Ericsson’s Vidya Krishnan

PCR Feb issue Life in the Channel: Ericsson’s Vidya Krishnan

Ericsson’s Chief Learning Officer, Vidya Krishnan, on how Ericsson is adopting a learning strategy to support its focus on 5G, IoT, network security and autonomous networks.

Ericsson, a leader in mobile broadband infrastructure, and telecom carrier network equipment provider is increasingly focusing on building its services around 5G, IoT, network security and autonomous networks. However, this all requires its tech teams to be equipped with the latest cutting-edge skills, as a result it is working with Pluralsight’s online skills platform, which has supported Ericsson in creating a culture of learning, and achieving business goals, as Vidya Krishnan explains:

Please tell me a bit more about yourself and your current role at Ericsson?
I am Ericsson’s Chief Learning Officer, heading Global Learning and Development. My background is a blend of engineering and teaching. My career spans 25 years, starting as a camp counselor throughout high school, then as a networks electrical engineer and a business-learning leader. My love of teaching comes from seeing the positive power of people sharing skills and learning together.

I am so grateful for my background as an engineer. I love learning how things operate together within a network, and that work always underscored the value of learning. Working on 2G, 3G and 4G network designs and deployments, I found it energising, that team-based skill building helped us care for our customers more effectively.

My team’s role is to drive our learning and development mission, building future critical skills at Ericsson. We want to create the conditions for our people to change themselves, by reinventing skillsets and mindsets in ways that create value for customers, employees, and society. Our workforce knows that we can become whatever we need to win.

At Ericsson, we believe that technology for good is a powerful enabler of people and progress, and has a huge role to play in learning, as an equalizer, amplifier, and simplifier – digital access to L&D must be equitable and inclusive for it to be effective and empowering.

What steps has Ericsson taken towards building a culture of learning?
Ericsson’s culture and leadership transformation journey is called Ericsson on the Move. This means zero tolerance for zero learning, and recognising that we have to help people be movers when it comes to growing their skills, expanding their experiences, and contributing to others.

We make learning easy, we make learning a habit that matters, and we make learning drive profitable business. Our ecosystem is the key to making learning easy, personalised, and intelligent – giving learners exactly what they need, when they need it, so that the learning can find the learner, rather than the other way around. Our strategic partnerships with Pluralsight, Degreed, and more are important parts of making that happen. Our culture system is all about making learning matter, and we believe a learning culture demands a teaching culture. At Ericsson, a growth mindset entails growing the skills of other people along with your own, through great teaching and experiential learning. We reframe learning as an investment rather than a cost, demanding co-ownership beyond consumption, and clearly aligned to our prioritised business areas of growth.

What are Ericsson’s biggest business goals and priorities, and how has upskilling helped to reach them?
Our business goals are about creating value through networks, managed services, digital services, and emerging technology to empower an intelligent, sustainable, and connected world. Our solutions and expertise enable us to play a lead role in the ecosystem of operators, businesses, and decision-makers who together can make 5G fully successful as a global innovation platform for consumers and enterprise, one that touches every corner of our world and every sector of the economy.

A cornerstone of this strategy is global skill and scale. There is a critical and clear need to strategically invest in the growth of our people to propel the growth of our company in the decade ahead. Our pursuit of market and technology leadership requires strategic investment in learning and development for our people, customers, and society in critical business areas. Correspondingly, our focus on building critical skills recognises that upskilling and reskilling is a strategic business investment to drive value creation and profitable growth. As an example, our digital services teams are intense users of Pluralsight in the pursuit of relentless software excellence.

Are there any specific tools or resources you recommend other companies try out when focusing on L&D?
Our approach has been to design based on the foundations and conditions we want to have (speed, scale, accountability), and how they should result from how we combine tools, culture, practices, programs, business, and people. No matter how powerful the platform or tool, people fundamentally learn from and with other people, so that is a constant lens we bring to learning solutions and tools.

