Learn and Lead

About continual learning and leadership

It’s Been a Rather Quiet 2011 Here

It’s been a rather quiet 2011 on this blog. Thanks to a couple of guest posts, there were 12 real posts in the whole year. As I reflect on last year, the usual excuse of getting very little time was the first one that sprung to mind. But in reality, I think I just didn't make enough effort. There were many blog posts that crossed my mind that didn’t get written. Many reflections that I wanted to share, many questions that I wanted to explore. Hopefully 2012 will be a better year for this blog. With renewed vigor in the New Year, I am hoping that I will post a lot more frequently in 2012.

Here’s a summary of blog posts of 2011:
  1.  I explored the question of whether an organization/business unit should be delivery led or sales led. I am still struggling to find the right balance.
  2. Taking a stab at rants, I make a case that It's Not This Or That, It's This AND That.
  3. A sponsored guest post by Ronnie Friedmann on Painless way to get and give employee feedback.
  4. Picking up a question on Twitter, I share some of the lies I have heard by people while quiting their job.
  5. In a guest post by Puja Anand, she shares her categorization of Clients from Hell.
  6. A video presentation talk by Sir Ken Robinson triggered my thoughts on driving divergent thinking in our children.
  7. Rupa Rajagopalan has been instrumental in running the Instructional Designers Community of India for the last few years along with some other enthusiastic members of the profession published my interview in their newsletter IDConnect.
  8. Another guest post by Puja Anand in which she shares her experiences of dealing with clients from different cultures.
  9. An experience sharing event at work triggered this post in which I share my defining customer moments.
  10. I explore the question Is changing jobs the best way of getting a raise
  11. In the quest for learning something “new” all the time, the younger people are losing the quest to hone and improve what they know and keep struggling with “I am not learning anything new”.
  12. A call from a recruiter who had not checked my LinkedIn public profile made me wonder why recruiters aren’t using social networking to hire.

Recruiters, Wake Up and Use Social Networking to Hire

In a recent post, RWW reports that “In a study of 300 hiring managers and recruiters, Palo Alto-based social networking monitoring service Reppler reports that 76% of hiring managers look at applicants' Facebook profiles. An additional 56% are looking at Twitter, and 48% check out LinkedIn.”

The fact that recruiters should be checking out basic info on social networks makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem true, at least for Indian recruiters. I recently got a call from a recruiter, apparently someone involved in senior level recruitment in a reputed recruitment firm in India. So this guy starts with introducing himself and how he is specifically focused on senior level recruitment and how they carefully handpick the candidates for select senior level jobs. He goes on to say that he got my reference through someone (he wouldn’t reveal his ‘source’).

After the pleasantries, he asks me about my career background. I said my career profile is listed on LinkedIn and asked him if he had checked that before calling me.

Oh we don’t check LinkedIn profiles, we are required identify candidates from independent sources, he says to my surprise.

Sure, that’s okay but having identified me from independent sources, why haven’t you checked my public profile before calling me?

Oh no, we aren’t supposed to do that.


Why don’t the recruiters realize that they are wasting the candidate’s and their own time by not reviewing the profile on social networking sites? Surely they will be able to find a better job-candidate match by reviewing the profile before they approach the candidates.

I Am Not Learning Anything New!!!

I am not learning anything new.
I am still doing what I did years ago.
There is no “growth” for me.

I have heard this a few times lately. It seems there’s a quest for continuous learning. And there’s the quest for learning something “new” all the time. Unfortunately there’s no quest to hone and improve what we know. There’s a quest to spread ourselves thin without learning in depth about anything. If I have done something once, it seems I know everything there is to know about it. And “growth” is only a rung in the corporate ladder, a designation change.


Pandit Jasraj is still singing after years and years of singing. I wonder if he says I am not learning anything new and that I have singing for all these years. I am still a singer, what I was 20 years ago, there’s no “growth” for me.

If the quest is for continuous learning something new each time, what are we doing about it? Are we reading new things? Are we spending time networking with other knowledgeable people and engaging in a conversation with them? Are we writing and speaking about what we are learning?

And are we actually willing to learn? How can we be willing to learn anything new if we believe that we know it all? Where is the space for new learning in this situation?

Is Changing Jobs the Best Way to Get a Raise?

In a recent employee survey by Mercer it was found that one in two employee is seriously considering leaving their jobs for better opportunities in terms of career and base pay. Interestingly around 66% of employees under age 24 are seriously considering leaving. It leads to an interesting question that I have been pondering over and researching informally:

Is changing jobs the best way to get a raise?

