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December 2017
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TD Magazine
Foot on the Gas

Madana Kumar is using L&D to accelerate performance.

As vice president and global head of learning and development at UST Global, a multinational digital services provider, Madana Kumar has transformed his department from a traditional training organization to an internal performance consultancy. He has shaped the company's attitude and approach to learning in a fundamental way, emphasizing that every single learning initiative should have a tangible business impact. Currently, he is leading the talent transformation required for his firm to become a digital company.

What's the key difference between a traditional training department and a performance consulting department?

Being an order-taker versus a strategic partner. At UST Global, we've moved even beyond the strategic partner role today. I can confidently say that we are an "accelerator" of the digital transformation the organization is undergoing. More than followers of organizational strategy, we are frontrunners in creating it and executing it from a talent point of view. And for a knowledge organization like ours, talent is the key differentiator.

How do you think a performance consultant approach influences the perception of learning?

Hugely. Executive leaders are willing to spend time listening to our ideas because they see tangible business value. Managers approach us for solutions to talent issues and not just with "training needs." Employees partake in learning opportunities willingly and in a self-directed manner, championing the resources we provide.

I always say there are three types of stakeholders: supporters, neutrals, and naysayers. Supporters see inherent value in developmental investment, neutrals believe they can carry on their business if L&D doesn't bother them, and naysayers think L&D is a complete waste of time and money. Taking the performance consulting approach ensures that we keep all the three categories (especially the third) happy enough that they don't scuttle our plans.

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Do you have any advice for learning professionals who want to better articulate their business value?

This skill is the lifeline of all L&D professionals. If we don't do this, we will perish. And I would advise against stopping there.

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Accelerate organizational transformation. Drive change, don't follow it. In a highly connected world, with digitized and artificial intelligence–based systems automating many business processes, we will become irrelevant unless we do.

You started your career as an engineer. How does that shape your approach to L&D?

My engineering background helps me structure my approach well and implement it in an effectively monitored way. Because my engineering subject was electronics and communication, it helps me stay technically abreast with UST Global's products, services, and platforms.

What has volunteering at faith-based organizations taught you about your corporate career?

We're all here to lead significant lives. We have to add value to others while adding value to ourselves.

My faith has taught me that I should rejoice when I'm considered a servant leader, when the people I serve become better, bigger, wiser, richer, healthier, wealthier than myself. This helps me tremendously in my corporate job. The mission statement of my company reads "Transforming Lives." That is perfect synergy for my faith life.

About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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