5 Golden Rules to ensure Real business impact from Corporate Training
(Published in: The Financial Express)

Organizations – both big and small – spend billions of dollars on Training. Yet, CEOs and HR Heads keep complaining that the effect of training rarely lasts. After the initial high, most employees tend to go back to their old ways, and so over a 3-6 month period, there is hardly any visible difference.

Most trainings have two primary reasons – either people are not performing as effectively as they could; or because people need to learn new skills in anticipation of future responsibilities. In both cases, training is a just a tool for the larger expectation that people will do their jobs better. Hence the central validation question is: Did the training make a measurable difference?

Here are 5 tips to ensure this measurable difference, a real long-term impact –


1. A Good Training is taken up as a Consulting Assignment, starting with a rigorous Needs  Analysis.  First identify  the  business  problem.  What is  the  real  issue?  Get complete clarity and cross-functional alignment on this issue. Training, per se, has no value in itself… its value is derived from the business problem it solves. Hence, even before starting, ask: Are the right issues being addressed by this training?

For instance, so many clients ask us for a Leadership workshop. But our first question is – what specific trait are you not seeing in your managers? Are they not seeing the big picture well? Are  they   not  collaborating  enough?  Are  they  not  inspiring  their  teams?  Are  they  not  taking accountability of results? Each of these is a very specific and unique leadership challenge, and needs to be dealt differently. Another example: A Big 4 client asked us to deliver communication workshops, but also warned us that the previous trainers were not effective. When we sat with prospective trainees and their managers, we realized that the trainees needed to be first coached in Structured Thinking, and only then in How to Express Powerfully. If we had just gone ahead with a traditional communication training (grammar, presentation skills, report writing etc.), we would have fallen flat. Now the client is rolling out this adapted training (Thinking Right… and then Expressing Right) across the country.

This Needs Analysis must be transparent and involve top management. Often senior managers complain all problems are with junior managers and ask us to train them. But a closer inspection generally shows critical gaps in the seniors too. Another large MNC asked us to make their middle management ‘problem solvers’, who could  solve their own issues, instead of escalating all issues to their managers. However, when we dig deeper, we realized that, in the past, solutions by middle level generally met with lukewarm support, and when things went wrong, they were severely reprimanded. No training can help here, unless the seniors first improve their delegation, empowerment and coaching skills. The # 1 reason we have seen for ‘non-stickability’ of training is that ‘the managers do not role-model what was taught in the workshop’. We need to identify the real problem, across levels and not just the symptoms.2

2. The Content must be fully customized for the unique needs of the client. Since we are solving a live business problem, the examples and frameworks we use must be  relevant for the participants. For example, I have seen so many Finance For Non  Finance or Business Acumen workshops, delivered reasonably well by very knowledgeable trainers. But the non-finance trainees – from Sales, Operations and HR – keep  wondering afterwards how they will apply this generic knowledge of cash flows, balance sheet, ratios etc in their own roles.

A large telco approached us to sensitise its Circle Business Heads on the need for Financial Prudence. Profitability was poor partially because of tough competition and partially because  Business Heads (generally with a Sales background) were still focussing on volumes and customer base, but not on the cost of acquiring  and  retaining a customer. We did a thorough research on the sector, interviewed multiple players, used analyst and share price reports to make a powerful case on why cash was to be saved to save the company. We used company specific templates, terms and real scenarios (example: investing in a new tower) to show RoI of investments and arrive at thumb rules (e.g. a new tower makes sense only if subscriber base is more than 1000).  The training got 9.7/10 feedback and is now being reapplied across all the Circle Leadership Teams.

33. The Trainer needs to have practical experience of that particular sector and problem. We need a consultant, with deep contextual familiarity. If we have to train the  Sales  force of an education company, we need a trainer who has experience doing business development in the education sector. For only he can understand the nuances – in this particular case, the unprofessionalism of various college promoters, the cheque bouncings, the apathy of most teachers and faculty, the attitude issues in the students, the cyclicity of admissions seasons etc. Effective Selling Skills in education will require accounting for these nuances. A pure Sales Trainer – who just focuses on 7Ps and Empathic Listening and Consultative Selling – will only be 60% effective, unable to contextualize his teaching to the unique problems faced by his trainees.

