The Smell of Learning

The Smell of Learning

Picture credit:

From our early childhood, we have been constantly told the importance of learning, re-learning, un-learning.  By the time we reach organizations, we would have heard about the importance of this concept by our parents and teachers consistently.  Some of us who are lucky and blessed with right mentors, parents, teachers, peers, we would have also learnt some early tricks of learning, re-learning and unlearning. 

Most of us would have bagged our first job on the merits of what we have learnt till then.  In my experience, if the interview is done by a good talent, that itself becomes a learning experience. Through the process, you will be reminded of how useful it is that you learnt some key skills and key competencies when it mattered.  Also during the process, I am sure most of us would realize how important it is that we continue to learn and keep ourselves updated as the industry evolves.  The same pattern continues thereafter in every meaningful conversation you would have on your career growth, be it the career conversations with managers or stakeholders or a promotion due to conversation with a panel or stakeholders. 

However what one notices is that this realization gets lost the moment we get engrossed in the short-term win mindset.   This can impact both employees and leaders.  The most dangerous for an organization would be a set of leaders and employees who are hustling and focusing only on short term gains with no thinking around long term plan.   I have been part of teams where the employees have no curiosity to learn, which makes the environment dull and undue focus on short term gains.  Similarly, teams where the leader is not focused on self-learning and thereby on his / her people learning, the environment is uninspiring and ultimately people move out. 

I have always felt Leadership and Parenting is completely similar.  I had this realization, the first time I started managing a team.  Coincidentally it was around the same time, I had become a parent and I was pleasantly surprised at how I was drawing the similarities of both the roles.  Why did I mention this here, just imagine as a parent if we stop thinking about long term for the child, how would we be able to inspire, motivate and co-plan their education, hobbies or anything that can make them happy and successful in the future?  Similarly, as Leaders or managers, if we are unable to visualize the future of our employees and thereby the happy and successful future of our organization, its going to be dangerous for us as much as it is for the employee.

Sharing with you two key essence that I have noticed in the last two decades of what I think makes an organization stand out as a learning first organization.

  1. The Leader who sets the tone – Culture is built from the top, the tone for sure is set by the leader

Reading Sumantra Ghosal’s view on the smell of the workplace overwhelmed me.  I joined the industry as a 20-year-old from a lower middle-class family.  Obviously within the 4 walls of our house, I had 2 role models who gave 100% importance to learning. As an young kid and through my adolescence the vibe was learning is only salvage for us as a family.  My parents were able to build a picture of success and happiness on this learning path.   With that mindset, when I Joined my first organization and on day 1, after the joining process I was taken to the learning academy of the organization.  The investment the organization had done in building the academy and the sessions in the first week cemented my belief that my life there would be phenomenal amount of formal learning along with on the job learning.  I was right, all of my professional fundamental learning happened in the organization.


What worked in that space?

The leader at the top was keen on self-learning and had the vision of building an organization where learning supports everyone to be the best version of oneself.   

There was a plethora of learning opportunities aligned for the role and the employee was given the freedom to choose and be part of the learning process.  Employees across levels right from the Chairman / CEO was attending learning sessions and were teaching.  There was so much energy and buzz around what is the latest learning, who is learning what.  In a culture which smells this way, it would be impossible for a  mind to ignore and move on. 

The stress is really not the investment the organization has done on the infrastructure, the stress is  the excitement the leadership built around their own learning and learning of their people.  This was almost 20 years back, the mode of learning has changed drastically today but the essence of the leaders ability to set the tone remains the same.

    2. The curious learner in you needs a route map

As an employee, we should have an open mind and curiosity to learn.  It becomes important that we think about what can be done better and seek out for resources that will help us get better.  It is this mindset which will set you out in a journey of understanding what is available in your reach to re-skill and be the best version of yourself. 

It was my next organization which helped me understand the importance of a Coach.  While you are a keen learner and you are picking up things you think is important and relevant, a coach will help you guide and pick the apt learning experiences. 

In this organization, Coaching and Mentoring as a concept was respected and kept at the highest level in learning pyramid.   The most stressful time of my professional journey is when I started handling a large team.  I surely needed help beyond formal learning.  That is when all the communication around the coaching platform in my organization, helped me in picking up a coach who is respected in the people leadership space.  My conversations with the coach, who had helped in clearly defining my coaching goal, helped in my journey as a manager and ensured my learning curve was higher and faster.  It helped my ability to continue the path irrespective of the challenges and to face the challenges with the right mindset and to be on track.

The point that I am stressing on here is as a curious learner to get the best of your curiosity, tag along an expert who will guide you.  Learn from the experts’ experience.  Build the wisdom to realize when you need a coach and what you need the coach for.  This is to ensure your learning curve is faster and you sustain the journey.

To build a continuous learning culture the two key pillars in my mind is what I have shared with you today.  An enthusiastic learner in a leader and an equally enthusiastic learner in an employee- That’s the magic recipe to create the “smell of learning”.


-By Sindhu Subhashini [Founder and Talent Transformation Specialist, SOL People Consulting]

Previous Deep dive into people analytics

Leave Your Comment

Connect With Us

We are an autonomous, not-for-profit, professionally managed organization, playing a catalyst role in grooming leaders for tomorrow
Unit 308, 3rd floor, Sakti Statesman,
Green Glen Layout, Bellandur,
Bengaluru – 560103

Mon – Sat: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm

on Saturday, 27th July 2024 at 10:00 hrs at our office premises.

Take the membership today & enjoy the benefits at 12th NHRD HR Showcase 2024

*Offer valid till 31st January 2024