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Keeping the doors of learning open during a pandemic

Continuing to emphasize on learning and development of your people is crucial, but a good mix of coaching and formal training is the way to go.

It cannot be emphasized enough that employees are the biggest asset of any organisation. This is true and relevant, especially today, when there is a need for organisations and brands to be more human and empathetic. Investing in talent right from the recruitment stage up to retention is crucial to ensure business sustenance. A big part of this is providing adequate training and development opportunities for all employees. Training and constant learning at the workplace will help employees stay in tune with the changing times and be ready for the future.

In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87 percent of executives said they were experiencing skill gaps in the workforce or expected them within a few years. As we navigate through the dynamic

COVID-19 pandemic days, it is imperative and urgent to empower employees to upskill, to address skill gaps and deliver as per new business models. It is also a great time to refocus on enhancing learning and development, bring out flexible and innovative models, and urge people to take trainings such as Gender sensitivity, soft skills, growth mindset, leadership, among others.


Learning via mentorship

Public relations or communications firms too require Learning & People Development as any other business. As leaders, focusing on this is crucial, as the workforce in such professions rely on great inter-personal, negotiation and communication skills, leadership know-how and updated insight into current workplace issues such as diversity, for business success.

Regular communication, encouragement, and at the same time, tracking progress of employee trainings is the key to a productive workforce and great results. Some other tactics that are being used especially in the current scenario are – gamification, sharing learnings, and encouragement, to give the required push.

One of the interesting methodologies that is gaining ground is social learning. For PR / communications firms, this is an important and a familiar method, that was used to come up to speed with the latest business needs. When PR firms first came into their own in India in the 1990s, most of the ‘training’ was on the job and passed down from the seniors or veterans to the juniors. It was, in fact, like the traditional Indian way of education – the Gurukul system.

Although, over the years, formal training, and learning and development programs have been employed by many of these firms too. This has included blended learning, internal and external experts, and investing in sending their staff to on-campus courses. There are benefits, but it may not be that straightforward.


Different approach for success

Public relations and communications is a business with a lot of nuance and while formal training – though online platforms or expert video sessions, is a boon, the mentorship from senior colleagues and practical training is something that doesn’t have a replacement. Today, we seem to have lost our way with that. We seem to have moved away too far into the world of training and are somewhat moving away from coaching and mentoring. Very few firms and senior resources within these firms are spending time teaching the junior staff the “innards” of the business, the softer aspects and other facets which are vital to making a fully rounded PR or Communications professional.


Good mix is the key

With the COVID-19 pandemic, more firms are investing in digital and remote learning programs. But, it is important to note that the learning and development programs in the ‘new normal’ should have a good mix of formal and one-to-one training with senior members. Experienced team members can benefit others and in turn the organisation immensely by passing on their intimate knowledge through formal and informal dialogue.

I would emphasize that formal L&PD works for upskilling and for skills such as digital marketing, but the mentorship and coaching, is an important and the missing piece of puzzle.

If PR firms are to thrive and evolve then we must go back to the roots.

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