads a team while reporting into a manager. Therefore, anyone from a first-time manager to mid-level managers fall under the category of line-managers.

Line-managers play a crucial role in the growth and transformation of an organization, as they carry the burden of being the link between the organization’s senior leadership and the front-line personnel. This puts them in a very precarious position. Some might say that line-managers sometimes become the punching bags, having to juggle the needs, desires, expectations and challenges of their teams as well as their leaders and the organization.

It is, therefore, important that line-managers are engaged. A motivated line-manager is then able to motivate and influence not just his/her team, but also peers and senior leadership as well. At the same time, line-managers are also tasked with handling the dynamic business requirements of the VUCA world.  Therefore, it is important to acknowledge that the prospect of an organization’s success depends on the robustness of this team.

It is easy to get bogged down by this level of responsibility. What is it that organizations need to do to increase engagement of this specialized category of employees?

The answer is quite complex:

  • Not every people problem is a training problem. Yes, training does help in certain areas, but not always
  • Rewards, awards, recognition is also a common incentive given, but this rarely works

The problem, quite often, lies in a feeling of ‘carrying the world on my shoulder’. If line-managers are expected to take care of others, who is taking care of the line-managers?

What line-managers need is a support system where they can address their issues and seek guidance. Assigning a mentor or a coach is incredibly helpful to ensure that line-managers are motivated, engaged, high-performing and able to deliver value to business and to people.

#5 - Maximizing return on learning

Before we get into the specifics of maximizing returns on learning, it is important that your response to the following question is a ‘YES’:

Can you objectively and quantitatively prove the impact and returns of your learning interventions?

What do we mean by this?

  • Can you identify and prove a quantifiable business impact from a learning intervention?
  • Can you identify and prove a demonstrable behavior change due to a learning intervention?

If your answer to the above questions is ‘No’, then you need to stop reading here.

If, however, your response is ‘Yes’, then is the return on your learning investment justified? Are you getting a good return on your training investment?

More often than not, organizations believe that they are spending more money than it is worth on training, because the returns are either untraceable or unjustifiable. Let’s lay to rest this myth that there is such a thing as spending too much on training.

Learning is a lifelong initiative. Therefore, it involves a significant investment of time and effort, and some money. A monetary return on the investment is the most difficult to identify, because the return is not always immediate. After all, learning is effective when there is a change in the way one thinks, acts, feels and behaves. Therefore, there are more pressing questions that one must ask to determine the true return on the learning investment:

  1. Ask learners:
    • Was the learning worth the investment of time?
    • Did the learning delivery accommodate their personal learning style?
    • Was the learning engaging?
    • Did the learning meet their learning expectations?
    • Will they confidently be able to apply learning on the job?
  2. Ask managers:
    • Did learners put their learning to use on their job?
    • Are the learners able to pass on their learning and skill to others?
    • Have the managers seen a demonstrable change in the way that the learners think and act after the learning intervention?
  3. Analyze whether there has been:
    • An increase in employee engagement and motivation
    • An increase in efficiency and output
    • An increase in customer satisfaction and relationship
    • A reduction in waste and an increase in revenue

As you can see, the answer to measurable ROI is neither a straightforward nor an easy one. It requires a fair bit of effort and analysis to come to any sort of conclusion. Technology and data, however, help with a significant part of this analysis.

#6 - Tracing application of skill learnt through training at work

Another major challenge with training intervention, irrespective of how long they are, is that once it is over, there is no follow-up. Six months from the completion of the learning intervention, does L&D know:

  • How much information the learners have retained?
  • If learners have developed the skills?
  • If the skills developed have sustained?
  • If skills learnt are being applied in the workplace?

Often, the answer is no, and this is quite unfortunate. Tracking whether learners are able and willing to apply their learning on the job is important as it helps:

  • Determine the return on learning investment
  • Enhance employee engagement
  • Create a strong learning culture
  • Promote self-led learning
  • Provide opportunities to practice and improve

Bite-sized refresher courses and quizzes, business impact projects, mobile-based engagement and social learning activities such as discussion & advocacy forums, mentorship and cross-functional collaboration all help sustain continuous learning, ensuring that knowledge is sustained and skill development is effective.

#7 - Aligning L&D with organizational goals and strategy

There is a misconception that Digital is about technology. People form a significant part of the digital revolution. The difference is that the way in which people will operate in the Digital Age is significantly different from ever before. Therefore, employees are expected to develop a whole new skill set and do so rapidly.

What skills and why is it important? (Read more: KNOLSKAPE CEO describes the recipe for personal success in the face of Digital Revolution)

The success of a business is dependent on the capabilities of its people. For an organization to meet its objectives, it is important that its workforce has the right mindset and capabilities to achieve goals. Changing business requirements means a change in the learning needs as well.

For L&D teams to be true partners to business and effectively support business requirements, learning must align to fulfill business requirements. However, research shows that L&D is not always viewed as a strategic priority:

  • While78% of leaders surveyed believe that their L&D plan is in line with their business strategy, only 65% believe that their learning strategy is responsive to changes in the external environment.
  • Only 59%of the leaders surveyed feel that learning interventions at their organization help employees fulfill their current KPIs.
  • While 67%of respondents agree their L&D team can anticipate the training that may be required to meet the future demands of the business, only 40% Of respondents feel the L&D team has done a SWOT analysis of their business model.

