“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” – Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric.
As technology is advancing, several roles are becoming redundant and new roles are emerging in the market to match the advancement. While employees are expected to quickly grow and adapt their skillset to remain employable, the onus of providing the right exposure and platform to learn also lies on the employers. Why, you may ask? According to the Bersin report, “the single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.”
That being said, not many companies are able to build a learning culture “that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization.” In fact, only 10% of organizations have managed to create such a culture, with just 20% of employees demonstrating effective learning behaviors at work.
A major reason why true learning culture is still an exception rather than a norm is that it’s hard to create and requires continuous efforts at all levels to make it happen. Nonetheless, it’s not impossible.
Here’s the story of an up and coming startup, Udgama, which is built on meticulous learning culture that nurtures curiosity and reinforces positive learning behaviors.
Founded in 2018, Udgama’s primary goal has always been to build a team of technology enthusiasts who are early adopters of modern technologies and best practices. They should contribute to the tech community and use the acquired skills and knowledge to build products and solutions that are useful in-house and for external teams as well. With a small, closely-knit team of tech-savvy professionals, the company has successfully been using technologies and practices like TypeScript, React, React-native, AWS, Serverless, Agile, CI/CD to build and deploy products and solutions. Not just that, Udgama plans on expanding their tech stack in the future and not remain limited to software only.
At their core, Udgama strives to be early adopters of innovation, which includes questioning the status quo and exploring a better way of doing things. Of course, this would not be possible without fostering a culture of learning and development within the organization.
“The one thing I believe in is that good people do good things,” explains Devendra Mahra, Founder and Chief Technologist, “When I started this, I didn’t have a lot of clarity of what I wanted to do. The primary objective was to build a good team- and by good, I mean, there are certain values that we want to always have. [As long as] someone says – okay, I’m willing to learn, and I’m willing to go that extra mile, I think [they] can be trained and provided with the right exposure to succeed.”
The Learning Culture at Udgama
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor was the love for acquiring knowledge at Udgama. From who joins the company to what processes and values are followed at the company, all were defined slowly and steadily to foster learning.
Part 1: Finding the right people
At Udgama, as Devendra reveals, it’s not as much about what you know but more about what you are willing to know. Finding the right cultural fit doesn’t often happen in a quick interview. “An interview, in my opinion, is not the best assessment of anyone’s capability and the value they can potentially add to the organization,” he explains.
To find the best match, Udgama prefers having people join as paid trainees for five to six months, which gives them an opportunity to understand and adapt to the company’s day-to-day operations and culture. Then, if things work out, they’re onboarded. This gives both the candidate and the team enough time to know whether or not there’s a wavelength match.
Thus far, almost the entire Udgama team has been onboarded through the same process where trainees have grown into their role as full time hires. And, while Devendra admits that there can be exceptions, they’re most likely to continue growing in the same fashion.
Part 2: Creating shared learning spaces
It is only when you know better that you can do better. Udgama’s learning culture starts with building co-learning spaces that not only expose the team members to newer technologies but also give them a platform to hone their non-technical skills.
In the pre-COVID times, each and every employee in the team was encouraged to attend meetups across the city from time to time. Not just that, over time, Devendra ensured that his team not only attended these events but also participated in them as speakers. “In a short span of time, we had members from our team speaking at some of the big meetups in the city [Mumbai] like Mumbai Woman Coders or Woman Who Code,” shares Devendra.
Even within the organization, shared learning happens every week through discussions over TedTalks or Books that any member of the team comes across. “We used to watch a TED talk together with the team, every Friday in the second half. Someone from our team would bring the TED talk, give us a short introduction. Then we’d watch the TED talk together and then discuss our opinions on it.”
With the onset of the pandemic, the team started working remotely, and recreated these shared learning spaces in the “new normal”. Now they have virtual book discussions every Friday, wherein a person narrates the summary of the book they’re reading in 45 minutes, and then the team shares their viewpoints on it. Emphasizing on how much this shared learning helps, Devendra points out, “It has been a great learning experience for me at least, I don’t have to read all the books, I just go for my Friday session, and someone reads the whole book to me in one hour. So I think it is a lot of value add.”
Part 3: Providing learning enablers
Apart from the shared learning spaces, the team also has self-learning enablers. The entire team at Udgama has a subscription to Audible that can be used to listen to books that pique your interest. Similarly, the team also has unlimited Kindle accounts (for those of you who prefer actual reading over listening!) so that they never run out of books to quench their thirst for knowledge.
Moreover, the team had unlimited access to Coursera until mid-2020. Every team member was encouraged to take as many courses they’d like on the platform. “Collectively, in one year, within eight people, we did close to 3000 hours of learning,” Devendra explains.
Part 4: Always looking for the ‘Why’
Sometimes, you can have all the enablers and spaces in place and yet not be able to cultivate the right learning culture. That happens because we often overlook whether or not employees are engaged and want to take part in the initiative in the first place. A true learning culture is built when your team is equally invested in learning and participating as you are.
Udgama makes sure that employees are involved in these initiatives by sharing the reason behind each of these. “No one on my team had ever gone to a meetup before joining us. So that’s why they didn’t realize the importance. But just stating that it was important for their growth doesn’t work. You have to explain why it is important,” explains Devendra. From the very beginning, Udgama sets clear expectations in terms of values and culture by clarifying why they do things the way they do.
Every choice at the company is built on a strong ‘why’. In fact, the reason Udgama chose Plum as their healthcare partner was also that. “I had been looking for an insurance provider for a long time. Whenever I was approached by someone, or I reached out to someone, I wasn’t really convinced with their explanations of things. It always appeared to me that they just wanted to get the business somehow,” says Devendra. “Personally, that irks me because, for me, insurance is just an assurance that you’d have the support of, if and when you need it. Now, when I’m getting an assurance, I have to be really convinced and for that I needed clarity. Sadly, I was not really getting that confidence from any of the providers. What I liked about Plum was they were really patient through the process while I kept asking so many questions. Others never gave me the right answer, or when they did give an answer, they didn’t give solid reasoning. With Plum, I could understand why things were the way they were and why certain things were included or excluded from the cover.”
All in all, inculcating the right mindset, setting the right expectations, and building the right environment has helped Udgama build a learning culture that’s unmatched and unparalleled.
What stood out: The learning day
What if we told you that Udgama has a six-day work-week as opposed to the industry standard 5-days? Wait, before you can make any presumptions, we’d like to point out that Saturday, the last day of the work-week at Udgama is dedicated solely to learning. Every Saturday, the team participates in learning activities, shares knowledge, and works together towards creating a better version of themselves.
Wish to know how the learning culture at Udgama has led their team to adapt to better technologies and create better products? Check out their blog where their team shares their learnings and you’d be surprised how advanced their way of building great product experiences is.