Professional development: The Samagra way
Ujjwal Relan
April 08, 2020

An often underrated, but critical metric to judge a firm is its commitment to its employees’ personal and professional growth. How far a firm is willing to go to accomplish its vision is as important as how invested it is in enabling its staff to be the best versions of themselves. In fact, the two are closely related. This understanding is the essence of Samagra’s approach to professional development.

In general practice, firms adopt one or more of the following modes of professional development:

  1. Role models: Learning by observing someone you work with and look upto
  2. Opportunity Creation: Through a challenging role/project/task
  3. Feedback: Ongoing feedback from manager and peers
  4. Handholding: Working with close guidance from the manager at each step
  5. Formal Training: Conducting formal trainings on specific skills

However, given that professional development is not tangible, so to speak, it is difficult to assess the impact of these professional development methods on an individual. This is even more of a challenge in a governance consulting firm like Samagra where soft skills are as critical as hard skills.

So what is an effective professional development model that helps individuals get better on an ongoing basis? As an organisation, how does one ensure that all employees are consistently on the path of professional development and consider it priority?

To answer precisely these questions, Samagra developed a Professional Development Framework, which encompasses metrics to identify, improve and track hard and soft skills required to be an effective governance professional. The framework is an exhaustive list of more than 100 precise competencies that employees should aim to develop, across 3 buckets--Leadership, Skills and Technology. The framework serves two key purposes. First, it provides clarity to an employee as to what is expected of her and second, it serves as a benchmark against which the employee can assess her growth during the time she is in the organization.

Every month, all team members have one-on-one discussions with their managers using this framework as an anchor. The conversation begins with the team member talking about their overall experience over the past month, at work and outside, if needed. This is generally followed by a discussion on progress against specific improvement areas decided on in the previous one-on-one, such as preparing a presentation end-to-end to improve presentation skills or leading a senior stakeholder meeting in that month with the manager’s support to get better at stakeholder management. The employee then shares her assessment of what has gotten better on those fronts and the manager shares her views on the same.

Post this, the focus shifts to the manager’s observations about the team member’s performance over the last one month. The manager conveys specific anecdotes from the previous month where she identified particular strengths of the team member and also calls out areas for improvement. To ensure the process goes beyond just being a series of conversations, the manager identifies specific opportunities in the coming month where the team member could work on getting better at the skill gaps identified and action items related to the same are listed. The team member and manager then catch up in the middle of the month to discuss progress on those action items.

These discussions are most effective if three key factors are adhered to by the manager and the team member--preparation before the one-on-one, complete honesty, and most importantly, commitment to the process. Both the manager and the team member need to be equally invested in this journey of professional development.

These one-on-one discussions can be powerful in making an employee aware of her personal and professional potential and in enabling her growth. This is also a great opportunity for managers to build trust with their team members.

While managers have a lot of perspective on the potential and capabilities of their team members, other members of the same team could also have useful insights on the same. To tap into this, Samagra also has a quarterly team feedback process where the full team including the manager sits together and shares anecdotes about each other, covering positive feedback and areas of improvement. At the end of this exercise each member of the team either leaves the discussion with new findings about herself or reaffirmation of known facts. This team feedback session also builds greater trust within the team and consequently makes the team more effective.

For an individual, the firm’s steadfast commitment to her professional development, can spur better performance and a resolve to continuously strive for excellence. For the firm, ongoing professional growth of employees implies increased effectiveness in delivering outcomes and helps in nurturing more employees within the firm as future leaders.

Approaching professional development of employees in a systematic and structured manner is therefore key to organizational growth. Managers and peers are both critical to this process and hence, this spirit is embedded in Samagra’s organizational culture. But it is worth reiterating that at the end, it is the individual’s drive to grow that matters the most. As the saying goes: “You cannot dream yourself into a character, you must hammer and forge yourself one”.