KNOLSKAPE’s ‘Bridging the Outcome Gap: Aligning Learning Needs to Business Requirements’ report highlights four key challenges as well as expert views on how to overcome them (Read the full report: Bridging the Outcome Gap).

#8 - Aligning L&D practice with future requirement

The speed at which the business ecosystem and requirements are changing is alarming. Organizations, leaders and L&D teams must be cognizant of these changes, while predicting what is likely to happen next. With technology and digital rapidly overtaking several roles and processes, employee skills also require a major overhaul.

The challenge?

Employees need to be prepared for the future while they fulfill current requirements. Therefore, it is a constant juggle between the NOW and the NEXT. This is a struggle that is likely to never go away, because changes are taking place faster and faster each day.

New challenges, however, require a new approach. After all, as has been proved time and again, what has gotten us here will not take us forward. The Deloitte report on Global Human Capital Trends stated that nearly every CHRO surveyed reported that “their companies are not developing skills fast enough or leaders deep enough” to meet the challenges of the Digital Age.

Therefore, it is obvious that one key skill that is needed is that of Agility. This is something that L&D teams themselves must inculcate first, before developing it in employees. What does this mean?

  • L&D needs to get comfortable with the idea of constant change and get ahead of it rather than waiting for change to happen before they respond to it
  • L&D needs to develop design thinking skills, the ability to create and test innovative ideas to solve their talent problem
  • L&D needs to look at skills as part of a large network of application, rather than independent abilities to master
  • Most importantly, L&D needs to have a coherent understanding of digital and how it impacts them, their employees and business

Across the next few months, we will share research, tips and tricks for L&D teams to master these priorities. Subscribe to the KNOLSKAPE blog and be the first to know when new content is available.

March 7, 2019 - No Comments!

Building a digital-ready workforce in 2019

Organizations across the globe are in various stages of the digital transformation process. They now see sense in the adage, ‘change or perish’. While some organizations are still determining their definition of digital and its implications, others are working on their digital strategies, and several others are in the process of executing said strategies.

Though digital has become an imperative and organizations are going full steam with digital strategies, the same sense of urgency is not displayed when engaging with the internal talent. Digital-ready organizations, however, have already cracked the code to being digital-first. An organization is as digitally-ready as its people are. Digital readiness, however, is not merely a product of “skills” or “capabilities.

Based on our experience of working with such pioneers, our interactions with today’s modern workforce, and our approach to digital, we have found that being digitally-ready is a result of three broad elements:

Digital ready workforce

Digital Capabilities

In the face of any change or transformation, a shift in skills is the crucial first step. The only difference in the digital age is the sense of urgency and the scale at which this shift needs to happen.


This is because ‘digital’ implies a significant change in the way we conduct business and deliver value (Watch this video to understand better). Therefore, the capabilities around strategy, leadership, and execution across all levels need to significantly change as well.

Several skills that were previously unheard of taking precedence in the digital age:

  • Sense-making
  • Outside-in orientation
  • Design Thinking
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Empathy

….to name a few.

Digital Mindset

A bigger challenge in the Digital Age is that of a Digital Mindset (Read more: What is a Digital Mindset and why is it important?). The Digital Age demands a shift in mindset.


It is because for us to survive in the Digital Age, we must learn to think and act differently. Here are some truths of the Digital Age:

  • Artificial Intelligence is not just taking over menial, repetitive and manual jobs, but it is venturing into the cognitive space as well
  • The Digital Age will see the coexistence of man and machine. A robot could be your teammate.
  • As technology advances, machines are becoming more human. How do you keep yourself from becoming more robotic?

None of these scenarios held true for the Industrial Age or even the early part of the Information Age. With the current scenario being so vastly different from its predecessors, unlearning and relearning is in order:

  • Agile Mindset – operating in a fast, nimble and proactive manner; Operates on the adage – ‘there is no failure, only feedback’.
  • Intrapreneurial spirit – take risks, innovate, experiment and be accountable for solving a problem the organization faces; operates on the adage – ‘it takes a village to build a business’
  • Collaborative mindset – bringing together the best resources to create exponential value; operates on the adage – ‘there is no ‘I’ in a team’
  • Design Mindset – identifying and solving complete problems to create the preferred outcome; operates on the adage – ‘think outside the box’

….to name a few!

Digital Culture

The digital workforce is built on diversity – a multigenerational workforce, virtual teams, man-machine coexistence, as well as diversity of attitudes, opinions, interests, motivations, education, experience, etc.

Add to that technology, specifically the internet, which significantly influences the way we think, act and interact, and you find yourself with the most complex construct of diversity ever fathomed. In other words, technology has made it possible for each individual to have their unique footprint, rather than putting people into stereotypical boxes.

Therefore, while it is agreed upon that diversity brings with itself richer perspectives, organizations are constantly grappling with ways to leverage and manage diversity.

How is digital impacting an organization’s culture?