When we were asked by a Food major to improve the Business Partnering of its Finance team, we gave multiple  FMCG examples of how finance teams have helped the business make the right strategic choices – in distribution, plants, sales promotions, pricing etc. – areas very relevant to the audience. We got former FMCG CFOs to share their experiences and offer practical tips. The training was so successful it was rolled out across the globe.

4. Use the principles of Androgogy (Adult Learning) to ensure retention and internalization of learning. The challenge for any programme is to ensure long term retention and real life application. We need to understand the science of learning: ADDIE and other models in Instructional Design, Edgar Dale’s Cone of  Experience,  Bloom’s  Taxonomy,  5  Principles  of  Androgogy,  Kolb’s  Learning  cycle  etc.  Real-life examples,  lectures,  videos,  interactive  activities,  quizzes  and  games  need  to  be  used  to  help  in internalization (“show, tell, make them do, make them teach”). For example, while illustrating Johari window (“understanding of self”), we  can use a small movie clip from the iconic movie Ek Ruka Hua Faisla. Or while teaching financial analysis, participants can be asked to make the financials of a new product launch (ideally using data of that particular  client). Or while teaching Empathic Listening, we may ask the trainees to now train their spouses/friends over phone and get a feedback over sms. We also need to give a lot of respect to the experiences the participants bring, and keep showing them how this knowledge will help them achieve their own goals.


5. Post-training  follow-ups and  other  interventions. Class-room  training  is  just a sensitizing tool. To ensure real impact, we need a structured intervention, with a lot of  follow-ups  and  other  enablers.  We  must  rigorously  follow  all  the  4  levels  of Kirkpatrick model or equivalent:

  • Reaction – what participants thought and felt about the training. This is usuallymeasured immediately after the workshop and generally gets positive scores.
  • Learning – the resulting increase in knowledge and/or skills, and change in attitudes. A small quiz may be organized at the end to ensure key learning is internalized.
  • Behavior – transfer of knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes from classroom to the job. This evaluation
    occurs 3–6 months post training while the trainee is performing the job. Evaluation usually occurs through  observation. After 3 months, we must ask the managers of trainees if there is evidence of a change in behavior. For example, after an FNFE workshop, are the trainees now submitting much more financially savvy  proposals that made overall sense for the company? If not, what is the point of the workshop even if it got a 9 out of 10 score?
  • Results – This is always difficult to measure and attribute specific business results to training alone.
    But we absolutely must agree on the measures upfront, install a control and do the rigorous due diligence of seeing whether business results improved as a result of the workshop. For example, in the same telco above, the regional head observed that the circle which had most internalized our Business Acumen workshop had also become EBITA positive ahead of target. Or for a pharma retail client, the mystery  shopper  audit  scores  went  up  from  35%  to  55%  after  our  sustained  customer  service intervention. Or in a semi-PSU, the scores on  High Performance Organization moved up from ‘Sub- optimal’ to ‘Good’ after 9 months of Leadership  Development intervention. This may not be exact science, but we get very clear directional evidence which are very satisfying for the trainer and justify the cost of training to the client.Also realize that pure training will usually not solve the entire business problem. In a Fortune 50 MNC, the Regional Sales Manager asked us to improve the Profit focus of his Area Sales Managers. But when we asked  what the ASMs were rewarded on, he said “Obviously volume of sales. Isn’t that standard across all sales  teams?” See if we measure people on volumes alone, they will obviously promote volume growth, even when it as at the cost of profitability. The monitoring and reward systems and culture need to be in sync with training.Training is ultimately like Money… There are certain problems it can solve brilliantly well. But many
    ‘fundamental issues’ require structural changes, and simply throwing training (or money) will not solve them.  Training (and money!) is just one of the arrows in our quiver to make us more effective and efficient. Ultimately, its impact will depend on how intelligently we use it!

