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The Value of Creating a Culture of Learning

Gajen Kandiah

Gajen Kandiah

CEO, Hitachi Vantara

Gajen Kandiah became chief executive officer of Hitachi Vantara in July 2020. As CEO, Gajen leads Hitachi Vantara's 11,000 employees with a focus on empowering client-facing teams to leverage the company's digital infrastructure, software and services capabilities to meet the industry-specific transformational needs of clients worldwide.

Prior to joining Hitachi Vantara, Gajen built winning IT businesses within multinational corporations and startups for more than two decades. During 15 years with Cognizant, he helped grow the company from $368 million in annual revenues to more than $16 billion. From 2015 to 2019, he was president of Cognizant's multi-billion-dollar Digital Business, a role in which he led the acquisitions of software engineering company Softvision, marketing solutions provider Netcentric, and Idea Couture, a digital innovation and technology services company. He also led a Cognizant-wide initiative to transform company capabilities and services into an integrated, industry- and client-focused suite of offerings and solutions.

Gajen previously served as senior vice president and general manager of Cognizant's Information, Media and Entertainment; Manufacturing Logistics; Consumer Goods; and Communications industry practices. Before joining Cognizant, he co-founded NerveWire, Inc., a venture capital-backed management consulting and systems integration firm, which was later acquired by Wipro.

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The deep disruption caused by the pandemic has led employees and employers, alike, to be more introspective; to examine what fulfills and sustains us.

Through the chaos, we’ve been reminded that today’s workforce is smart, fast, and willing to embrace the risk of new opportunities with abandon. For organizations like ours, we’ve learned that we’re far more capable of being nimble, agile, and understanding than we ever thought possible.

Nevertheless, workforce disruption rumbles on, unabated across industries. Workers continue to depart for greener pastures, sometimes returning, and organizations continue to struggle to choreograph hybrid work models with return-to-work programs. As businesses work through the Great Resignation and hyperactive workforces, it’s important to look inward. The question should not become, how can we keep people from leaving? But rather, what can we do to make it worthwhile to stay?

The Allure of Learning

To be sure, covering the basics of compensation packages, time-off, and healthcare is no longer enough. For many employees and candidates, the item at the top of their must-have lists is being afforded the opportunity for personal and professional growth through learning and development. This seemingly simple idea says a lot about an organization and its commitment to its employees, as well as its business. It’s why we at Hitachi Vantara take learning and development seriously. It energizes, fulfills, and helps strengthen the mental health of our colleagues, all of which can lead to dramatically better retention rates and serve as a beacon for candidates.

Consider the Millennial generation, the largest segment of the workforce. Prior to the pandemic, Gallup released the results of a survey of that found that 87% of millennials said growth and development opportunities were important in a job, and 59% said it was “extremely important” when applying for a job.

In fact, in a separate 2020 study of workers under the age of 40, Gallup found that most employees were “not engaged” at work and “about two-thirds were not thriving.” And, a recent McKinsey survey found that lack of career development was a top 3 reason why people left a job without another in hand.

It's clear that people are looking for more from their work experience. Developing, providing and explaining learning and development opportunities that drive personal and professional growth can play a key role in advancing not only the individual, but the business. Now, consider the inverse, for a moment: the workforce that is not afforded learning opportunities – and stays. The organizational skills that were once coveted can atrophy, adversely impacting the business and its relevancy to customers.

From professional development, to recruiting and selection, to partner enablement and customer education, Hitachi Vantara has been cultivating a culture of learning for years. Our talent development staff serves about 12,000 employees, deploying learning activities and programs that provide everything from technical to business advancement. For example, our Perspectives for Leaders program is a 10-month series that focuses on relevant leadership topics each month, such as accountability, unconscious bias, and execution.

We’re also committed to reskilling and upskilling programs. By providing career paths and career progression opportunities, we’ve been able to retain key talent, ultimately helping to reduce talent acquisition costs and gain better employee engagement. For example, six months after completing a recent robust reskilling program, 100% of the employees who participated remain committed to a career with Hitachi Vantara.

Extending Learning Beyond Employees

Learning and development don’t begin and end with employees. We’ve driven the concepts to customers and partners, as well. We’ve invested heavily in online training programs and for our sales and sales leadership around customer engagement and best-practices. Over the past year, more than 1,000 sales and presales employees have completed micro-learning modules and more than 100 managers have completed coaching modules.

We design and maintain an extensive catalog of instructor-led and self-paced trainings and remote hands-on labs for customers, as well. When customers are more knowledgeable and skilled with our solutions, we can maximize the value of their investments and avoid support issues.

In fact, since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 7,000 people have interacted with our training, a 500% increase in customer touch compared with pre-COVID levels. And customers that consumed our training were twice as likely to purchase a new or upgraded solution.

Recognized for Leadership

For successful organizations, learning and development is not a trend. It’s a way of doing business. It’s a commitment to enabling the ongoing accumulation of learning throughout a person’s career; to set them on a learning journey that sustains them professionally and personally. And this journey wends its way from technical training to opportunities to build soft skills, as well. Communications, collaboration, critical thinking and more, can dramatically improve a person’s judgement and problem-solving abilities and they’re skills that require regular refreshing to be optimal.

At Hitachi Vantara, our learning and development programs and initiatives were recognized by the Association for Talent Development this week for the seventh consecutive year. This year’s rankings were just announced and placed us at 10th among 100 nominated global companies.

People are the cornerstone of every business. Creating and fostering an environment that enables employees to learn and develop and then integrating these values into the culture, will pay dividends for your people and your business for years to come.

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