After say more than 15 years work experience, do you think someone who has hopped jobs more regularly will be paid more than someone who has spent longer in each job? While I haven't done any serious research, however based on the senior level profiles I come across, I haven't yet found substantial evidence of job hoping really making a significant impact on the ability to get more pay in the long run. I haven't particularly found people with more job changes at higher salary levels than the ones who might have stayed in organizations longer.

It would be interesting to have a survey for people with say more than 15 years of work experience. Would love to hear your observations on this. Do take the time to respond below.

See responses here.

Image by s_falkow

My Defining Customer Moments

I was recently asked to share some customer moments. One of my defining customer moments was during a project we were doing more than 10 years ago. This was a very large elearning project to convert huge amount of content to elearning in a short period of time. The times were short of the volume of work and everyone was under severe pressure. This included our client contact, who was also under pressure from her stakeholders and customers. As happens in elearning projects, we were expecting to get content from SMEs. Our client was managing the SMEs and they were to provide the content. There were delays and we were having a rather tense call about how to ensure that the project will complete on time. Given the pressures, I also reacted saying the content has been delayed by SMEs and so we need more time. That’s when the client asked in a terse voice as to who is project managing the project? “We are paying you for project management and you now expect me to ensure content is on time?” For a few moments I wasn’t sure what hit me and how to react. It was quite a defining moment of how I view the responsibilities of a project that we undertake.

Lately I have also been working with a lot of government departments in India. It’s been a different experience from working with mostly US-based enterprises. The most common challenge is getting signoffs. However that’s not really my key learning. What I have figured while working with government clients is primarily two things:

1) Think big. The problems government is trying to solve are really big problems, be it at country level or at state level.

2) Align yourself with the government official's vision of the scheme and work towards the success of the scheme, irrespective of the scope of your project. Always have the bigger picture of what the scheme is trying to achieve. Remember, if the scheme succeeds, your project succeeds, and it will result in long term continuing projects. If your project succeeds but the scheme doesn't, there will be no future projects.

What have your defining customer moments? Do share here.

Cultural Issues in Dealing with Clients

Puja Anand writes another guest post for Learn and Lead. In this post, earlier published on her blog Accidental CEO Strategic Mom, Puja shares her experiences of dealing with clients from different cultures.

Into my third or fourth year dealing extensively with Asian clients, with a few American/UK clients thrown in, I had formed most of the ideas written here. However, I shied away from this topic because it is a form of stereotyping, and being an Indian expat living in Singapore, I have seen enough of stereotyping applied to me to be wary of it. I decided to write it down only when I was able to present my perspective constructively.
Let me start with my experience with Western clients. As an Asian service provider working with Western clients, you start at an even keel. They choose you after careful evaluation and once you have passed that test, you are their equal, unless you prove them wrong. Innocent until proven guilty…

The work that you execute is considered to be of equal value to both parties and its success likewise equally important. This trust at the starting point of the relationship lasts a long time, through the usual ups and downs of project DLC, provided you are professional and competent. You operate mostly in an environment of trust and partnership.

Coming to Asian customers, I have come across two types of relationships between them and Asian service providers. The first and the more common type of relationship is hierarchical. There is some kind of unseen but powerful driver that forces Asian customers to be aloof and somewhat distrustful of their vendors, as they refer to their service providers. Actions and decisions are often scrutinized for hidden agendas. You have to work much harder to build trust. Guilty until proven innocent! But it’s not all bad. The good thing is that once you have built this trust, it will last a long time. Customers are not likely to go to a competing vendor as easily because the barrier to entry is too high. Great thing for repeat business!

The other type of relationship between Asian customers and vendors is quite the opposite and seen in situations when the vendor’s expertise is well known and well demonstrated, usually in consultant roles. There you see a kind of respect for you as an individual that borders on adulation. Great for business but the downside is that this respect is reserved for only one individual, making it difficult to scale up such a relationship.

As in any generalization, there are exceptions. And just like any generalization, this knowledge can be useful if used effectively. Had I known about these differences at the start of my career in Singapore, I would have made fewer errors with customers and been less perplexed by some incidents. I would also have known how to overcome the barriers that seemed out of place and context at that time.

My Interview in IDConnect

Rupa Rajagopalan has been instrumental in running the Instructional Designers Community of India for the last few years along with some other enthusiastic members of the profession. As part of IDCI, Rupa edits a newsletter IDConnect. Rupa interviewed me for the second issue of the newsletter. You can view the complete newsletter on the IDCI community site. I am reproducing my interview here.

