How leaders can foster a learning culture with Sumit Gupta

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Episode summary

In this episode of the Learning While Working Podcast, Robin chats with Sumit Gupta who coaches leaders to overcome their biggest challenges and to create productive, enriching, and nourishing workplaces. Sumit shares his point of view on how leaders can foster a learning culture within workplaces and how nurturing one-on-one relationships with employees can help build trust and increase the motivation to learn.

"Learning is the foundation which helps your team to adapt to whatever is coming next. Learning is the foundational element of any team and of any kind of leadership" - Sumit

About Sumit Gupta

Sumit, now a leadership coach, comes from 16 years of working in tech companies. He's now moved away from the technical side of things and slowly transitioned his passion for tech to management and leadership. Today he works with leaders from various tech and social organizations to overcome some of the biggest challenges they face in their individual leadership or with managing their teams.

Key takeaways

  • A one-on-one between a manager and employee is a foundational tool to ensure that there is space to learn and perform. Additionally, a one-on-one should be a place for a manager to listen to the people's concerns and work to provide solutions to their needs.

  • A great one-on-one happens at regular intervals, once a week or every two weeks. The manager and employee are both present in a safe, private space to discuss not only status updates, but also to build the relationship. It should feel like a place where staff can disclose what's bothering them so they can work alongside their manager to develop the appropriate support they need to meet their objectives.

  • When working with an employee who isn't meeting expectations, instead of using critical language like “underperforming,” consider reminding them of the expectations they signed up for, discussing where they're currently hitting the mark, and ask them what's missing for them to reach the level you need them to reach. And then work to offer a solution to help them hit their objectives.

  • As leaders, if you see that your staff may be lacking certain soft skills, it's your responsibility to help develop them through coaching or mentoring.

  • One of the best ways to prepare a new leader or manager is through on-the-job practice - not just learning in a classroom setting. And also having a dedicated coach who can listen to what's happening and offer that one-on-one support and feedback.

    "Everything which is difficult, or where you are not hitting the mark is an invitation to practice" – Sumit

  • Ratings can be useful in measuring performance metrics, but managers shouldn't identify their employees by these numbers. There has to be that human connection and relatability still.

    "If you measure a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will always be called a poor performer" – Sumit

  • Listen to your people to understand what they're good at, bad at, and what they want to learn. This can allow you to see if certain employees would be better suited for different roles based on their strengths and interests.
    To build a stronger learning culture, managers should set aside dedicated time for learning, thus creating a rhythm of learning each week or month.


Segmented time stamps

2:06 An introduction to Sumit Gupta
3:00 How leaders can foster a learning culture in tech companies
4:01 The opportunities and challenges tech companies face with learning at work
5:16 How to use staff/manager one-on-ones for fostering a learning culture
12:42 How to prepare leaders and managers in directing the one-on-one conversations
15:00 The effects of using labels such as “underperformer” or numbered rating systems to evaluate employees.
19:12 How to provide feedback to an employee without using a rating system or label
21:53 The key to making sure employees have dedicated time for learning
23:43 The importance of building trust with employees and structure around learning at work

Links from the podcast