A transformative journey for the catalysts of change

Cognizant / Cognizant Academy

– FINALIST OF THE 2020 EXCELLENCE IN PRACTICE AWARDS –

We live in a world that is driven and defined by technology. As more and more organisations realise the critical role that technology plays in their business destiny, the onus falls on IT companies to lead the transformative journey and show the way.

But there’s one more step that IT organisations must take― they need to equip their own employees and leaders so that they become the torchbearers of this tech transformation.

Cognizant is no exception.

As clients looked at Cognizant business leaders to function as the trusted technology-savvy consultants who could understand and support their digital needs, the business leaders themselves had another bigger task to undertake. They needed to update themselves on the latest available solutions so that they could help clients revisit and redefine their digital achievements.

Understanding the need of the hour and acting on it

Cognizant Delivery Heads ― the customer-facing business leaders― wear many hats― business, process, domain, people and, importantly, technology. In today’s VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, where technology is being reinvented every few days, the challenge was that while many of the Delivery Heads were familiar with the traditional technologies, they needed to quickly come up to speed on the emerging digital technologies and trends to be prepared for the future.

They needed to understand the emerging technologies and confidently apply them to solve business problems.

More importantly, they needed to undergo a personal transformation in developing a learning habit so that they could keep pace with the rapidly changing technology landscape in a sustainable mode.

It is this necessity to equip Cognizant leaders with the necessary domain knowledge that inspired Cognizant executive leadership and Academy, Cognizant’s L&D team, to co-design
a learning programme for the Delivery Heads.

This programme was named, quite aptly, “Techno Masters.” It was a blended learning programme on digital technologies of Cloud, AI/ML and Internet of Things― combining self-directed learning, peer-and-mentor-driven learning and practical application through “caselets”.

What the programme wasn’t and why

Before delving deeper into all the principles and approaches that the Techno Masters programme encapsulated, it is also important to understand what it considered redundant or non-functional in the context. Understanding this premise is important as it set the backdrop that decided the programme’s future design.

To begin with, the Techno Masters program was NOT a training programme.

Rather, it was a program that enabled the Delivery Heads to acquire a learning habit and become self-directed learners.

Cognizant Academy embarked on a rather ambitious journey; because teaching a new skill is always a daunting task but changing a habit is a different ball game altogether.

The goal of the programme was to give Delivery Heads the confidence to talk about multiple technologies and present a point of view to customers.

The conventional classroom-based approach of training was not a sustainable one since new technologies keep emerging at a frenetic pace and the Delivery Heads need to keep learning them. The necessity to make the Delivery Heads self-reliant and enable them to “learn to learn” was the motivation to design the Techno Masters programme differently.

At the outset, the Delivery Heads in the programme committed to developing a “tiny habit” of learning― just 15 to 30 minutes a day. As 21st century professionals, they also chose their own preferred mode of learning– videos, podcasts, articles, even conversations with colleagues.

They used a collaborative learning platform (Degreed) to learn from each other and from designated mentors and engage in technical discussions. They also actively practised technology talks and presentations using the platform. The learning journey was encouraged through leaderboards to recognise and celebrate the most active learners.

So, what was the programme all about?

The Academy team spoke with several business leaders and the Delivery Heads to understand their roles and the challenges they faced on the ground. The programme was designed as a blend of self-learning, peer learning, mentoring and practice, spanning 16 weeks, with approximately three hours of learning commitment per week.

Techno Masters was launched for a group of 100 participants nominated from different business units within the organisation. This group was closely monitored to identify challenges and course corrections required in the programme.

As this programme was for senior leaders in the organisation, senior business unit leaders, who were the sponsors for the programme, were invited to address the participants and communicate the need for technology learning. The leaders also showed their commitment by participating in the programme as mentors. This top-down message helped drive the criticality of technology focus for the Delivery Heads.

The participants wanted flexibility to pick the emerging technology of their choice and most relevant to their customers. Therefore, the programme design required a combination
of certain foundational modules, followed by a bouquet of learning paths that the participant could pick to get a deeper understanding.

Also, the programme had to be delivered in a virtual mode, given the distribution of Delivery Leads across locations. Yet based on the common technology of choice, peer learning groups or pods needed to be formed. Each of these pods were provided with a mentor to support them in their learning.

In addition to technology skills, innovation through design thinking was also important for them to differentiate their solution with value proposed to customer problems.

Key highlights

The Techno Masters programme involved multiple blended learning components and delivery methods, which included:

  • Self-paced learning (including e-learning, videos, blogs and articles).
  • A social learning platform, which was also made available as a mobile learning app for self-study as well as collaborative peer learning.
  • Peer learning in a gamified manner through sharing weekly wisdom nuggets, followed by a quiz for each of them to participate and score individually and pod-wise to capture the leaderboard published every fortnight.
  • Pod-wise milestones which helped to learn and apply the concepts as pods.
  • Expert sessions as webinars (in virtual classroom mode through videoconferencing) were conducted at planned intervals, enabling spaced learning for the participants.
  • Mentoring by senior business leaders for every pod throughout the program.
  • An in-person workshop to enable them on design thinking and practice it using their business problem chosen for this programme.
  • Classroom workshop session with a final role-play where business leaders played the role of customer stakeholder and the pods presented their innovation and articulated
    the business value out of that.
  • Participants presented the final proof of concept and a virtual demo of proposed innovation of their solution to solve the business problem.

The difference made

The programme received positive response from the participants. Based on participant feedback after the programme, 69% agreed that Techno Masters helped them converse confidently on technology and 46% said that they had developed the habit of continuous learning. The statistics were rather encouraging, especially because the target were the leaders who were often hard-pressed for time.

The blended learning solution design provided the much-needed flexibility and autonomy in learning for the audience to address business needs. It also gave them an opportunity to achieve their learning goals together as peers, which they could continue with while contributing to the real business of the organisation.

It took three months from designing the programme to its implementation. But taking a cue from its value ever since its launch, the future looks promising.

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