How Your Startup Can Leverage Learning and Development for Growth

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My recent interaction with Shankar, owner of a small enterprise reminded me of the legendary Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan.


No, not because he resembled Bachchan in anyway but because he displayed an anger that Bachchan projected in his role in the movies during early part of his career.

Shankar was angry on people who are in Learning and Development (L & D) area. Let me introduce Shankar to you before sharing the reason for his anger on L & D fraternity.

Shankar worked for a multinational company for 10 years and 2 years back he left it to start his electronic component manufacturing startup. Today there are 40 employees in his company. As is the case with any startup, you do not have precisely defined job roles for a particular position(s). Everyone is expected to do any kind of role. Shankar’s firm was no different. Everything was going fine for two years. However, now he has started facing some bumps.

He wants his team to chart out the growth plans for the company along with him. But the speed with which he expects them to learn his style of thinking, adapt and execute is becoming a big challenge and an irritant for him. He is not seeing the smooth understanding of his vision as was the case when he was working with a multinational company.

Being an owner and that too a startup owner, it is needless to mention the growing impatience Shankar is experiencing. Since his people were not learning and adapting to the speed, he thought the L&D professional should come, play the magic wand and voilà.... problem solved.

What do you think is the real issue?

While there may be multiple issues, being an L&D professional myself, I tried to look at it from that perspective.

1. Flawed assumptions of skill transfer:

When Shankar worked for an MNC, it had a proper learning structure. It haddifferent modes of learning like classroom, e-learning, experiential learning etc. This meant that Shankar had to spend very less time on knowledge and skill transfer since the team member was almost job ready.

Now since his company is in a startup phase it did not have a dedicated learning and development team to take care of this design and various stages or levels of learning. Shankar certainly will not have this much time to handhold everyone joining his company.

2. Tactical solutions

He thought skill transfer shouldn’t be an issue at all. He said we hire people with relevant experience and there is very little time that we can afford to give to transfer the skills to an individual. This is where he was upset with L & D guys. He wanted an instant solution, something ‘here and now’ and L&D guys gave him the perfect picture but of future.

Quite justified, I thought. For anyone in general and startup in particular expecting instant results is quite natural. So a tactical solution where people are able to fast track learning and apply to the problem at hand can help. The real challenge for L & D professional is to design learning elements that facilitates these tactical solutions.

Some ways in which this can be done for a startup  to set up live work projects around growth aspirations of firm or problems faced by the firm; build learning structure to capture the learning of the teams as they progress through these projects; create nuggets around these learnings and transfer it to the rest of the employees for applying it to their work situations.

3. Structural solutions:

So how does Shankar’s team see what he is seeing for the company and adapt to the speed with which the company needs to grow? Structural solutions can help.

A structural solution is medium to long term in nature and it fundamentally looks at requirements on people and process side to future proof the Organisation.

Whether Shankar likes this or not, he will have to invest his resources (time, energy, effort, money, subject matter expert inputsetc) to keep building things for future if he wants his company to stay relevant.

Some ways L & D can look at addressing this is understanding business objectives; doing current knowledge and skills assessment; identifying the knowledge-skill gap and working out a sustained learning intervention that builds capability of individuals to take care of the future needs.

So here is how Shankar can leverage Learning and Development expertise for his company.

  • Get their help for Tactical solutions : Can answer ‘here and now’ requirements of an entrepreneur for his firm
  • Get their help for Structural solutions : Will help him in future proofing his firm so that it stays relevant. 
Bhushan Kulkarni

Written By

Bhushan specialises in skill and behavioural training and writes blogs on Training, Management, Personal effectiveness and Leadership.