Training alone is not the solution to every business problem.

With over 10 years of experience, Benaifer Karkaria is a thought leader who specializes in Learning & Development and Strategic HR. Throughout her stint with eClerx Services (a process management and data analytics company) since May 2009, Benaifer has led diverse functions like Leadership Development, Organizational Development & Effectiveness (OD&E), HR Business Partnership for Resource Management Group, eLearning, Technical Documentation, and Employee Communication.

Through her professional journey, Benaifer kept upskilling herself with certifications such as Kirkpatrick Four Levels® Evaluation – Bronze, Design Thinking Practitioner, Technical Writing, and Behavioural Event Interviewing. Her indelible dedication has earned her many accolades and awards. Benaifer holds Masters of Management Studies (MMS) – HR from K. J. Somaiya Institute of Management & Research (SIMSR) and Bachelors of Commerce from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce & Economics.

Thank you, Benaifer, for giving your valuable time to this interview and your candid responses.

We would be pleased to learn about your professional journey from the beginning. So, please share with us about your first job interview. 

I was pursuing MMS from SIMSR. During the placement season, I got to know that eClerx would be visiting our campus. I’d heard a great deal about the organization, so I decided to apply and brushed up on basic HR concepts learned during my course to prepare for the interview. Honestly, I was nervous, but I didn’t let it show J I had a panel of three interviewers – the HR Head and two Operations leads. I was asked HR-related as well as analytical questions. I did well on the former, but not so well on the latter. Luckily, the panellists were assessing my problem-solving approach, not accuracy.

When I walked out of the room, I thought I wouldn’t make it because some of my classmates had received spot offers, while I had not. Disappointed, I left for home without notifying anyone. After an hour, I received a call from the placement coordinator, informing me that I’ve been selected by eClerx and the panellists would like to felicitate the selected students. Since I’d already reached home, I wouldn’t have made it back to college on time; I missed the felicitation for my first job. I felt foolish to have underestimated myself!

“Need analysis” is the most critical element of any training / learning solution.

As the first job holds a special memory, let’s discuss your first year at your first job. How was your experience? What were your expectations about your job and your role? Were they all fulfilled? What didn’t coincide with your expectation? 

Before doing my MMS, I had worked for only three months at a small recruitment firm to earn some pocket money. Technically, eClerx was my first serious job. Just out of b-school, I’d assumed that ‘bosses are always arrogant, and mistakes are never tolerated in a corporate environment.’ I also thought that I would not be respected because I was a fresher. To my surprise, my boss was very soft-spoken, and my colleagues were welcoming and supportive. I was happy to be a part of an environment that gave me a platform to experiment. I was told that ‘making mistakes isn’t bad, but not learning from them is.’ With every passing month, I was given additional responsibilities across different HR functions – and that has continued to date.

Do you think workplace mentors and coaches play an important role in settling fresh graduates in their first job? How was your experience? 

My seniors played a big role in helping me settle into eClerx. Be it teaching me how to use Outlook or typing out e-mail responses, they patiently explained what I should do and how! From helping me with data visualization to guiding me through stakeholder management, they handheld me from day one.

My relationship with them has only strengthened over the years. While I work independently now, I do take most of my critical professional decisions only after consulting them.

Source your training content from your business stakeholders, not the internet. Don’t put in what you know; put in what the participants need to know!

What kind of soft skills does a fresh graduate need to get a career break and to be successful at the beginning of their career?

While hiring, companies look for candidates who seem confident (there is a thin line between confidence and overconfidence), speak well, and demonstrate learnability. This is because stakeholder management and continuous learning are indispensable aspects of any job.

Organizations now-a-days are hungry for initiatives and ideas. If you have an analytical bent of mind, the corporate world will serve you well. While this is important, remember that articulating your idea effectively and influencing the right people are equally critical skills.

In the corporate world, people have been using “Coaching” and “Mentoring” interchangeably. It is creating confusion. Please help us understand the similarities and differences between Coaching and Mentoring. When do we coach an individual and when do we mentor an individual?

Yes, many people use “coaching” and “mentoring” interchangeably, but indeed they are different. A coach drives a coachee towards finding answers to specific, defined issues on his/her own through a structured coaching process. Whereas, a mentor is an experienced professional who guides a mentee towards overall professional development, which is broader and more long-term.

What are the critical traits of a successful L&D Expert? What kind of education do they need?

A successful L&D expert must be able to understand stakeholders’ requirements in depth; effective probing is the key here. As a precursor to this, one must network with business folks. Only when you interact with them regularly, will you understand and speak the business language, and align your solution to best suit the business needs. Other important traits include analytical thinking, impressive presentation skills, and innovation.

If you want to be successful and stay relevant, ensure you upgrade yourself on the latest practices and trends in the L&D domain. Join online communities, attend conferences, undergo training – continuous learning is the mantra!

We hear this statement, “Participants leave their training learning’s in the training room and return to their routine after resuming their work (particularly in cases of behavioural or soft-skill training). What is your take on this? How do you ensure that the training is effective for the employee?

I have been hearing this from the day I started my career in L&D. If you want to change this perception, ensure that your solution is aligned to business outcomes. Strive to make a real difference! Start with the end in mind. Work with business stakeholders to define the success factors at the outset, along with the metrics you will use to track them.

Source your training content from your business stakeholders, not the internet. Don’t put in what you know; put in what the participants need to know! Customize the content for relevance; create scenarios, role plays, and case studies specific to their job.

Do not get caught in the myopia of classroom training. Craft a journey. Integrate different learning techniques; your solution must have components like online learning, classroom training, assignments, action-learning projects, coaching, etc.

Remember that training alone is not the solution to every problem, even though the business assumes so. Always design a holistic developmental plan. Once participants leave the training room, the L&D team has little control over their activities, besides sharing bite-sized learning nuggets and having follow-up / check-in sessions. Partner with stakeholders who are closer to the participants – like their immediate managers, leaders, HR Business Partners, etc. – to ensure that learning is reinforced and applied to the job.

Do not get caught in the myopia of classroom training. Craft a journey. Integrate different learning techniques.

“Content” or “Delivery” (experience creation), which is the key and the primary element of a successful training session?

None. “Need analysis” is the most critical element of any training / learning solution. If you get that right, all the subsequent elements will automatically fall in place.

People often assume “Training = Conducting a Training Session or a Workshop”. Training is also considered as a career option for an “extrovert and outspoken people”. Please share with us various career options within the preamble of “Learning & Development”.

This is a misconception. Within the L&D umbrella, there are multiple career options – one can be a training coordinator, content developer, instructional designer, LMS (Learning Management System) expert, trainer, or training manager. After a few years, one can also graduate to a strategic L&D role or be a consultant.

To be a trainer, you need not be outspoken or an extrovert. All you need is the passion to share your knowledge and help people develop.

Treat your team members the way you want to be treated by your boss.

Lastly, according to you, what are the key skills and competencies of successful and effective MANAGERS?

Treat your team members the way you want to be treated by your boss. Be humane!

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of every team member and ensure you have chalked out a career path for each of them proactively. While you must craft certain norms for the team as a whole, also adapt your management style to every individual’s personality.

Be a hands-on manager, but do not get caught in the web of micro-management. Trust your team members. Appreciate their efforts. If they make a mistake, stand by their side and help them rectify it. At the same time, do not compromise on quality; you must not be taken for granted because of your leniency. Lastly, when the time is right, learn to gracefully let your team members go.

In short, strike the right balance between your task orientation and people orientation.

Thank you.

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