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A Culture of Learning is a Culture of Winning

By: Tharaka Appuhamy
07 August 2019

Setting aside our  understanding on the concept of ‘The Culture’ in a workplace in today’s day and age, we should first take some time to decipher this term a bit more and with some detail. Culture is how a group of people live, follow, and work towards achieving a vision and getting along with each other and aligning with similar values and beliefs. Culture is a very strong feeling; a feeling that creates a purpose that in turn, drives a group of people. It becomes a purpose driven life for a certain group. Culture is everything you do to make yourself live out in that feeling.

This was part of a presentation that was conducted by Mr. Tharaka Appuhamy, who is the head of Talent Management & Quality Assurance for seven resorts in the Maldives under the Aitken Spence Group, a well-regarded conglomerate based in Sri Lanka. He revealed that once, he had emailed his L&D calendar to all the resorts of which L&D he handles, specifically requesting for nominations to be provided for a certain training program. The program was titled “The Training LEED, a 4-day Train the Trainer” program.

He disclosed that he was quite surprised and taken by a response followed by a call from one of his very own senior directors who also currently works in a VP level, and who exclusively divulged his desire to become a trainer! This corporate official wanted to participate as a trainee in Mr. Tharaka’s training program! “This is the best example that I can bring out to say that we have created a learning culture within our organisation. If you have a learning culture that is inconsiderable of the level then all associates will be ready to learn, unlearn and relearn,” Mr. Tharaka added, following this revelation.

So, the first question that comes to our mind is, what is a Culture, Learning and Winning? Elaborating further, Mr. Tharaka disclosed, “I believe that it is a strong feeling; a feeling that you create about your establishment. It is a commitment of the leadership and positive actions of followers. A combination of effort creates the organizational culture.”

Culture If one has a strong sense of culture, it also means that there is a strong feeling in one’s beliefs and values. Scientists have discovered that our feelings have an effect on the world around us. They have the power to change the world in wonderful ways.

Everything is energy around us. Energy affects the feelings of other people and the consciousness of a group or community. One can create any kind of feeling or experience they want by changing the energy of the thoughts and feelings of their staff which would eventually help create the culture that is required. Even one’s thoughts affect the DNA in our cells. Loving, caring, happy thoughts have a positive effect on the DNA and they benefit our health. Negative thoughts on the other hand, have a negative effect on our DNA, and hence, affects our health negatively. So, we do need to be careful with our thoughts.

Our DNA emits light called bio-photons. Every cell in our body makes us shine like a lighthouse. The bio-photons carry information about our emotional state, feelings, and thoughts, and about the kind of person we are. You can change that information by changing those thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The more loving you are, the better it is. The bio-photons and the electromagnetic energy created by our thoughts, feelings, and emotions affect our body’s energy field (aura). Loving and caring thoughts have high frequency energy. Negative thoughts have low frequency energy. A person’s energy field (aura) can feel pleasant or unpleasant because of this.

While extracting information from past surveys, according to a study by the research and advisory firm Gartner, both CEOs and CHRO’s have disclosed that “managing and improving the culture” is the top priority for talent management. All starts in a very simple way within us, in what we believe and our thoughts. So what good will a company’s philosophy and brand or the SOP’s credo have if we don’t tune our people’s thoughts? We will never be able to create that desired culture.

Learning A learning culture is what we do in the organization to create a learning atmosphere where people will be ready to Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn, Mr. Tharaka explains. He also emphasized that starting a company from scratch helps you build that culture from the very beginning. However, the case was not the same for him. “I faced a major challenge when I commenced L&D functions in the Maldives. When I started my journey in this beautiful country in 2016, the organization I was working for had already been operating in the Maldives for almost 25 years, while also being the fourth biggest foreign investor in the Maldives with seven resorts and a room inventory of 770, accommodating 1500 associates from almost 35 different nationalities,” he opined.

L&D was never positioned as a business partner in the organization and so, he reiterated that the audience would now be able to understand how high, big, fat and tall the challenge was. In terms of deciphering ‘Learning,’ it can be denoted as something that is a result of any training activity. Learning is gaining knowledge and skills through experience or study, as described by CHT – AHELI.

In creating a learning culture, the prime task is to come up with an L&D Strategy, Policy and L&D approach. All L&D approaches need to be aligned with the organisational objectives and here the following L&D approach was the guiding principle to execute L&D activities within these resorts.

Associate TrainingTrainings provided to enhance competencies of associates in their current roles.

Associate DevelopmentSolutions to enhance competencies for future job requirements.

Associate EngagementActivities to enhance employee motivational levels.

Certification TrainingAchieving certifications through associate participation and uplifting a more competitive streak in the market.

Process DevelopmentTrainings which are conducted in operational process development with solutions to meet standards and consistencies in relation to resort operation.

WinningWinning in this culture can be denoted as achieving organizational objectives through aligned learning and development approaches, as put forth by Mr. Tharaka. He went on to explain that he had another challenge, which was to “reach all associates with limited L&D manning.” So, they strengthened the departmental trainers by emphasizing their own training skills and created a unit of over 45 departmental trainers who were proficient in delivering on the job training programs.