Digital is creating shifts across various constructs, not just within organizations, but diminishing the boundaries of organizations and industries as well:

  • A shift from product-focus to customer-focus
  • A shift from reactiveness to proactive solutioning to stay ahead of the market
  • Shift from rigid hierarchical structures to flatter organizations
  • The shift from heavy research to collaborative, fail fast innovation
  • The shift from silos to collaborative networks

….are only a few of the shifts that digital is bringing to culture.

A digital-first organization operates in an environment with freely accessible knowledge, lower entry barriers, and an empowered consumer base. Hence, their only competitive advantage is its people. Therefore, it is important for organizations to value their people and create an inclusive workplace.

However, while doing so, the impact and disruption caused by digital must also be considered, or else the modern organization will remain a half-baked cake. As Darwin had rightfully said a century ago, “it is the fittest that survive” and this holds very true in today’s digital world.

Order your copy of ‘Clearing the Digital BLUR: How organizations can transform themselves at the Speed of Digital’ for actionable frameworks, worksheets, and case studies to help you and your organization become digitally-ready!


February 26, 2019 - 1 comment.

What is Business Acumen and why it should matter to everyone

Business acumen, as defined by Wikipedia, is “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome”. To break it down, business comprises two components - ‘business literacy’ - the knowledge and understanding of various functions within the organization, and ‘acumen’ – the ability to make good judgements and quick decisions’. Collectively, strong business acumen acts as a vehicle for improving performance and developing leaders.

In the industrial age, business acumen was a skill reserved for senior leadership, who were considered solely responsible for the decision making and strategy building in an organization. The digital age, however, has starkly different requirements. Today, in the VUCA world, leaders are required at all levels of the organization, with the additional requirement of an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, a crucial part of acumen.

Unfortunately, most people with even a little competence in business acumen, favor one or the other part of the capability – usually the mere awareness of the various functions. Business acumen, however, refers to:

  1. An overall big-picture understanding of the business model
  2. An understanding of the importance and interdependence of various functions within an organization
  3. A comprehensive understanding of the drivers of profitability and cash flow
  4. The ability to foresee and break down complexities and uncertainties
  5. Awareness of the implications of risk and choice
  6. Decisiveness and quick judgment
  7. Agility in failing fast, cutting losses and moving on

This is true irrespective of the level, function, business, organization or industry a professional might work at. In other words, business acumen is a crucial skill for every person and organization to have. In fact, job descriptions are increasingly including business acumen as a key competency for most roles within the organization. Surprisingly enough, however, research shows that over 80% of employees do not have the basic literacy of their business, let alone strong business acumen.

To succeed, organizations and professionals alike need to invest significant time in developing business acumen. But how can this be done? The tricks and techniques are simple enough, but they do require sustained effort and motivation from learners:

Part 1 – Building Business Literacy

business acumen blog pic

  • Learn to love numbers. The business of every professional is business, and business is made up of numbers. You will find numbers everywhere – budgets, employees, performance reviews, salaries, profits, cashflow, revenues, etc. Running away from numbers is not going to help.
  • Read company reports. There is a lot that you can learn about a business just by reading their company reports. It is a guarantee that company reports will make no sense to a newbie – but keep at it. Soon enough, it will start making more and more sense, and eventually, you will find yourself understanding your own business, competitors’ businesses and customer businesses, sometimes better than they do themselves.
  • Follow the industry and market trends. A business is never standalone. It is a network of multiple stakeholders – customers, competitors, partners, etc., any of those actions can significantly disrupt your business. The digital age has also taught us that these disruptions can come from the unlikeliest of sources. So, make sure you read as much as you can about what’s happening in the world, even if it seems to not affect your business – environmental, political, social and economic forces can all impact your business, so nothing is off limits!
  • Leverage what every function brings to the table. Every function within an organization is a cog in the machine that is your business. As much as each of us would like to believe that our role is the most important in the company, the organization derives its strength from its various parts - Money, people, customers, innovation, product/service offerings are all equally important, as an organization cannot survive without a single one. Understanding this is the first step to leveraging each of their strengths.
  • Let your customers teach you their business. Your biggest asset is your customer. You need them just as much, if not more than they need you. So, make sure you understand what they need. What better way to do so than understanding your customer’s business? Gain their trust and get them talking. They will tell you more than you expect, and you learn far more from these interactions than from any report.
  • And do this all with a sense of urgency. The world is rapidly changing. This doesn’t allow any of us to take our own sweet time to learn new things. Always assume the world will end if you don’t act quickly, and you’ll also find your agility improving.

Once you have made a habit of all of this, you’re only half done. The second part of building business acumen is where the real challenge lies. Herein also is the biggest impact of skill development.

Part 2 – Developing Acumen

You’ve built the knowledge. Now let’s focus on the skill. It won’t be as easy, I’m afraid. But it’s not impossible either.

Considering every aspect of business while making a decision can be grossly overwhelming, even for the most seasoned business leader - Learning the theory isn’t going to prepare you for the real-life implications, and on-the-job experience won’t save you from making mistakes.

Ultimately, developing business acumen is primarily a matter of practice and experience. So, what can you do?

