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Learning at the CoreOctober 25, 2021

Prema Sagar

Chairperson, BCW India Group at Genesis BCW and Six Degrees BCW

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

I recently came upon this quote and while I don’t know about the first part, but the second part definitely sums up my philosophy about learning. From the beginning of my career to now, learning is a value that I practice every day. And it is a value that we knew would be at the core of Genesis BCW.

It is well-known that Genesis began with a single client, THE Park Hotel. It is during my work for the Hotel, that I realised that I needed to learn more about public relations. I heard about the Frank Jefkins Institute of Public Relations in London and went over to do their course. On coming back, I set up Genesis PR in 1992.

Today, whenever I attend an event—virtually these days and in-person earlier—I often have people walk up to me saying they’ve been at Genesis BCW. What I always notice is how they talk about Genesis BCW as an institution where they learnt and grew instead of just an organisation where they worked. That, I think, is largely a credit to the learning initiatives that we have.

Setting it down in the DNA

The emphasis on learning began because of a necessity—there weren’t enough courses or understanding around public relations, which meant that good talent was hard to come by. So when we were articulating the values of Genesis BCW, we knew learning had to be one of them. It is carefully mapped with the overall strategy of the firm.

When I was writing this, I spoke to a few people. Among them, Vidyashree Rai Chhetry, our first Learning & Development (L&D) head, who Deepshikha Dharmaraj, as the then Chief Talent Officer, worked with and mentored to set up the School of Learning.

Before that, we had engaged an HR consultancy to run our learning initiatives. When Deepshikha took charge of Talent Development, our focus was on hiring the best talent, nurturing them and developing them, no matter what level they were at. As part of that, we set up the School of Learning—among the many firsts that Genesis BCW has given the Indian public relations and communications industry. The aim was simple—help our people at all levels with the right learning required to be effective communications professionals and leaders in the 21st century.

ALP: A programme like no other

One of the learning programmes I am the proudest of and which has become the benchmark for learning and development in the industry is our Associate Learning Programme. At the time, there weren’t too many quality education programmes in public relations. We saw our clients and colleagues in other industries address the lack of trained talent through management training programmes. We thought, why not take the same approach and apply it to public relations. With that in mind, we launched The Associate Learning Programme (ALP), the first on-job management training programme for public relations, in 2004.

Every year, fresh graduates and postgraduates from some of India’s top mass communication colleges are inducted into the programme, which has now become our flagship. I caught up with Amith Prabhu, who was part of the first batch of ALPs and asked him about his memories of the programme. He shared a few anecdotes with me, but what struck me was the fondness with which he remembers that time. He mentioned that at the beginning of the programme, they were given a few mantras and he still swears by them. For him, the programme wasn’t just about learning public relations skills, but also a foundational course in management, leadership and more.

Taking another LEAP

If you’ve been reading my posts, you would have noticed that many of our initiatives began quite simply, as conversations, and evolved from there. Around 2011 or so, Deepshikha, Vidya and I were having lunch in our Gurgaon office and we were wondering how we can create a development and growth roadmap for some of our key emerging leaders in the middle management level. From that conversation emerged our other critical initiative, LEAP. Launched in 2012, LEAP is designed to support learning for young emerging leaders and to grow leaders from within the firm.

It started out as a residential programme and while the learning sessions were intense and comprehensive, Vidya also shared some hilarious backstories. For instance, it included morning workouts every day. However, not everyone was a morning person. She recalls how Deepshikha had to literally go door-to-door waking them up!

These fun incidents built stories and camaraderie that continues even now. Over the years, LEAP has established itself as one of the most sought-after training programmes in the firm and attracts a number of nominations not just from Genesis BCW and Six Degrees BCW in India but BCW companies across the Asia-Pacific region. As with everything, the pandemic meant that the programme went online, but it retained its robustness.

Getting our people to Skill Up

Even beyond these iconic programmes, learning is a way of life at Genesis BCW. It is not only essential for those entering the industry or who are at the middle management levels. Even seasoned communications professionals today need to constantly upgrade their skills to stay ahead in this dynamic environment.

Our School of Learning put in place a learning series called Skill Up aimed at helping our people upskill. The sessions are focused on sharpening core areas strategic focus for the firm.

Learning in new normal

In the past year, one of our biggest concerns has been the well-being of our employees. Keeping them in the growth mindset, where they are learning—or even teaching their skills—has played a huge role in keeping our people motivated. There has been an emphasis on holistic development with the firm providing strategic mentoring to the leaders. Through various tie-ups, we have also brought in experts to support and counsel our employees in times of unprecedented stress.

As I look back, learning has not just been a differentiator for us, it has made us who we are—curious, empathetic, excited to solve problems and turn crises into opportunities. And it has shaped people who were with us in this journey. Some of the most senior and accomplished people in the industry trace their professional roots back to Genesis. Our ALP and LEAP alumni are flagbearers of the nurturing and mentoring that the two programmes are known for. This is a true testament to our learning culture. This is what makes us an institution, and not just a company.