The power of social learning in reskilling at scale
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The power of social learning in reskilling at scale

Leaders need to empower their people and set them free to learn what they need

Outside a few specific industries, the last 18 months have been challenging for our businesses and our people. The rapid unlearning and relearning for a situation that changes daily has been hard for everyone.

I have experienced the challenges of Covid in my business and among my people. In talking to other leaders, I have heard how many employees faced professional turmoil and worry. Many employees felt they risked no longer being relevant. Many employees needed support to understand and accept the immediate changes required. Those who continued to work in traditional ways suffered the worst. 

However, employees who were supported to step up and learn new things achieved great things for themselves and their companies. Their leaders discovered the synergy between supporting their business and supporting their people. Leaders can learn much from this to adjust our mindsets and approaches to ensure we have all the workforce capabilities the future demands. 

A change of approach amid continuous change: Many leaders face a dilemma. We understand we need all our people to reskill, but ongoing uncertainty means we may not know where to start. Covid has disrupted so much, so many of the old ways of working will never come back. Today employee experience and accomplishments matter much less than the ability to do something new and impactful.

There are some broad truths: Digital skills and literacy will be a must; customer-centricity and agility are essential. However, we do not know which capabilities will make us successful, or even relevant five years from now. With capabilities becoming obsolete faster than ever, leaders need a more flexible approach.

Your people may know before you do — so empower them: As well as having an organisational focus, leaders also must support and set individuals free to learn what they need. Unfortunately, traditional approaches will not suffice. Classroom training at scale is not going to support increasingly diverse capability development requirements.

As speed becomes increasingly important, job rotations or secondments will not develop broader capabilities in time. All these remain important but individually they are too slow. Leaders also need to ensure they do not create stagnation and reinforce organisational norms when new ideas and perspectives are essential.

This is where teamwork comes in.

One approach to support your employees’ capability development and strengthen morale is a Social Learning strategy. I have been amazed at how engaging and impactful it has been within my organisation and our YourNextU Community. 

When done well, it takes on a life of its own as people coalesce around shared interests and needs and see where they can offer their help to others. It is very cost-effective to establish. It cuts ongoing development costs and builds a network within the organisation that has an ever-growing collective wisdom.

It is also fun — people enjoy the informality, and it brings them back to learn and contribute time and again.

It is insightful to look at organisations that are doing certain things well. In this case, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), one of the world’s leading global IT consulting organisations, can teach us a lot. 

The leaders at TCS saw the changing needs and the increasingly diverse set of capabilities the future demanded. They also understood the transformational possibilities of new technologies. They mandated an organisation-wide focus (in their case, agility) and ensured that all of their people — TCS employs 440,000 people worldwide — learned it.

They also accepted that they did not have all the answers. They trusted and supported their people with a more organic, self-led development approach to deliver new capabilities at scale.

They facilitated social learning so that their people learned from each other. The leaders built the mechanisms and helped their people ensure new capabilities were transferred again and again. This maximised the return on investment and created an active learning community with 91,000 members, in which staff support each other’s development. Leaders join, but they do not lead. Ultimately, the Association for Talent Development recognised TCS as the 2020 Best of the Best.

Can you imagine how much freeing, supporting and trusting their people to learn together and from each other saved them in ongoing capability development at scale investments? TCS is an example of how a different type of commitment can help.

I think leaders have more important things to worry about than micromanaging development. Our people have learned what is possible when they are supported and connected, can find effective ways to learn and transfer skills. I would recommend leaders consider the potential of community in reskilling and upskilling their workforce at scale.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at

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