–    Nishant Saxena
[The author is CEO of Elements Akademia, and a Guest Faculty at IIM Lucknow. He can be reached at n.saxena@elementsakademia.com]


The Leadership Pipeline Developing True Leaders at Every Level

The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company

“Leadership: getting people to do what you want them to do, because they start wanting to do it.”
Leadership is the art of getting ordinary people to deliver extraordinary results.”

How many of our middle managers can claim this level of leadership? But Leaders – who take full ownership of business results and do not fail to meet targets, aggressively improve processes, build strong relationships and networks, inspire others, coach and mentor juniors, and finally help their unit scale new heights – are needed at every level. Unfortunately, many companies keep lamenting on the ‘Leadership cliff’ beyond the CXO team. And many careers hit a glass ceiling – employees who performed well at junior levels are unable to deliver equally stellar results as their span of control increased. Employees work harder but are not appreciated by management, which, in turn, is frustrated that employees are not performing to increased expectations.

Why does this ‘Leadership Deficiency’ happen?

  • Leadership Development is generally not considered as critical as, say, business strategy or managing operations. Unfortunately, even our education system hardly provides any managerial/leadership skills.
  • While promoting managers, main focus is usually on personal traits (professionalism, loyalty to company) and technical competence, instead of ‘future potential’. However, performance and potential are two very different things – incentives may be given for good performance, but promotion should only be given if potential for the next level is clearly seen.
  • Most companies lack a defined yardstick to measure leadership (unlike, say GAAP, in accounting) even though it is eminently measurable. Often seniors (themselves weak in some leadership traits, even though brilliant in others) promote managers who also lack some critical skills, worsening the malaise.

The result is disaster. 75% of below-par performance can often be attributed to the leader’s flaws:

  • Job and the goals aren’t clearly defined. Frequent mismatches, duplications, missing links.
  • Fails to coach because he’s too busy, often doing work that the subordinate could do.
  • Hired/promoted the wrong person with ‘missing’ skills, or fails to create meaningful roles.
  • Unable to inspire/motivate team, resulting in high attrition and poor morale.

In contrast, researchers have found that successful managers learnt new skills as they moved up, changed their perspective on what was important and reprioritized where to spend time. Maher’s theory highlights distinct levels of Leadership, each requiring new set of skills and priorities.

EXHIBIT Leadership Development: Stages of Skill Development… New roles will require new skills and new priorities

In contrast, researchers have found that successful managers learnt new skills as they moved up, changed their perspective on what was important and reprioritized where to spend time. Maher’s theory highlights distinct levels of Leadership, each requiring new set of skills and priorities.


Finance As A True Business Partner
(Published in: Financial Chronicle and HT Business)

Click here to view Coverage

In most large companies, the corporate finance group is disparagingly called ‘Bean Counters‘ – because they are mainly involved in accounting and reporting. They look from the rear view, after reality has happened and, most of the time, are merely doing ‘number crunching’.

In best of companies, however, finance also plays a Venture Capitalist role – analyzing business opportunities and initiatives and helping Business Heads take the „right‟ decisions, differentiating between good growth and bad growth. They ‘analyze’ numbers and present insights – not just information but how that information can be used to improve profitability.

This 2 day workshop will help the finance team move from a mere reporting role to a true business partner role, thereby increasing their impact/influence on business, and also satisfaction with their roles.

Workshop Highlights:

  • Expectations from Finance: Beyond just Number Crunching
  • Link Between Business, Strategy and Finance: Finance as an Enabler of Choice
  • Holistic Business and Financial Analysis, beyond spreadsheets
  • Why Initiatives Fail and What can Finance do
  • Industry & Competitive Analysis: Trends & Benchmarking
  • Advanced Financial Analysis: Portfolio Analysis, NPV as a Range (Risk assessment)
  • Developing Soft Skills: Influencing, Time Management and Communication
  • Case Study and Exercise

Intended Audience:

