Business Today

'Be Learning Agile'

Learning from the new kids on the block is one way to keep yourself in sync with the all that's changing and evolving in the world today.
Shikha Sharma   New Delhi     Print Edition: January 14, 2018
'Be Learning Agile'
Shikha Sharma, MD and CEO, Axis Bank (Photo: Vivan Mehra)

After spending 37 years in the financial services industry, I am often asked about the one management lesson that has made a lasting difference. For me, it has always been about learning continuously. In March 2017, at the annual convocation of my alma mater, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, I spoke about the need for 'learning agility'. Let me elaborate on this.

Faced with a volatile, uncertain, complex or ambiguous world, as leaders, learning agility is not something to be seen as a threat or be intimidated by. This is simply an opportunity to learn and evolve. Today's leadership must constantly scale the learning curve. Consequently, the demand for leaders who can embrace change quickly is high. As the level of situational complexity rises, your ability to tackle it will determine your relevance. Your growth as a leader begins where your comfort zone ends and depends upon how passionate you are in pursuit of your objectives. And in this journey, the ability to make learning a habit will make all the difference.

Business models are changing rapidly with the balance increasingly shifting to customers. With advances in technology and innovation, new companies which have the ability to remain connected with their customers and constantly communicate with them will be at an advantage in scaling up their businesses.

Flexibility and adaptability are leadership qualities that any organisation must strive for. For example, new business models have emerged. The website or app offering the best deals on hotels does not own hotels. Some of the biggest media companies do not create own content. The biggest global taxi company does not own taxis. While it may be naive to believe that we can create new business models every now and then, companies that are unable to quickly learn and adapt to such scenarios will lose ground to change.

The future of financial services is even more exciting. Services providers, including the fintech companies, have been the key innovation drivers. As more and more payments are conducted/routed using digital channels, important behavioural information is becoming increasingly available to potential lenders, who can use sophisticated data analytics to predict the account's creditworthiness and enable loan sanctions with finer pricing, creating economic opportunity for the borrower. Innovation improves efficiency, productivity, quality, competition, among other positives.

Customisation has become the motif of technology-enabled delivery of financial services. In the past, it took months to compile customer feedback to trigger a change in service strategy. Today, with the advent of smart devices, transaction processing on mobile apps has become simple, seamless and convenient. So is the ability of customers to share feedback on functionalities, services standards, processes and documentation. As a result, organisations do not need months to figure out customer strategy. It can be done based on real-time feedback. Organisations, therefore, need to inculcate the culture and skillsets required to harness this information and quickly respond to the feedback.

Learning from the new kids on the block is one way to keep yourself in sync with all that's changing and evolving in the world today. The rapidly changing business environment means leaders not only have to focus on learning constantly but also to do it quickly. One aspect of this learning is the skill of identifying new business models. For example, working with start-ups has been a way for many large companies to keep their ears to the ground. Facebook acquired Whatsapp to avoid losing ground to new companies in the social media space. Similarly, Microsoft bought Linkedin to access a professional network of customers. With Freecharge, we expect to learn and enhance our digital footprint by enabling the addition of millennial, native mobile users to our pool of customers.

The ability to learn is not just about identifying new business models or adapting to new technology, it is also, in a sense, behavioural in nature, the ability to learn from failures. To grow and evolve, it is necessary to constantly learn new skills, ideas and perspectives, and have the ability to discard those that are no longer relevant. Becoming 'learning agile' takes considerable effort but as a result, the benefits of our ability to adapt and quickly respond to the challenges of a volatile and competitive landscape will be manifold.

By Shikha Sharma, MD and CEO, Axis Bank

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