Magazine Button
upGrad: Upskilling the leaders of tomorrow 

upGrad: Upskilling the leaders of tomorrow 

EducationHR SolutionsThought LeadershipWorkforce Management

As organisations attempt to build leaders of tomorrow, deciding which education provider to work with is a critical initial step. Karan Raturi, General Manager, North America at upGrad, tells Intelligent CIO about how upGrad’s online education platforms are offering industry relevant programs and immersive learning experiences around Data Science, Machine Learning, Product Management, Management, Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship. 

In your opinion, what are the top three qualities a good manager should and should not have? 

Karan Raturi, General Manager, North America at upGrad 

The first area is balancing vision and execution. Effective management understands wider strategy and their specific role, without being extreme in either direction. The second is clarity of thought and being able to articulate a clear vision and tasks to all levels of the organisation which unfortunately is an underrated soft skill.  

While this is not a requirement for most roles, many companies are finding that being a cultural fit and driving a team from a performance standpoint where everyone understands the vision can improve efficiency and reduce wasted time. 

The third quality is managers embracing a sense of servant leadership by rolling up their sleeves and leading by example. Having cross-functional skills and applying these to different projects will be key in the future.  

The era of the middle manager is increasingly becoming compressed as we move to a field of hard skills and companies adopting a vision that everyone fully supports.  One example is Facebook announcing that they will be compressing that layer of management. I believe the time of middle managers is being challenged and other companies will follow suit. 

In terms of qualities a manager should not have, empathy ranks high on the list. KPIs should drive your decision making but we must be mindful not to become robotic and remember we are dealing with people at the end of the day.  

A common weakness we notice with managers is the inability to say no and taking on too much. This results in dilution of quality across all work and it must be prevented at all costs.  

With your experience working with and building numerous senior-level managers, what are some key competencies every senior leader should aim to have? 

The first one is independent strategic thinking. As my team are aware, whether it’s past or present roles I always stress on the importance of challenging the status quo and using data to back up your ideas. Having perspective and empathy are essential.  

I think managers have this duty and obligation to look at data and present contradictory thoughts at a company or project level and flag if it is heading in the wrong direction. It could be a small work stream issue within a project and if a manager fails to react, it can snowball creating bigger ramifications.  

The second competence is doing more with less which is crucial in current cost-conscious market conditions. It happens every economic cycle, we have the boom periods where spending rises and more resources are available.  

Conversely, there are bust cycles that pull us down and the world, investors and stakeholders alike ask us to do more with less. Successful managers are not restricted by this and instead view this as an opportunity to maximise the resources they have at their disposal. 

Finally, an underrated competence is being able to smoothly navigate internal barriers and challenges. Good managers know how to position themselves because they have invested their time out of the business grasping where everyone sits and their exact functions. When they have a query or confusion they know exactly where to go for answers. Resourcefulness and investing the time to get to know people can make a telling difference. 

What is ‘upskilling’ and why do you feel it’s important for senior managers to understand and practice? 

Upskilling is a word that has come to the forefront recently. It is not new, but previously the industry did not use this term widely. Essentially to find the skills you need anytime in your life, career or as a manager you must upskill your team with new capabilities and technology to keep pace with the market.  

It is unlikely you can learn everything in your formative educational years, or even in your post graduate programmes, hence upskilling is a continuous learning experience. In modern times where technology has become the norm, upskilling is here to stay. 

For managers, upskilling provides a cost-effective way to improve your team’s capabilities. Having churn and attrition in your team and hiring a new person is a big expense for companies. The way to minimise this is by taking the capable people you already hired and upskilling them to the changing demands of the business. 

This in turn leads to increased job satisfaction and longer hiring tenures because of the added investment from both parties. It is a win-win in the corporate world where upskilling leads to stronger productivity, efficiency and employee satisfaction all at once. It is imperative every manager’s budget makes this a priority for themselves and their teams. 

What are the most significant challenges managers face and how can upskilling help tackle these challenges? 

Today we are noticing many tech companies having to maintain a positive culture and morale. Managers face the impossible task of keeping staff engagement high with a rising paranoia about AI replacing their work and fear of job losses. The challenge is further complicated when shareholders are stripping resources and wanting to drive focus.  