  • Nishant Saxena, Guest Faculty, IIM Lucknow
  • CEO of National Award winning Elements Akademia (www.elementsakademia.com)
  • Formerly Deputy CFO, P&G India, responsible for Financial Analysis and M&A
  • Has worked in Japan, Philippines, Singapore and India, and has visited 35+ countries
  • Clients: Nestle, KPMG, Aircel, Cadbury, Kraft, Aon Hewitt, ConAgra, Macmillan, J&J, P&G, HT Media, Relaxo Footwear, Orient-Craft, Zee Learn in India, Asia and Europe
  • Recognition: “Leader-in-Making” (Business World), “Path-breaker CEO” (Economic Times), one of “India‟s Hottest Startups” (Business Today), one of “50 Social Entrepreneurs… Making India Better” (Outlook Business), “High impact entrepreneur” (World Bank). Profiled more than 100 times in top electronic and print channels in India.

Lead change at PSUs from top

In this era of transparency and customer activism, efficiency of public organisation is key. Click here to read full article.


In this era of transparency and customer activism, efficiency of public organisations is key. But how do you emulate private sector efficiencies and a result-driven work culture in organisations, which over the years have prioritised processes, procedures and hierarchy over speed of execution and stakeholders’ expectations?

In our work with various pubic and semi-public organisations, we have seen that of ten the CMD or CEO wants to bring about change and leave a legacy. But the effort is shackled by a senior team set in their ways and a bureaucracy that thrives on time-consuming, redundant and repetitive tasks. We found these top 10 issues in such organisations:

1)Lack of accountability:

Leaders felt employees did not take ownership of tasks. Employees felt leaders did not define roles and timelines properly, did not give complete authority or help remove obstacles.

2) No inspiring leadership

3) Poor communication

4) Appraisal system not transparent

5) Decision-making slow and secretive

6) Work allocation ad hoc

7) Poor work-life balance

8) Too much negativity: Immediate reprimands for 20% of jobs that were probably not done well, but hardly any praise or acknowledgement for the 80% jobs done well.

9)Inadequate resources: Infrastructure and skills often lacking versus workload and expectations.

10) Poor new employee hand-holding

The frustration of the CEO is compounded when he or she realises the limitations of the role: in a public setting, you cannot fire poor performers, and promotions are time bound. Throw in a lack of trust and politics, and many would interpret the CEO’s desire for speed as having ulterior motives.

These limitations make any change management difficult. Still, we would suggest the following:

1) Set the tone from the top

2) Establish a sense of urgency: Get universally credible figures, noted public personalities etc to explain change. The message needs to be carefully crafted. Too harsh, and you lose support; too soft; and nobody gets the urgency.

3) Create a common vision:

Bottoms-up, with organisation reinvention teams doing the drum-beat.

4) Have monthly team meetings

5) Have objective and transparent processes: Overhaul the appraisal system, interview top performers to identify gold standards for every role and document the mindset, behaviour/actions and results expected. Ditto for work planning.

6) Start a recognition framework

7)Give regular feedback: Performance or personal feedback to be given on a regular basis rather than only during appraisal time. 360 degree feedback needs to be implemented, starting at the top level.

8) Organise training: Some themes for managers and subordinates could be: positive thinking, building trust, increasing motivation, giving and receiving feedback, work allocation, communication and listening skills, accountability and ownership, customer service, success driers, interpersonal relationships. Also, have in place a robust induction system for new hires with senior management commitment.

9) Have very close interaction between consultants and clients

10) Have a holistic engagement model: Sustain the high with regular stakeholder feedback, employee engagement and monitoring.

In almost all cases where the holistic 10 steps were followed, we have seen significant improvement in critical areas: leadership, trust, inter-departmental cooperation, transparency, accountability and ownership, people development (delegating and coaching).

So, as Louis Gerstner famously wrote of IBM, elephants can dance too. But we need a clear tone from the top, sustained focus and collaborative effort.

(The writer is CEO, Elements Akademia and guest faculty, IIM Lucknow)



Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance

A Case Study on Uttar Pradesh Police Force Women Power Line 1090
By Nishant Saxena and Prof. Neeraj Diwedi

Published in South Asian Journal of Business and Management Cases