Transforming Pitfalls And Problems To Perks And Passion For Digital Via Learning And Development

Many problems that a digital agency faces is because they lack a strong structure aimed towards learning and development of their workforce, Srinivas Kulkarni, our guest editor points out


Editor’s Note: Srinivas Kulkarni, Head, Learning & Development and Analytics wing, Social Kinnect is the Guest Editor at LI for Feb. This is his first article in which he discusses the challenges that are stopping digital agencies and even their clients to nurture talent via Learning & Development.

“How many Facebook friends do you have?” she asked me.

“Umm, 500, why?” I curiously inquired.

“Well, just to understand how active you are on Social Media.” she replied.

This was a recruiter on the phone back in 2009. A time when I had chosen to explore the boundaries beyond being a Corporate Trainer! I had made up my mind to explore Digital Media as an alternative career option. I’d already started blogging in 2005 and at this stage more than a career, to me the belief was that this was an opportunity to help me explore my passion for creativity, writing, technology and of course story telling.  What followed after that is a completely different story. One that I look back on as an amazing sojourn of mine over a timeline that’s close to a decade, but feels like just yesterday.

I’ve always been an avid writer for a while. But I always realized there was an urge, a strong desire to do something that goes beyond the boundaries of the conventional. Hence the desire and the inclination. So much so, that I quit an already existing career in training and development, with a 50% pay cut, took the leap of faith to be part of this mesmerizing, exciting and expansive field of Digital Marketing.

Srinivas KulkarniCut to 2016, my belief of ‘Life comes around a full circle,’ has been reiterated. I’m now back to my roots, only training people on Digital!

Thanks to a great break and plenty of learning and opportunities working across major brands at agencies of the likes of Social Wavelength, now Mirum, as well as Social Kinnect my current employer over this period of time, I was able to amass experience of this ever changing, dynamic and most elusive profession.

A lot of my learning was from trial and error, and of course mentoring from the already learned folks, experimentation, being early adopters and brainstorming with other experts in this field and from all the wealth of knowledge shared across various global content of diverse mediums over the years.

But throughout this tenure, one question I always asked myself and I’m sure many in this profession especially on the agencies side would have asked themselves this:

“How do we tackle the issues that we face day in day out?”

“The issues that are discussed behind closed doors, problems that are never covered in press releases or may be discussed over a bottle of beer.” as rightly quoted by Prasant in his introductory article about this segment.

While the ‘bottle of beer’ is the perfect inspiration to unwind and discuss those very challenges, we all know there’s a need to do a lot more than that. Truth be told a lot of times, we as agencies, brands and companies have a fair understanding of these issues. But there’s little that really gets implemented. Frankly, it’s always a struggle to keep up with learning and new trends in this field and no matter how hard we try, it was like scaling a mountain that always kept growing.

Why does this keep happening, I wondered? Asked myself. While being in a situation where I’m taking up multiple roles, some leadership driven, some functional and many of them that involved facing these issues day in day out, the one resounding fact and knowledge was that a lot of the challenges we faced at the grass root level were results of a strong focus towards managing operations and driving business and revenue always! Be it on the client side, or on the agency side, there’s always been a constant attitude and approach of prioritizing sole focus on ‘business’ alone rather than grooming and nurturing resources for a long term future.

In this article, I highlight these very niggling issues and my personal opinion on how we can start identifying them and resolve them with the help of strong processes, collaborative efforts on genuine growth as well as nurturing true talent across agencies via Learning and Development.

The ‘Root’ Cause

Our failures today are a reflection of the ‘root’ cause analysis of what worked and what did not in any campaigns that we try to pull off! But how often do we as an industry realize that a majority of these concerns are from a single mind-set, attitude across agencies and brands to ‘Push.’ Push yourself, stretch yourself, drive business, drive results, and give yourself that required buzz, the renowned success of an award winning case study, campaign!  At whatever ‘cost’ that is available to us, because… “Digital is always a check mark.” Under that check mark we try to ‘optimize’ resources, budgets, costs and a lot more, only because the dearth of talent is always an issue in this field.

But to be honest, ‘The Root Cause’ to me is the mind-set of just focusing on the end results and not really driving the core of arriving at the solution. That’s a mind-set that we need to un-learn. We need to encourage our agencies and brands to do so. And it all starts with ‘Investing in L&D in our agencies.