  • Find a mentor. As goes the adage – ‘the players keep changing, but the game remains the same’. The right mentor, someone you find yourself resonating with, can set you on the path of seeing things correctly, while also being your safety blanket for when you falter.
  • Be confident in the risks you take. Any good mentor will tell you than business is about taking risks – not reckless ones, but calculated ones. You’re not always going to succeed but be happy that you tried.
  • Fail fast. The reality remains that no amount of practice can really prepare you completely for what’s out there, because the business landscape keeps changing. Go with the flow, take your risks, make mistakes, cut your losses, learn from them and move on to bigger and better things.
  • Make the most of your experiences. Quitting after one bad fall doesn’t make for a good business leader. As John C. Maxwell said, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” Take every experience you have, both good and bad, analyze it and build on it. Things that don’t work aren’t the only ones that we should work on. What’s important is to keep thinking outside the box, and to keep moving forward.

It takes courage to be a good business leader, but courage is not an option. After all, it is survival of the fittest, and only those who show courage consistently are able to achieve their dreams, irrespective of what they are.

How confident are you in your business acumen skills? Where do you see yourself lacking? What do you hope to improve? Answering these questions is the first step to building business acumen and becoming an industry leader.


February 19, 2019 - Comments Off on Recipe for Personal Success in the face of Digital Evolution

Recipe for Personal Success in the face of Digital Evolution

I have spent the last two years working on a book titled Clearing the Digital BLUR, which is about to hit the stands soon. The fundamental premise of the book is that many lines that we are used to from the industrial and early part of the information age have started blurring away. We now live in a Digital BLUR world characterized by Boundary-less organizations, Limitless digitization, Unbounded innovation and Relentless iteration.

Many organizations are falling by the wayside because leaders and organizations are either failing to either notice the blurring lines or struggling to respond to the after-effects of Digital BLUR. While a large part of the book focuses on the trends revolving around the BLUR and the recommended response from companies to clear the BLUR, I started thinking about what this really mean to us, as individuals. I tried to boil it down to a few realities:

Reality #1: All that can be automated, will be

Digital Age-1That most of our work processes can be automated and robotized is now a foregone conclusion. The question that I ponder about a lot these days is, “As AI becomes more human, will we become more robotized or more human?”.

If there’s anything we have learned from history, it is that the tools we invent become our masters over time - Thanks to the rapid advancements in Machine learning and AI, things that we thought were uniquely human are now being done by algorithms and in most cases, with unprecedented efficiency and quality. With poetry writing, music composition, dancing, playing golf, and even driving a car scratched off from the list, we are left with very few things that we can label as uniquely human.

How should we respond to this unprecedented situation?

As I see it, there is only one way: by becoming more human, looking within for inspiration and doing things that are uniquely you. The things that continue to elude technology today are:

  1. Empathy
  2. Sense-making
  3. Critical Thinking
  4. Strategic Orientation
  5. Imagination

These are only some of the skills that AI and robots will predictably not master for a long time. Why? Because technology is a manifestation of human understanding. How can we program a machine to do something that we aren’t entirely competent at as yet? So, while AI and robotics continue to take on roles and skills that humans have mastered over the centuries, as humans, we must now look to developing and mastering these more niche skill sets.

Reality #2: Machines are learning, we are not

Digital age-2

We take breaks, go on holidays, fall sick, or don’t feel up to it some days. Machines don’t go through any of this, except for some planned / unplanned downtime. They keep learning all the time. All-The-Time. We, on the other hand, stagnate and saturate. So how are we supposed to keep up?

At this point, there are still a few things that humans can do: imagine possibilities, be curious and learn with agility and purpose. Imagination, curiosity and learning agility are critically important for us to stay relevant.

Being alive means that we go through various experiences every second of life. What’s important is that we make the most of these experiences – acknowledge them, assimilate them into our existing mental models and continue to deploy these experiences and the learning we derive from them into future scenarios.

We don’t necessarily need to be at work all the time to develop skills required to do our jobs proficiently. Albert Einstein once said that he was a successful scientist because he was a passionate violin player. He goes as far as to say that the theory of relativity occurred to him as a result of his musical perception. Therefore, it is important that we are actively curious every second of our lives.

"The first and simplest emotion which we discover in the human mind, is curiosity.” —Edmund Burke

Reality #3: Blue Collar, White Collar, Metal Collar

Digital age-3

We inherited the terms ‘blue collar’ and ‘white collar’ from the industrial era. Now a third type of collar is getting added to the mix: Metal collar.

The Metal collar - the robotic workforce can now take over large parts of blue and white-collar work. Does that mean that jobs will go away? The answer is yes and no. Yes, many jobs that humans previously undertook masterfully are now being taken over by robots. Research suggests, however, that AI will create far more jobs than it is destroying.

What I am supremely confident about is our stellar ability to create more problems with these innovations. Humans have an impeccable track record with this. Looking back, it is not like the industrial era wiped away all our problems. We, in fact, created monstrous problems that are much larger than what we can solve as individuals– sustainability, income inequality, global warming etc.

