Future of Leadership Development in BFSI with L&D Head, Aditya Birla Capital.

In the 9th edition of The Leaders’ Cafe, we spoke with Atul Mathur, EVP HR and Head L&D, Aditya Birla Capital to discuss some of the biggest challenges around leadership development and future skills to invest into with a special focus on leadership in the BFSI sector.


Some of the key points that were discussed during the Live included:

  • COVID presented an opportunity for mindset shift and digital transformation in all areas of life, including leadership development. Organisations needed to adapt to a hybrid work environment and learn to not just survive but thrive.
  • Trust and transparency are critical in the highly regulated BFSI industry.
  • Leadership competencies – agility is essential in today’s fast-paced world. Failure should not be feared, but rather seen as a learning experience to move forward quickly. Emotional intelligence and the ability to connect with the team are essential. Innovation and resilience also need to be inculcated.
  • Driving Agility, Resilience, Connectedness, and Emotional Intelligence
    • Culture is top-down, and by converting leaders into facilitators, a more positive environment can be created.
    • Ensure that L1 managers are also briefed on what their team members are learning
    • Digital technology, such as learning apps, can help provide follow-up materials and encourage the application of concepts learned.
    • L&D programs should be perceived as designed with a specific objective in mind, and the intent should be clearly articulated to employees.

Gatik Chaujer –
Welcome Atul on the future of leadership development, particularly in the BFSI segment. Thank you for making time. You mentioned how COVID presented an opportunity for mindset reset and not wasting a crisis. What are your personal views on leadership development in 2023?

Atul Mathur –
The COVID crisis has provided an opportunity for a mindset shift and digital transformation in all areas of life, including leadership development. Organizations need to shift their focus from Theory X to Theory Y, emphasizing that people enjoy work as much as play, and adapt to a hybrid work environment. The gig workforce requires a lot of orientation and mindset shift, both in the classroom and on the job. Digital tools are critical in reaching customers effectively and building a digital mindset, which requires awareness, use cases, outside-in thinking, and staying up to date with the latest trends.

Repeated exposure through learning apps and bite-size pointers can help change behavior and generate interest.

One is that, a mindset shift.I think what we need to focus on is that as long as Human Connect is there, productivity can be much better, even without those people coming to office. 70% is what a person picks up on the job. How are you curating those roles? How are you creating those curating those processes? From a larger HR perspective, I think that’s also something which all of us are focusing on. The other piece is that – the digital mindset. The digital tools available right now are actually helping us to reach out to the customer in the most effective fashion.

Gatik Chaujer –
What are the top leadership competencies and behaviors that we need to focus on in these uncertain and volatile times, specifically in your industry?

Atul Mathur –
I believe that trust and transparency are critical in the BFSI industry, which is highly regulated. As a leader, I understand the importance of building credibility and trust among our clients and employees. Agility is also essential in today’s fast-paced world. We need to proactively take action and encourage innovation and experimentation. Failure should not be feared, but rather seen as a learning experience to move forward quickly. As a leader, I strive to have emotional intelligence and connect with my team. I believe that emotional attachment to past practices can hinder progress, and it’s crucial to be open to change.

I feel that one – innovation as a competency needs to be inculcated, where people need to experiment, try out new things. I think that resilience also has to be very high. Take no,as a learning experience. Take that failure as a learning experience, and quickly move ahead. 

The leader’s ability to have that engagement that connects with these people. I feel that there has to be more emotional intelligence. But there should not be emotional attachment.

Gatik Chaujer –
Regarding agility and resilience, I feel there is a gap in the workforce, especially in India where the last 10 years before COVID were extremely conducive to growth without much failure. Now, suddenly facing failures could be a big challenge for some employees. Do you think organizations are doing enough to address this? And have you tried anything at ABC that has worked or not worked in this regard?

Atul Mathur –
When experimenting, it’s important to remember that not all experiments will fail, as a lot of thought goes into them. If I follow design thinking methodology, chances are that I’ll come out with the right solution. However, disruptions and failures may still occur, and building resilience means:

(a) Taking failures in the right spirit and looking at things objectively, focusing on soft skills and issues, which are often covered in learning programs.
(b) Building an ecosystem that is open to failures and trying new things, not just targeting one set of people.