We are more focused now on experiential learning and intensifying how we design and leverage it. Most people – including the people in learning and development – say they learn and develop most on the job, when learning with and from other people, when working on projects or problems that really matter to them. We also see effective skill development when people are given an opportunity to deepen a passion or build on a strength they already have.

Therefore, experiential learning requires that our tools and platforms help people to be ‘on the move’ to see, try, match with, and take on assignments and projects that allow them both to develop new skills and showcase the skills they already have.

Can businesses use data to assess the impacts of their investments in upskilling? How?
Learning is like oxygen, vital but invisible, and analytics and data can make it visible. Analytics have the power to visualise skills progression, use sensing and inference to predict skill shift needs, and then prove how and where skill shift has – or has not – occurred as needed. Analytics allows a persona-based understanding of our people’s learning habits, so that our ecosystem can be more personalised in connecting people to possibilities. This is the most critical area in which we ourselves need to upskill, to leverage analytics and data to make ROL (return on learning) concrete and relevant. Here again, the work with Pluralsight to quantify and assess skill capability is an important facet to making our ecosystem more intelligent and empathetic in connecting skills to work.

Have you managed to ensure there is alignment between L&D teams and technology teams?
L&D IS a technology team! So, recognising that identity and what it demands in our operating rhythm, skill sets, and interaction is critical for us. We partner as ONE team with our IT, R&D, business and market areas, and we know that our platforms, interworking, and technology roadmap is a powerful glue that binds our people experience together. We have a disciplined operating cadence by which we share and synchronize on experiments and pilots, reflect on what we see in other industries that inspires us, and collaborate on roadmaps underscored by fact-based decision-making. Nothing is quite so powerful as technology for large-scale behavioural change, and ultimately our aspirations for skill come down to behaviour and will, so prioritising and constantly progressing on technology alignment is everything to us.

How can employees who commit to lifelong learning be rewarded?
Success and fulfillment are the sweetest rewards that happen when people get to harmonize three things: their signature talents (T), opportunities (O) to create value, and their chosen purpose or passions (P). We want our lifelong learners and teachers to see that their skills profile can signal their growth, credentials, experiences, interests, and contributions, in a way that unlocks that T-O-P, by connecting them to opportunity, investment, and talent differentiation.

Why will upskilling be so important to the future of work, in your opinion?
Peter Drucker, the renowned author and educator, said: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Today, the future is in flux – the pandemic has intensified the upheaval. The World Economic Forum predicts more than 50% of workforces will have to reskill nearly half of their critical skills over the next five years for businesses to stay competitive and viable. These emerging skills, however, are often hard to recognise at first. Companies that thrive amid such uncertain futures will therefore need to go beyond reskilling to empower belonging, resilience, and reinvention in their workforce. Otherwise the future of work won’t work. Those who continue to act with yesterday’s logic in failing to prioritise these outcomes will fall behind, because they will be outlearned by the competition.

Has upskilling helped Ericsson to embrace new technology and adapt during the pandemic? How?
The pandemic has acted as an accelerator for us digitally, and has deepened our commitment to our priorities. Digital access and reliable, secure digital communication is unquestionably now recognised everywhere as a fundamental human right. Our global and now mostly-remote workforce has continued to prioritise learning during lockdown to ensure we can continue to deliver well for our customers and one another. We have many of our people on the front lines doing heroic and essential work to keep our networks running. We have learned, experimented, and experienced new ways of digital collaboration and skill-building, and accelerated our work with immersive learning using mixed reality. We are deepening our commitment to care and productivity so that teams can improve how we use our digital infrastructure, so that we can get more done even as we take back time through better collaboration and skill-building practices.

Has upskilling helped to boost employee morale during the pandemic?
This pandemic has taken an incalculable toll, and I am inspired at the resilience of our people to care for our customers, our teams, and all those who need us through these difficult times. All of us struggle right now to find the time and mental space to make upskilling the priority it is, but I see how people are so committed to making it happen nonetheless, and in fact a very special morale boost comes from being able to lean on our teams and colleagues to help us prioritise it together in the flow of our work. We know that is the key to learning our way into a better and brighter future.

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