In the future, successful people will be the ones who take learning in their own hands, build a tribe that cares about a cause and gain deep experiences in domains to be able to solve massive problems, enabled by AI. In fact, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sees that we are in something of a “renaissance” and “golden age” when it came to the subjects of machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Are you ready to get on board? If you’re interested, my book will be sure to help.


February 15, 2019 - Comments Off on What it means to be a Digital Leader: Crossing the leadership fault lines

What it means to be a Digital Leader: Crossing the leadership fault lines

Leadership is a concept that is arguable as old as time. However, despite being one of the most important components, first of survival and then of growth, the concept of leadership has been very slow in its evolution through the millennia. As we forge ahead into the Digital Age, the rate at which leadership has been evolving is worrying.


Unlike the eras before it, the Digital Age demands a complete overhaul of leadership – from its structure, to definition, to the skills required to succeed. In an article for PeopleMatters, Rajiv Jayaraman and Subramanian Kalpathi talk about a developing a leadership lattice instead of a leadership funnel - collaborative approach to leadership that is built on the twin virtues of empowerment and accountability. This shift is a necessary one because the demands of the Digital Age are starkly different from its predecessors.


The advent of technology and digital disruption is creating an extremely dynamic business environment, known as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) which requires organizations to be agile and nimble. At the helm of this transformation is a leader, who conceptualizes and drives the strategies and models that will help the organization succeed in the digital age.

So, what does a Digital Leader need to be and do to help the organization win in the digital age? UNLEARN, RELEARN and LEARN ANEW.

Digital Leadership = Lattice of Empowerment and Accountability

The leadership style and structure of the industrial age lends limited support to the Digital Leader. Unfortunately, the leadership lessons taught thus far to seasoned leaders and young leaders alike has been on the tenets of the industrial age. Therefore, Digital Leaders need to unlearn all the things they have been taught about leadership thus far. The key lessons to be learnt are:

  1. The mantra of the Digital Leader is to lead without authority, that is, through the power of persuasion and influence.
  2. Digital leaders must be the architects of a networked organization that continuously collaborates and has real dialogues across the leadership lattice.
  3. Information Democracy. Share rather than hoard ideas, information, strategies and practices in favor of agile operation.
  4. Reimagine business models and strategies constantly to ensure relevance in the Digital Age.

Digital Leaders must face a new reality

The lattice of leadership that is demanded by the Digital Age means that strong digital leadership isn’t restricted to pockets of people within in the organization. Therefore, there are a few crucial truths and principles that Digital Leaders need to reconcile:

  1. Strong digital capabilities are a priority for the entire organization should that organization wish to survive in the digital age. It is also important that capability development is continuous and agile.
  2. Change must be part of the organization’s DNA. The primary reason that digital is a force to be reckoned with is the belief that if something can be disrupted, it will be. Those unwilling to accept, and drive change will only act as bottlenecks that subsequently bring the organization down.
  3. Business strategy must constantly evolve. The shelf-life of a business strategy is less than 6 months and quickly shortening. Planning and hypothesizing behind closed doors will lend organizations a hand in nothing other than extinction.

While the entire organization is responsible for these changes, it is the digital leaders who must drive this transformation, should they wish to remain relevant and thriving. Every leader may not become a digital leader, but those who do not cease to remain leaders as well, as they no longer have anything to offer the organization or its people.

The traits, capabilities and mindsets of a Digital Leader

While researching for his book, ‘Clearing the Digital BLUR’, KNOLSKAPE Founder & CEO Rajiv Jayaraman interviewed dozens of industry movers and shakers and thought leaders about their understanding of digital and its implication on various aspects of business. Among his questions ranked the point on ‘What it means to be a Leader in the Digital Age’. The unanimous views of these leaders follow:

1. Coaching mindset

A digital leader is more a coach than a boss or manager, someone who understands their team’s personalities, intentions, aspirations, fears, strengths and weaknesses, leveraging these various components to help the team perform better. After all, a digital leader is only as good as the team he leads.

2. Fail-fast leader

A digital leader believes in innovating, experimenting and taking risks. No one knows how the future will turn out to be, and there are no definitive responses. Organizations that will continue to survive and grow exponentially in the digital age are the ones whose leaders are not afraid to fail, and fail fast, cutting their losses and moving on to bigger and better things.

3. Inclusive culture

A digital leader is one who is intentional and inclusive, encouraging their teams to share their thoughts and ideas, take risks themselves, and be part of the decision-making and problem-solving process without the fear of going wrong. Trust is the hallmark of a digital leader because s/he is aware that the battle cannot be won alone.

4. Outside-in Orientation

A digital leader knows that the organization is less likely to succeed if leaders are not incredibly customer centric, market focused, aware of trends, talking to possible partners, and stitching together coalitions. An external orientation is key to heading towards your destination and at a faster pace than the competitors.

5. Agility

Agility is the most important virtue of a digital leader as it encompasses everything they do from changing business processes and models, to innovating and taking risks, to scaling up their teams and themselves. Agility also begins with leaders – only by improving the agility with which they learn and operate can they actively influence agility in their teams.