If I feel more empowered and free to do my work without fear or threat, I’m more likely to be innovative. To achieve this, the entire ecosystem needs to be aligned with the culture of experimentation and improvement.

Gatik Chaujer –
Can you share any best practices or thoughts on how I can drive agility, resilience, connectedness, and emotional intelligence as an HR and L&D professional?

Atul Mathur –
I believe there’s no one right answer to handling the ecosystem when it comes to L&D programs. In my experience, it’s crucial to ensure that L1 managers are also briefed on what their team members are learning. This helps ensure that the concepts taught are not only understood but also applied in the workplace.

One effective practice I’ve experimented with is inviting functional heads or leaders at different levels to become facilitators for our programs. By training them, they gain a better understanding of what’s being done in the L&D program, which can lead to positive change within the organization.

I believe that culture is top-down, and by converting leaders into facilitators, we can create a more positive environment. Digital technology, such as learning apps, can also help by providing follow-up materials and encouraging the application of concepts learned.

It’s also important to shift the perception that L&D programs are just a paid holiday. People should understand that the programs are designed with a specific objective in mind, and the intent should be clearly articulated to them. In my organization, we aim to upskill people to make them more capable of handling their work effectively, both now and in the future.

One small transactional way of handling the ecosystem is that does L1 know – What is it that is being done?

Gatik Chaujer –
I think the connecting thread between all the four areas that you spoke about is none of them have to do with things like strategic thinking, decision making, problem solving, financial acumen, business acumen, none of them you spoke about and which is interesting.

Because my belief is that this is the time to help strengthen leaders from within. It’s about strengthening the individual, not so much strengthening the leadership competencies. How do you help people learn how to learn? How do you help people become stronger? To deal with resilience? So it’s really about transforming the individual and working with them at a deeper level. Because that kind of adds to the results that you see and then experimenting, then taking risks then being able to deal with failure, connecting so on and so forth.

What’s your personal view around that Atul?

Atul –
Sure, I was actually expecting this to come up and, you’re finally touching the topic.

You’re not ignoring things like strategy and vision. They’re all there. But I would put it more at a hygiene level, it’s that they are required. But along with that, are you also innovating? So see, these things actually get somewhere? It’s a composite hole. It’s not either or true.

Driving Meaningful Learning In A Hybrid Environment

Gatik Chaujer –
How do you drive engaging and meaningful learning in a hybrid environment? With a different environment?

Atul Mathur –
As a leader, I prioritize training my team on communication and engagement. I believe that it’s important for my team to feel included and not just a transactional point of contact.

Digital technology has been a game-changer for us. With immersive technologies like VR and AR, we’re able to provide a more interactive and engaging learning experience. We recently launched an AI-based roleplay program where individuals can record their own videos and receive real-time feedback. This has been incredibly helpful in improving communication skills and identifying areas for growth. Overall, I see the benefits of digital learning technologies and believe they will continue to transform the way we approach learning and development.

So just to summarise, I’m saying connect, and therefore the leaders need to be trained, and capable of connecting, and making people feel more included, rather than excluded from the whole piece. Number two is – deploying the new digital solutions from a L and D perspective.

One Advice for HR and L&D professionals

Gatik Chaujer –
For our viewers with focus on HR, L&D and business. Any closing comments. One suggestion, advice perspective, what would that one line, or one advice be?

Atul Mathur –
It’s a difficult one. Because, one, I’m not a typical Gyan Guru.

One is that -be emotionally intelligent, but don’t get emotionally attached. So emotionally intelligent is with respect to people. emotional attachment is with respect to things and processes that we have been doing so far. Second, my firm belief, and I say it everywhere, and I practise it also – in human resource, human comes first, the source comes later. So whatever that you do has to be centred around that human aspect. And lastly, as I said, throughout, experiment, experiment, experiment.

Gatik Chaujer –
And thanks for sharing that and all your other views at all. It’s been, it’s been a privilege. It’s been fun. It’s been exciting having this chat with you listening to your perspectives. I wish you and other people all the best in your leadership development journey in experimenting and creating something spectacular. Thank you so much.