The Interview
  1. You have been conducting salary surveys for the past 2 years. Have salary levels for Instructional Designers in India improved? What are the current trends in salary?
It’s hard to find industry trends. I get inputs not just from the salary survey but also the many interviews I conduct, the people I recruit and the teams I manage. Perception plays an important role in people’s minds when trying to understand whether the salary levels of instructional designers have improved. The salary levels in absolute terms have improved but not necessarily the perception. I notice that the younger people continue to be less satisfied.
  1. Do you think Technical Writing is a better known profession in India when compared to Instructional Design? Why?
Technical Writing has a wider job market. Instructional Designer are primarily hired by elearning vendors and some training departments. Tech Writers are also hired by software companies, product companies, website content companies etc. In that sense, Technical Writing is better a known profession.
  1. Which of the following dominates the Indian e-learning market / business today - Template based e-learning or Creative e-learning?
I think it really depends on what the customers want. Most customers don’t want to pay too much and are constantly driving the prices and the timelines down. There are advantages of template based elearning. And template based elearning is not necessarily “not-creative”, if I may use the double negative in this case. Rapid elearning is also something that’s being looked at as a solution to crunch timelines and costs.
  1. You had written an interesting blog post on innovation in the Indian Learning Industry. There were some interesting responses to your post too. What prompted you to write this blog post and what did you learn from the responses?
My post on innovation in Indian Learning industry was actually prompted by another post by Will Thalheimer on the same subject, which was prompted by a NY Times report on innovation in India. I was fascinated by the responses this post received. I have come to believe that innovation is a very relative term. When it comes to identifying innovation at a company, industry or country level, the scale of impact defines the level of innovation in people’s minds. My next post on what is innovation explored these perceptions about innovation.
  1. A lot of companies in India ban use of social media in the workplace. In your opinion, social media is a tool, a medium. What you do with it constitutes the value you extract from it. Can you give some examples of how professionals in India can use social media effectively and responsibly in the workplace?
Many ways really. For one, start subscribing to blogs via your RSS reader. Start conversations with blog writers by commenting on their posts, building the ideas and sharing your ideas. It is very important to start meaningful conversations if you want o build on your knowledge. And don’t be afraid to make mistakes, or by shy of sharing your thoughts. You learn most by exchanging ideas. If you are using Twitter, follow like minded people and industry leaders. On LinkedIn join the groups of your field and engage in conversation. Share the information, links that you come across on various sources with your colleagues at work. Filter out the information and share the relevant bits. This way your colleagues will appreciate your inputs. Remember not to flood them with everything you find. Be selective. If there are questions your colleagues have, try to find answers by tapping into your social network. You will gain respect of your colleagues and your bosses and they will soon realize how social media can help.
  1. Effective collaboration in organizations – What are the challenges and how do you overcome these challenges?
Technology and culture are two big challenged. Most companies are not beginning to solve technological challenges by providing more means of allowing employees to communicate. The bigger challenge is cultural. Organizations should work at building the culture of sharing information freely and encourage collaboration. Collaboration will start bottom up within organizations and top executives need to be careful of not doing anything to discourage it. I recently wrote a post on this subject.
  1. What do you think is the future of learning technology?
It is always hard to predict the future. I believe that learning technology will become more collaborative in the future. How learning content is defined is likely to change and content creation will become easier in that context.
  1. What is your advice to budding learning professionals?
My advice to budding learning professionals: Keep Learning! You have to be able to learn faster than your learners. There is a great responsibility that learning professionals have when they create the learning programs. Keep pace with what’s happening in the field. Understand what business problems your learning program is attempting to solve and ensure that the design and development of the program is in line with the business objectives.
  1. How do you think a platform like Instructional Designers Community of India (IDCI) can help learning professionals in India?
Absolutely. Platforms like these play a crucial role in developing a community of professionals. Instructional Design as a profession has been in India for last 15-20 years and yet is still nascent in a manner of speaking. Platforms like IDCI can help bring professionals in this field together to share their common knowledge and learn from each other. It can provide people in the field a window to what’s happening elsewhere in India and across the world. I have been very encouraged with the progress of IDCI and look forward to seeing it grow in the future.

Driving Divergent Thinking in Our Children

I came across this interesting video presentation talk by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA's Benjamin Franklin award. In the video he talks about what’s wrong with public education and why paradigm change is required. While the talk and the statistics are primarily USA centric, I think the state of affairs and the arguments he states are quite valid even in India, and perhaps most of the world.

I feel that divergent thinking, while reduces as we grow up and get "educated", can increases as we start working & gather many more experiences. Many organizations (at least in the services sector in India) now are focused on teaching (training) their workforce on divergent thinking. And with the increasing exposure to television, movies, the Internet, our thought goes beyond what we might experience directly.