It is crucial for digital leaders to remember that they are the driving force of exponential growth and prosperity in the digital age, as change begins with them. For an organization to prosper, its leaders must amass the traits, capabilities and mindsets necessary to dive this transformation. Therefore, it is in the best interest of both organizations and their leaders survival that leaders proactively work towards preparing for the digital age.

February 11, 2019 - Comments Off on Webinar Summary – Success in Careers and the Realities of the Digital Era

Webinar Summary – Success in Careers and the Realities of the Digital Era

On 1st February 2019, authors Chandramouli Venkatesan and Rajiv Jayaraman jointly delivered a virtual talk on ‘Success in Careers and the Realities of the Digital Era’. Venkatesan and Jayaraman, both of whom have books launching in early 2019 gave us a snapshot of lessons from their upcoming books: ‘Get Better at Getting Better’ (Chandramouli Venkatesan) and ‘Clearing the Digital BLUR’ (Rajiv Jayaraman).

Part 1 – Succeeding at Work and in Life:

The Get Better Model

“How you succeed is not about how good you are, but about whether you have a good enough model to continuously improve how good you are.”

The most common trait among successful people is that they have a strong model to improve themselves. What separates successful people from the rest of us is that they don’t just focus on the experiences. Rather, they focus on how to extract most value from the experiences they have and codify it into their brain for future responses.

Chandramouli propounds that most individuals focus only on the experiences and believe that they need to have better or different experiences to succeed rather than extracting more from the experiences. This typical behavior is the result of three strongly held myths:

  1. The pace at which we all work is the same
  2. The harder we work, the better we get
  3. Age adversely impacts our ability to get better

The reality is that the bulk of one’s career is in their middle age and late adulthood, while the bulk of heightened human learning efficiency is in childhood and young adulthood. As a result, most individuals can burnout on learning agility and fail in the second half of their career.

Succeeding in the 2nd Half

“Most people succeed in the 1st half of their careers; Very few succeed in the second half.”

An important question to ask ourselves is this – ‘What am I doing about my learning model to ensure that I always improve to codify my experiences in my brain for future use?’ To be able to succeed in the second half of one’s career, Chandramouli suggests leveraging two crucial strategies:

#1 – Being Deliberate: Do things on purpose and understand the importance and value of everything you do. Don’t do things for the sake of doing them.

#2 – Prioritize getting better, not getting better results: Self development is key to ensuring better results repeatedly.


Because: Success = Effort * Quality of Get Better Model

Managing one’s career for real growth requires individuals to focus on winning where it matters. According to Chandramouli, where it really matters is in the second half of their career. His advice is to focus on building the foundation of growth in the first half of your career to prepare for success in the second half.

Bringing Life into the Equation

“There is a misconception that we succeed at work because of what we do at work. Yes, it makes a difference, but a lot of the success at work is the function of the nature of the person you are, which develops in life.”

Most individuals focus significantly on their work – career growth, providing for their families, etc., leaving little room for life experiences. The most successful people, however, believe that what they do in life significantly influences their work.

Chandramouli gives the example of Albert Einstein in this regard: Einstein believed that he was a successful scientist because he was a passionate violin player. He goes as far as to say that the theory of relativity occurred to him as a result of his musical perception.

There are 2 areas in life one must consider being purposeful:

  1. Hobbies – “passionate, striving hobbies” can dictate your outcome at work
  2. Values – how do we make our values a catalyst for our success?

These are experiences Chandramouli shares in the webinar, detailed out in two books he has authored and published, sharing strategies that caters to helping people to strengthen their ‘Get-Better Model’, be the catalyst in their own growth, and achieve career success and success in life.

Part 2 – Implications of Digital on Careers today:

Rajiv Jayaraman takes over the webinar in the second half to talk about Digital Disruption and its impact on careers today. He talks about how organizations are being transformed by digital – organizations that have survived and are thriving are the ones that have embraced digital disruption by operating in a boundaryless fashion, with limitless digitization, unbounded innovation and relentlessly iterating their offerings, processes, strategies and even teams to provide seamless customer experience and unlock new business value.

Case-in-point: Garry Kasparov – Chess Grandmaster, “Don’t fear intelligent machines, work with them.”:

In 1997, Kasparov played two games of Chess against the IBM Supercomputer. Kasparov won the first match but lost the second. What happened between the two matches was that the machine learnt, the human did not. Kasparov made a statement after losing – ‘This is an unfair contest. The machine has access to a lot of data. Hook me up with a computer as well and let’s see what happens.’

This comment propelled research on the human-computer combination. Ultimately, in the 2014 Freestyle Chess Championship, the human-machine combination systematically beat the machine.

While digital technology continues to rapidly takeover many roles, people remain at the heart of a digital organization. Unfortunately, academia and corporate learning are yet to catch up to cater to the requirements of digital disruption and make people digital-ready. Therefore, Learning Agility is a crucial skill for people to manage their career growth in the Digital Age. In the webinar and in his book ‘Clearing the Digital BLUR, Rajiv propounds key steps to take and crucial capabilities to develop for organizations and individuals to succeed in the face of Digital:

  1. Capabilities for the Digital Age:
    1. Thought Leadership
    2. An Outside-In perspective
    3. Digital Literacy - A working understanding of technologies and their impact
    4. Design Thinking
    5. Experimenter’s mindset
  2. Key steps to success:
    1. Embrace Data Analytics
    2. Commit to life-long learning – Invest in your capability development
    3. Solve problems that matter
    4. Stay curious
    5. Build networks of experts

Watch this space for future webinars from KNOLSKAPE.