Up until now, many problems that we face day in day out, are and were because there aren’t many agencies that have a strong structure aimed towards learning and development of our workforce. Yes, there are the workshops, the trainings, the sessions, but there isn’t enough focus on dedicated resources, ecosystems, and really considering the fact that training is what plugs the gaps on the servicing front. Creating that environment to resolve these issues is the first step towards identifying the root cause before solving it. Most agencies have either gone through a start-up to acquisition stage or are part of bigger networks, where new learning, while considered important, specific resources and innovation, investment and infrastructure still needs a lot more attention.

Digital is a Continuous Learning Process

Without naming anyone or any institutions, I’ve seen many freshers or even some veterans relying on and flaunting their certifications via various digital media workshops or courses as an attempt to ‘strengthen their resumes.’ But what many fail to realize today is that practically all of these courses are a primary introduction towards the medium or the platform. They don’t serve true purpose of enabling our workforce as much as real hands-on learning that we provide them.

Real learning and innovation is something that happens hands on! That doesn’t mean within agencies, the burden of this should be on the brand custodians, strategists or for that matter client servicing teams alone. We need to realize the true need for dedicated and specific resources to lead the learning process. It is as important as building business or revenues.

Also, investing in consulting services to build your own agency brand, human resources, and processes is as important as investing in the actual resources themselves. In most cases, people won’t learn on their own despite how strong their desire to learn is. There is a strong process that we need to imbibe within digital agencies that’ll help us grow much faster.

You don’t just learn to ‘Do Digital.’

Today, Digital media is a lot more than just writing creative content, interesting visuals and posting content on Social Media platforms for most brands. There is a lot of evolution spanning across platforms, media, industry and even brands on a daily basis. One of the most interesting things I’ve noticed, being part of this industry is that everyone is very fancy in latching on to buzz words, jargons and fundamentals as well as notions of evolution.

Whether it’s ROI, Resonance, Thought Leadership, Social Media Evangelism, Community Management or a simple notion of adopting contrarian views such as un-agency, un-conference, or making statements such as ‘We don’t do digital or ‘just manage social media for brands.’ But one of the things that we need to see more is adopt a strong process for people to understand roles, coming up with learnings specific to their departments and how they affect them and or how they can do their jobs better. While, it all looks hunky dory at the thought level, execution is as important for internal stakeholders as much as it is for external ones.

You don’t have a ‘cool job’ working on Facebook and Twitter

As many memes as I’ve have seen on the ‘What do others think I do at work.’ none of them have been as succinct or surreal, as the ones to describe digital media professionals. The notion of us having a ‘cool’ job, getting to just sit around and browse Facebook, Twitter, YouTube channels is as absurd as imagining an ice cream vendor, a barista or a bar tender to enjoy every day at work simply cause of the perks many assume he/she get at work.

This was one of the most difficult challenges early on. But, providing an overview of responsibilities and what kind of work we really do to impact businesses and marketing efforts for various brands is still a challenge.

Creating an environment, a strong structure and sense of ownership across the board towards the kind of roles is still a struggle to begin with, especially for newbies. With the plethora of platforms, innovations and updates that keep resurfacing every day, it’s a need of the hour to equip them effectively. To define their roles adequately rather than creating jack of all trades and masters of none!

Investing on creating growth beyond learning for work

“Genius is 99% perspiration 1% inspiration!” As clichéd as it may sound, in most successful organizations this perspiration is due to employees who aspire to be partners of the future! Most people don’t want to work in digital for NOW! Or for today, they always have one eye on the future and the other on the entire world. They want to be in this field to not just grow and learn about the basic skills and nitty gritties of the digital industry, but somehow adopt the all-round foray of marketing to be able to build something of their own.

It is a belief that they want to build something beyond what they learn today. And that won’t happen by just allowing them to just focus on ‘work’ and or growth within this space alone.

Hence, if we invest in learning and development or creating training ground for building your geniuses, our entrepreneurs of tomorrow, you’d be fascinated with the results on your present.

Beyond digital workshops, beyond social media marketing, there’s a plethora of skills that are equally important and creatively applicable to helping build your leaders of tomorrow. Realizing these skill sets, harbouring them, nurturing them with workshops beyond conventional process, systems and help learning on building their personality goes a long way in not only developing their skills, but attracting great talent as well.

While I finish this article by stating how it is very easy for most of us to realize ‘What’ we must do, there’s an inherent belief I have, is to ask ‘Why’ we must do it. We always realize that there are challenges in every digital agency and there always will be.

But the true question is if we have truly realized ‘Why’ and how focusing on L&D will help us achieve our growth a lot faster. Speaking of which, in my next article I’ll share some insights on a model, a roadmap to help assess these challenges better and eventually create opportunities and solutions to help us achieve our goals better. So stay tuned!