Of course, there is no questioning that the school system should allow children to learn the way they want & what they want. There is definitely a need to reform the education system. However, as parents I feel we can do our bit of giving freedom to children even while following the set system of school education. That is something that is in our control and easily implementable while we continue to push for reforms in the school system.

Clients From Hell... and Heaven!

This is a guest post By Puja Anand

Recently, I saw a website titled Clients from Hell that had funny anecdotes from web designers about unreasonable or uninformed clients with strange requirements. It got me thinking about the clients I have interacted with in the last 10-12 years. Who among them would qualify as clients from hell?

Are they the clients who ask us to reduce our prices, even as the expenses go up? Are they the ones who expect work to be delivered two weeks earlier than our proposed tight schedules? Are they the ones who ask us to change features that they approved in earlier deliverables?

It may sound hard to believe but the answer to all three questions is No. Of course, we all wish for customers who would pay us more, or do their part in the development process on time, or have sanctity for prior approvals, but we recognize that these are reflections of the environment our clients are in and of the nature of the beast called e-learning development. More importantly, these demands for lower prices, faster timelines and flexible processes have a hidden potential for creating value in the long run.

Value is the real differentiator. So, it makes sense to look for client engagements where no or little value was created for anyone involved. When I looked at all clients from this lens of value, three types of clients stood out.

The Window Dresser
This type of client gets into e-learning to impress someone else or to appear to be someone they aren’t. It sounds hard to believe that such clients would exist, especially since a significant cost is involved in developing e-learning solutions. But I have come across such clients in some government departments or large traditional firms.

The problem with such clients is that there is no real commitment to the e-learning initiative and therefore, there is no champion for it in the organization. As a result, the carefully crafted content, a product of myriads of reviews and rework, sits on the specially chosen highly-secure servers for years without being used by anyone. So much effort and value lost! Another consequence is more long lasting and damaging: A failed attempt at e-learning results in negative perceptions about the effectiveness of e-learning that persist for very long.

The Pedant
These clients are sticklers for all kinds of rules and take great pride in their attention to detail. All deliverables are scrutinized for minute issues (e.g. line alignment down to a pixel) and a lot of energy and goodwill is used up in fixing them. Sometimes, this takes a different turn- a lot of time and energy is used up in adding bells and whistles to every page (e.g. this button should blink twice and stop, these bullet points should be accompanied by sound effects, this page should have an animated transition etc).

So what is wrong with such clients, you may ask. After all, don’t they help improve the quality of the output and therefore create value? Not really. The increased focus on small and insignificant details often means that deeper issues are overlooked, such as completeness of the content and its relevance to the audience. Once the training is launched, it falls short and doesn’t provide any real benefit to the users. Once again, so much wasted effort and so little value!

The Commitment Phobe
This type of client delays making decisions on every step in the development process. Often, the person in charge is either not empowered to make decisions and/or the company’s culture is very hierarchical. The decision makers want to limit their role to seeing the final product and pronouncing it passed or failed, and junior staff is too inexperienced to deal with any design- or content-related issues confidently. Sometimes, the situation is compounded by lack of support for the e-learning initiative by the SMEs.

The problem with such clients is that projects can take inordinately long time to be completed. E-learning launch, typically tied to an impending training cycle, is delayed and loses its momentum and support of several stakeholders. Sometimes, content is outdated by the time the course is developed. Colossal loss of effort and value for everyone involved.

As I pondered over the above three types of clients, I couldn’t help thinking of the clients who are at the other end of the spectrum, clients we love to work with. What attributes of these clients propels us to create great content that adds tremendous value to the end users of the training? This is what I think makes these clients special.

Total Commitment to Results
These clients have a single focus- the results that the training will help achieve. This means that they have a clear idea of both the learner and business needs and understand what will meet these needs most effectively.

Focus on the Big Picture
Another attribute that these customers demonstrate is a hold on the big picture. When the big picture is to change the mindset of employees, or to equip them with certain skills, it becomes easier to make decisions about where to expend most effort and energies.

Work as Partners
Finally, this set of clients always works with the development team as partners with common goals and approach the relationship from a position of trust and respect. E-learning development is a two-way street. When the development team and the client work as partners, magic can and does happen.