February 6, 2019 - Comments Off on Clearing the Digital BLUR™ for the Insurance Industry

Clearing the Digital BLUR™ for the Insurance Industry

Until the 1980s, the average Indian household believed in either working with the government, the military, or established family businesses. Insurance was a primary reason for this pattern of behavior. Government sanctioned jobs assured job security, post-retirement pensions, housing and vehicular support, and life and medical insurance policies. In other words, the government guaranteed risk management for its employees.

Private-sector jobs became popular with the boom of information technology. Insurance companies focused on helping private sector employees manage and mitigate risks that their private jobs couldn’t do. This started the advent of door-to-door insurance selling. When telephones became widely popular, door-to-door selling shifted to cold calling, each department calling prospects to sell their product.

Today, insurance companies are attempting to reinvent themselves as one-stop shops for all insurance services. This is a slow process, causing technology companies to race ahead with platforms for insurance services, while providing consumers with something more. Case-in-point: BEAM, a new-age dental insurance company that is charging through the digital age, effectively disrupting several industries through a single, integrated platform for all things related to oral health. To stay up-to-the-minute and win against organizations such as Beam Dental Insurance, insurance incumbents need to embrace the Digital BLUR™:

B – Boundaryless organization:


The digital age has put the customer at the centre of the value chain. Instead of comparing and choosing between existing insurance products, customers hold the power to create and demand the solution that rightly fits their needs. Beam dental insurance allows consumers to decide the dental care plan that is best suited for them, while creating a community of customers for dental check-ups, dental hygiene, and dental habits.

In essence, insurance companies face a new market place in the digital age, one that is flooded with a number technologies and platforms, driven by IoT and data analytics. For insurance agencies, this demands a shift in the core business model, from being a product-oriented organization, to one of consulting and solutioning, and creating new ‘InsurTech’ partnerships.  In other words, besides specializing in safety and assurance, insurance companies need to start thinking like a technology company to ride the digital wave.

L – Limitless Digitization


By digitizing their existing business, insurance companies can reduce significant costs across the value chain, attracting more customers and increasing customer lifetime value. In the changing scenario, insurance distribution is being redefined by new channels, and tools such as chatbots, allowing insurance companies to directly communicate with customers, provide superior customer service, and increase sales. Beam’s mobile app provides consumers access to everything from finding and rating dentists, to accessing dental insurance cards, an integrated brush app to control the experience of brushing teeth and gaining points and badges throughout the entire engagement process.

Insurance agencies are also turning to other forms of digital technology such as blockchain, augmented reality and Robotic Process Automation to streamline processes and operations, such as property assessment, fraud detection, and claims verification and processing. Lemonade, an insurtech company broke into the insurance market with an impossible fast claims processing process thanks to machine learning and an AI-based chatbot, effectively poaching an average of 17% clients from incumbent insurance companies such as Geico, Liberty Mutual, Allstate, etc.

These technological advancements create new opportunities, propelling insurtech companies to develop more novel technologies that complement the evolving landscape. For incumbents not getting on the band-wagon, the competition is insurmountable. 

U – Unbounded Innovation:


Limitless Digitization complements Unbounded Innovation firmly. Digital technology, data, and data analysis give insurers the chance to know their customers better. Beam has also created their own Bluetooth-enabled toothbrushes which manage the experience of brushing teeth through the mobile application – power, speed, and quadrant buzz, providing data to help Beam better serve customers, continue to enhance experience, and stay ahead of the curve. Data makes a big difference to insurance, a privilege that is not afforded to them in the analogous world, where they are caught unaware of their customers’ actions.

As several physical and tangible entities become digital, the world is faced with additional causes of worry and risk, namely cyber security. Concerns about cybersecurity will create demand from companies and even households for products that prevent and protect against the breach or loss of data, and damage that might ensue. Coalition, a San Francisco-based insurance start-up provides personalized cyber insurance coverage and risk management tools to protect small and mid-sized businesses.

Another suite of products in the insurance portfolio is likely to emerge from a ‘Gig Economy’, resulting from platformed businesses like Airbnb and Uber. Homeowners now become hoteliers, and car owners become driving partners when they take on customers through these tech platforms. Verifly, which started as an insurance provider for drone pilots now also services the workforce of the on-demand, gig economy.

R – Relentless Iteration:


To stay competitive in the medium to long term, traditional insurers will need to reinvent themselves with digital at their core. Insurers providing low-cost, highly digital, and transparent products will obtain stronger customer bases. In the highly competitive scenario, insurers will need to constantly iterate their offerings to match competitor positioning, customer need, and consumer experience. The important thing to remember is that in a highly competitive industry such as insurance, to truly be ahead of the curve, relentlessly iterating the business model, innovation, and the products and platforms is the key to succeed.