When competing priorities exist, managers can use upskilling to refocus their teams without compromising on project delivery. For example, if 20% of your team lacks that skill set, upskilling allows your team to be able to deliver this missing contribution. 

Even in the challenging environments that we face today, upskilling can be used as a low-cost incentive to have everyone feel like you’ve invested in them. This gives them the potential to contribute today and build stronger careers in the future too. It creates added value in that person’s life and career and provides managers with the bonus of overcoming these challenges without the need to scale. 

How can senior managers improve their skills and what skills should they prioritise improving? 

How they choose to upskill is dependent on their function. If you are a manager with engineering and technology skills, but you lack in the management or financial side, the ability to obtain online certifications from the top institutions in financial analysis or strategy is an excellent way to complement your knowledge. 

Look at where your strengths and opportunity areas are and consider the places you can grow and improve to maximise your investment. The options to achieve your learning goals are flexible and varied. We offer credentials, degrees, compressed credentials (badging), certificate programmes and micro-credentials which can be completed in a few months. 

Can you give us a bird’s eye view of what learner outcomes could be like during their three years of DBA? 

We have a three-year DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration programme) with Golden Gate University (GGU) that has been well received by students. We focus on quality and learner outcomes of the students. DBAs are focused on practical application of business concepts and it is a terminal degree, the highest degree you can get in management as opposed to the more common MBA. The only competing degree are PhDs which are more theoretical and research driven. DBAs also have research, but here you are tackling real-world business problems.  

Our programme with Golden Gate University (GGU) has a first-rate curriculum that addresses the challenges and opportunities senior business professionals are facing. This includes managing complex organisations, leading in times of great change and disruption and adapting to technological advancements like AI.  

Due to the application of research elements the GGU programme classifies the DBAs as WASC accredited programmes. These programmes bring real-world value by providing opportunities for best practices which apply to their current or future roles. A big benefit is working with senior academic advisors at GGU – many of whom are professionals in the Bay Area.  

With online education one-on-one interaction is often missing or lacks the depth which faculties provide. Our programme offers a mentorship component which allows for live sessions with the faculty every week. We also bring in networking opportunities on a global scale where you can meet other learners and other business professionals in their area and gain exposure to best practices.  

upGrad is known for its learning support, either the LMS, the platform where we deliver the course, or through our services where we have academic success coaches and a team that’s really at a learner’s disposal to help them get through a very challenging process. Our 360-degree support system allows students to manage complex home and work lives and still achieve meaningful outcomes. 

About adding a Dr title to your name, how is a DBA different from a PhD and why would the DBA be a very valuable degree today? 

With PhDs and DBAs being terminal degrees, both are the highest degree one can attain. PhDs can take much longer and are more research driven, whereas a DBA focuses heavily on the practical application of business theories and practices. A DBA is really oriented to that individual who wants to excel in their field without requiring the in-depth research focus that a PhD entails.  

AI is progressing and working from home is increasing. How do you see this affecting management and leadership roles in the future? 

It will have a huge impact and happen in phases. Within the last two decades, we have seen major strides with automation, predictive analytics and how we deal with repetitive processes.  

Today, we can train these models on extremely large swathes of data so that they’re starting to do some critical thinking. We need to shift our mindset away from AI being a purely automation tool and unlock its power to generate real-world insights.  

Managers must be ready to harness AI and have their team thinking at higher levels to ask better questions and improve efficiency. Hence the human and AI management complex that develops will mirror the revolution of the personal computer and it will be the next stage of growth. 

For managers to leverage this they must make investment and ownership a priority. They must separate the skills that the AI tools will give them versus the contribution from team members.  

For example, soft skills that give the ability to look at insights and make business decisions off the back of judgement calls will now rest with people, good team members and managers. Whereas the number of sprints and the robotic processes associated with AI will continue in the short term and medium term to be automated. In the future, we could see more input from AI making judgement calls but at this stage this capability is still premature. 

Click below to share this article

Browse our latest issue

Intelligent CXO

View Magazine Archive