About the Author:
Puja Anand is a seasoned e-learning designer, manager and business leader. She has over 15 years of experience in the industry. Currently on a sabbatical, her last role was as the CEO of Learning Solutions at Knowledge Platform. Find her on LinkedIn at: http://sg.linkedin.com/pub/puja-anand/1/957/834

Illustrations by Irene Wan; Cartoon from http://sinkorschwim.wordpress.com/far-from-home/

Lies While Quitting

@sidin posed a question on Twitter about lies we give while quitting a job. I am sure there’s a full article out with a lot more research.

Over the years, I have heard many reasons that people give while quitting. These reasons are not necessarily lies in all cases. These are just a collection of some reasons that I figured were lies after the person had left the organization.

"I want to do something different" (when the will continue in the same industry doing the same thing)
"I am getting a better role" (when they will do exactly what they were earlier doing)
"I am getting a better designation" (when they aren't)
"I want to take a break" (and they promptly join another company)
"I have to go to my hometown because my parents are old/unwell" (and they promptly join another company in the same city)
"My spouse is getting transferred" (and I find either the spouse to be in the same city, or they have joined another company in the same city)
"I am joining a full time course" (and they promptly join another company)
“I have to join my family business” (and they promptly join another company)

What are some of the lies you have heard or have given while quitting an organization?

It's Not This Or That, It's This AND That

Came across a tweet by a respected TV journalist today:

r day should be a celebration of creative genius of india, not of armed forces might. fewer tanks, more music. gnight

I have heard people cribbing and providing their alternatives in the past also. “We should not spend money on games, the same could be used for the poor”, “why do film stars get awards, they should be given to intellectuals” and so on.

Mostly we rant about why we shouldn’t do the things that are happening and why we should shift our attention, money, focus to something else. It seems as though magically by doing that we would solve the seemingly bigger problems. How I wish it was so easy. How I wish that poverty would be eroded by not spending the money on games but by giving money to the poor.

Unfortunately it’s usually never a case of EITHER OR but almost always a case of AND. We must have games AND solve our poverty problems, the Republic Day must be a celebration of Armed forces might AND creative genius of India, awards must be given to intellectuals AND film stars.

Do you see yourself using Or in your workplace or are you using AND? Using AND can give shape to ideas and your suggestions stand a better chance of being accepted.

Delivery Led or Sales Led

I have been wondering about this for a while now. What’s better for a business – to be delivery focused or to be sales focused?  Who’s a better business leader – a delivery focused leader or a sales focused leader? I know of companies bracketed as being sales focused or delivery focused. Sales led/focused companies are known for their aggressive attitude towards grabbing business, at any cost, at any promise, irrespective of its delivery capabilities. Deliver led/focused companies are known to be more focused on selling only what they can deliver, known to be risk averse but perhaps more predictable in their ability to deliver. Do customers prefer one over the other? What’s better?

2010 Redux

2010 was a rather quiet year for my blog. My blog didn’t see much of me this year, only 24 posts this year. As for my other social media presence, it’s been mostly quiet all across. My RSS reader missed me, on many occasions I would mark 1000s of unread items as read and try to start again. Tweeting also took back seat. Tweetstats tells me I posted only 854 tweets in 2010 against more than 2000 the previous year. And still, sometime during this year, this blog completed three years, crossed 50,000 hits and more than 370 feed subscribers. Google Analytics tells me that hits this year were marginally more than last year.

During the year, my role changed from primarily developing elearning content to providing learning solutions for the Indian market. It’s mostly about selling training in various form factors, including instructor led and elearning. What’s interesting is the work we are doing with various ministries in the Government of India on employability and skill development, something that I hope to write more about in the coming year. The new role also takes me even closer to the actual implementation of learning solutions and is providing me new insights. I am hoping to make up for my sparse blogging last year in 2011.

Some of the posts I wrote in 2009 and 2008 continue to be popular and appear in the most read posts in 2010. My top 5 read posts in 2010 were:
  1. Rules for Kids and Teenagers for Facebook Usage (2009) is the most read post on my blog, not just last year but in this history of this blog.
  2. Top 10 Qualities of a Good Manager (2010)
  3. Instructional Designer Competencies (2008)
  4. eLearning and Content Development Salaries in India (2009) continues to intrigue the readers
  5. 5 Reasons Why You are Not Being Promoted (2009)

As for the posts I wrote in the year, my personal top 5 posts of 2010 are:
  1. How to Become a Thought Leader
  2. Recognition Beyond Awards
  3. Would You Fire Your Best Performer
  4. Collaboration: It’s Not About Technology, It’s About the Culture
  5. Dealing with Office Bully

I also quite liked my son’s account of student life that I shared in A Day in the Life of a Student.

Thank you again for continuing to read this blog.



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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

Creative Commons License This work by Manish Mohan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 India License.