Insurance is always going to exist, because people seek safety, security and risk management. However, the medium through which they receive this assurance will depend on who fulfill the need for cost-effective and flexible solutions that add value to the complex insurance landscape: insurance incumbents who reinvent themselves with digital at their core, or technology companies setting up platforms for all consumer insurance needs.


January 31, 2019 - Comments Off on Webinar Summary – Future of Work: Why? What? How?

Webinar Summary – Future of Work: Why? What? How?

On 16th January 2018 Rajiv Jayaraman, Founder and CEO of KNOLSKAPE and Manish Bahl, Head – APAC, Centre for the Future of Work delivered a webinar on the #FutureofWork. In the webinar, Jayaraman and Bahl unraveled the why, what and how of the future of learning, and discussed the many possibilities that organizations can look forward to, given the disruption in learning methods. What follows is a summary of the webinar:

Artificial Intelligence has already started to take over everyday operational tasks. In the future, it is also said to take over many cognitive jobs, leaving organizations perplexed about how to scale their people to manage and thrive amidst this disruption. This worry is not ill-founded. According to Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring, in their book ‘What to do when machines do everything’, Artificial Intelligence will have a significant impact on work in the next five years.

The good news is that, according to research, Artificial Intelligence will only replace 12% of jobs, while enhancing 75% and inventing 13% new jobs. The question remains, are people ready for this disruption? According to research by the Centre for the Future of Work, both corporates and higher educational institutes are slow to revamp their education and training models to meet the disruption caused by digital. In fact, according to Accenture’s Bridging the Gap in the Future of Work Report, if skill-building doesn’t catch up with the rate of technological progress, the G20 economies could lose up to US$11.5 trillion in cumulative GDP growth in the next ten years.

But what is this progress all about? Today, technology has become such an integral part of our lives and work that it is blurring away some of the lines that were previously considered sacrosanct. These lines can be summed up in the acronym BLUR:

Boundaryless Organizations

Limitless Digitization

Unbounded Innovation

Relentless Iteration

While organizations have been successful in integrating technology, they now struggle with the people aspect of this progress. In other words, organizations are struggling with Talent Readiness to clear the Digital BLUR, which requires:

a. Change in mindset to ‘Digital First’:


b. Shift in capabilities across all levels of the organization:


Organizations are definitely working to meet this challenge. Research by the KNOLSKAPE Insights Centre shows that learning methodology is on the cusp of disruption, and how we learn tomorrow will be markedly different from how we learn today. This change, however, is not going to be easy to execute. It requires:

  1. Breaking down old rules in favor of new ones - 64% of businesses believe work will be intertwined with learning in the future as people adopt new skills to align with employment opportunities.

2. A new learning equation to learning -


Explaining the Future of Learning equation:

    1. Skills: In the future, Humans and Machines will represent two sides of the same coin –
      1. Humans will represent the art of jobs – channel visual cues, empathy, judgement, ethics and social cues to decide ‘what’s the right thing to do?’
      2. Machines will represent the science of jobs – use data analysis and pattern recognition to conclude ‘based on empirical data, what’s the appropriate next steps?’
    2. Content: Digital technology has made content easily available to us at our finger tips. Therefore, the future will be about curating data for hyper-personalized learning, embodying the Netflix model – updating content on a continuous basis.
    3. Training: In the future, the focus will shift from ‘What to learn’ to ‘How to learn’, and much of learning will be self-paced with learners taking control of their learning process.
    4. Speed: Speed is the name of the game in the future. Research shows that 80% of employable skills will evolve more rapidly in the future. Therefore, organizations need to accelerate the time frame in which content is curated and training is delivered.

KNOLSKAPE’s philosophy on learning breaks down the Future of Learning Equation into a 6C approach for the Future of Learning:


At the core of the Future of Learning is ‘Continuous Learning’ which is a loop of habit:


Learning, as it is today, fails at creating a habit loop as both ‘Routine’ and ‘Reward’ are excluded from the process. Therefore, learning has not yet become a continuous process for learners. According to Rajiv Jayaraman, the best way to create a habit loop for continuous learning is by incorporating the elements of:

  • Gamification – Using game-based elements such as leaderboards, points systems and badges in non-game situations such as learning, exercise and work to inspire individuals to come back to the activity and make it part of daily routine.
  • Analytics – Incorporating metrics that track, measure and highlight performance, strengths and weakness, improvement areas, social competition drives motivation to continue participation in the activity, be in learning, exercise or work.
  • Artificial Intelligence – Using machine-based mechanisms for human-like interaction accelerates learning while eliminating bottlenecks, biases and severe business impact.

The future of learning will heavily rely on these elements to accelerate learning. Investing in these methods of learning is a boardroom priority, because the Future of Work is a mirror of the Future of Learning, as adopting the Future of Learning Equation =

  1. Identifying skills required for future jobs
  2. Curating flexible and adaptable content that is updated on a continuous basis
  3. Embracing new forms of learning pedagogy for increased effectiveness.

You can listen to the recording of the full webinar here.

Watch this space for future webinars from KNOLSKAPE.