Using Soft Skills To Deal With Hard Reality

Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
Here is a poser. How does a company teach its employees to cope with situations when its growing rapidly from small to huge teams Or, how does a firm teach its staff qualities like leadership, creativity and team building Increasingly, corporate houses across the country are realising the need to inculcate these soft skills in their employees even as stress management, communication, team building and leadership are fast becoming the new buzzwords in the corporate lexicon.

Catering to such needs are players who are mushrooming by the day. They primarily use the outdoors as a medium to develop behavioural and soft skills. In an employees day out, for instance, they are taught and tested for soft skills in lesser known destinations. Explains Vinay Sirsi, director of the seven-year-old Ozone Experiential Learning, We make use of the inherent strength of the medium, which allows clear learning, effective training, long term retention and its subsequent application in the usual day-to-day environment.

Adds Colonel (Retd) S Suresh, director of the six-year-old Pegasus Institute For Excellence (which incidentally was started by a group of defence officers), We believe that a lot of good things happen in adverse conditions and felt a knowledge transfer can take place in terms of people skills. Further, Pegasus felt that adults cannot be taught soft skills, but they can experience and understand them, so we decided to provide such experiences in the outdoors.

At outdoors one can organise midnight treks, yoga classes and play various games like volleyball and cricket. Alternatively, corporates can take their executives to nearby destinations like Coorg or Corbett.

Experiences such as raft building in a water body are used to identify leadership qualities, team building and customer orientation wherein the trainer plays the role of a tough customer and keeps changing his requirement, in this case, the specifications of the raft. At times, a team of trainees are told to go from point A to B in an unknown terrain and only very general directions are provided. Such experiences are further complicated by adding blank spaces in between, without offering any information about the intermediate gap.

But whatever the problem set, all the activities seem to be a big hit with the corporates cutting across all industry sectors.

Says Mr Sirsi, We have worked with many IT companies like SAP Labs, Wipro, Honeywell and Phillips wherein we help them come up with solutions that either did not exist for them or were uncommon. As new technologies come in place, we introduce newer and newer elements in the training imparted.

Pegasus alone boasts of having covered over 600 programmes with about 13,000 participants.

Experiential learning institutes essentially dwell on three stages of activities that keep repeating in that order. In the first one, the learning experiences are culled out. The second activity provides the opportunity to try and apply the learning and validate it. This is followed by reflecting on the learning and capturing it. Whats more, all stages have a fun element attached to them, which makes it easy for adults to accept their mistakes and replicate their learning in an office environment.

Says Colonel Suresh, We have come across cases wherein an employee admitted to jumping into action without planning, or a boss who shouted at his juniors when disaster struck.

In fact, so fast is the industry growing that the demand is seeing a corresponding growth in supply with newer companies mushrooming. Says Mr Sirsi, The industry is totally unorganised and has low barriers for entry. Margins can vary from 20-40 per cent, depending on the kind of logistics to training imparted and the amount invested in the people. In fact, business is so huge that even the existing ones are going in for branch expansion.

A Pegasus unit is slated to open by next month in Pune, while another one is planned two years down the line in Uttaranchal to cater to the northern territory.

According to Vivek Khandelwal, a senior systems engineer with Wipro Technologies, who along with his team members undertook a training session on team building with Pegasus, At the end of it we realised that we tend to ignore many things which are otherwise important and must be paid adequate attention. For example, when we are asked for a feedback we might start with it but end up treating it as place to put down our decision. The training helped us realise how we must not forget our objectives, which would in turn help us reach our goals faster.

Similarly, Sujata Mohan, software engineer, Infosys Techonlogies along with a 20-member team undertook a trip to Coorg. This was our first trip on team building. It was a great forum to interact with our colleagues and get to know them at a personal level since we hardly get any time to interact in the office. The early morning trek around the coffee plantations was a great experience on camaraderie, says Ms Mohan.