In winning you need to ensure that everyone understands the importance of learning and by creating all section / unit managers trainers will establish a strong learning culture in your establishment.

In an industry where you find that a majority are rankers, they need to be aware of the wonders that Learning can do, mainly the WIIFM principle – what is in it for me, for the organisation, for the customer and the trainee. When they are aware that knowledge is the power that can change and add value, they will take the lead to create that learning culture. A learning culture will challenge the orthodox and people will be creative and take smart risks in adding value. They will embrace failure and learn from these lessons. 

“We faced another challenge; the lack of local representation in management. Being a brand with a firm focus of enhancing the local touch, we developed the Kurimagu – the biggest local Management Training Programme in the Maldives to attract local talent and to create a perception of developing this talent and attaining a good work culture. We were the first and only international company to conduct such a large scale development programme for local youth in the Maldives with the idea of guiding them to be future leaders of the industry,” he further reiterated.

Kurimagu is a classic example of creating local diamonds, in line with their L&D motto, “WE MAKE DIAMONDS”. Those who had completed their programs had gone on to become Assistant Front Office Managers, Executive Butlers and HR Executives. When the associates witness a learning role model, then eventually the rest will feel as what a learning initiative can do and will get motivated with that learning culture. Learning role models will help any organisation to retain talent within the organisation.

Many recent studies show that employees are not engaged at their work and employees are actively looking for joy at their workplace. How can L&D be a part of reconnecting people at work and make learning a fun activity?

A learning culture can be generated in many creative ways. Moving out of the traditional learning patterns, we understand that associates need to be engaged, face competition, and be celebrated. This is when they decided to roll up associate engagement programs such as the Dhivehi Rahathah Challenge, Bed Making & Decoration Competition, Beverage Champions – Mocktail, High Tea, Cocktail and Coffee, Tell your Story (Guest Interpretation) and Table top decoration competitions.

Social Media Campaigns include the Learning & Development (Facebook Account). In a generation where we are heavily judged by social value, L&D started social media accounts to act as a creative bridge between the resorts and the public in order to address the following needs; to socially validate their associates, to share all their associates’ hard work and commitment, to share their trainings and competitions with the public and to encourage employee branding along with recognition of the work they do within the resort in the eyes of the public.

Leadership Leadership always matters when it comes to envisioning and establishing a learning culture. First and foremost, the leadership must believe that learning can change a culture. Leadership must show commitment towards achieving and creating a learning culture. “In terms of my workplace, I truly am blessed to have a leadership that is committed towards enhancing that learning culture,” Mr. Tharaka added. He further explained that leadership matters when it comes to creating the learning culture because people mirror their managers or leaders. It affects their ideas and thoughts and eventually, their followers reflect on the qualities, etiquettes and attributes of their leaders and tend to replicate them, be it professionally or personally.

Mr. Tharaka further added, “As a leader or manager, one has to set up structures, processes and incentives in their organizations and put in an effort in building the ground for a learning culture. That is the part of leadership that people often miss out on; enabling your organization to actually adopt the new culture you so seek to have.” People see themselves visualizing themselves as successful individuals since a culture of learning gives them the ability to do just that and hence, become innovative in their stance. They then begin to formulate ways to work towards their visions. These visions or aspirations can be linked with organizational objectives and eventually, when they achieve those objectives, they will in turn, achieve their personal aspirations. What do we do when we want to plant a tree? We tend the soil accordingly the same way a leader would need to create the background for talent to grow.

As such, associate competencies will develop and they will stay in tune with the organization whilst holding on to a learning that encompasses a positive vibe, feeling and energy. “We have achieved many awards, both locally and internationally. We are not in any competition, however, winning is now the way we operate and live because we have succeeded in reaching that level of intensity due to our learning culture,”

Mr. Tharaka finally adds that he believes that doctors and trainers have many things in common; they use their KNOWLEDGE TO TREAT OTHERS. Doctors use their knowledge to cure patients. Trainers they use their knowledge and intellect to change the behaviour of the learner or we teach them how to catch fish so that they will make a livelihood for their entire life.

He says he loves what he does as he gets that self-satisfaction by adding value to talent for the betterment of their lives whilst helping to improve the organisation’s culture. “I’m sure all trainers feel the same way,” he relayed. In his own words, he mentioned, “We are the Stelliers who help sailors row their boats.”

This is why L&D professionals are a big part of creating a great winning culture in an organisation.

Use our knowledge for the benefit of others. To create a learning culture in your organization, which will be the fuel for a great winning organisation culture.

Author : Tharaka Appuhamy, Assistant General Manager – Talent Management and Quality Assurance at Aitken Spence Hotels. The StelliersSouth Asia Human Resources Hotelier of the Year 2019. CIPD, MBA-MGU, (Hon) BHM, Adv.Dip.HM (Sg), Mgt Dip HCM – SLITHM, LCHSGA

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