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How to give your career a boost
Abhijit Mitra, Outlook Money
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January 06, 2007

India is becoming more competitive. What about you? The 2006 edition of the World Competitiveness Report, an annual document on the state of competitiveness of nations by the world-renowned IMD International Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland, ranked India at 29, up from 39 the previous year.

By how much did your value increase this year in the eyes of existing and potential employers?

Why You Inc. needs to be competitive: In many ways, your career is like the stock of a company. Let's call it You Inc. The job market in this context is like the stock market. It is constant honing and upgradation of skills, especially hard skills related to your function, say marketing or finance, that helps the stock of You Inc. appreciate.

This means better pay hike prospects and faster career growth. At Seoul-based LG.Philips, efficiency rose and average overtime came down from 10.6 to 8.4 days after a Franklin Covey course.

In this context, 2007 might be full of distractions for many with awesome increments and a deluge of job offers -- a lot coming without much effort to improve the fundamentals. But in the long run, it is necessary to do the grind to add value.

The question that arises is whether training can uniquely improve your competitiveness and valuation. We suggest personal improvement training programmes (PITPs).

They can act as a supplement to professional training and give you "what they didn't teach you in business school". But even more importantly, the combination is likely to make you truly competitive. This means conforming to the definition of a competitive individual given by Stephane Garelli, professor at IMD, an expert on competitiveness and the author of the book Top Class Competitors.

What is competitiveness? According to Garelli, what sets competitive people apart from merely competent ones is that the former have "a higher level of energy, a more intense sense of urgency, a deeper sense of purpose, a stronger sense of resilience, a more acute sense of timing, a stricter sense of alignment, a higher degree of confidence but not of arrogance, and an enduring passion for reinvention and against complacency."

A holistic view of your training requirements, including PITPs, is likely to help you enhance your competitiveness.

How PITPs help: Deepak Mohla, managing director, TMI Associates, says, "The problem is that circumstances often make an individual unsure and diffident. When that happens, trying to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, let alone working on them, may become very difficult."

That's where PITPs come in. Their starting point is usually an analysis of the individual to pinpoint his strengths and weaknesses. It is much easier to make improvement through training once it is clear what needs to be worked on.

PITPs and your competitiveness: More and more companies are taking the onus of ensuring that their employees are equipped to deal with what their fast-changing work life is throwing at them. That is why PITPs run by training outfits are doing very well.

"We started operating in India four years back and our turnover has already reached $16 million," claims L. Raheja, CEO, Franklin Covey South Asia, a joint venture of the $278-million Franklin Covey Company of the US.

Among the courses offered is 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', based on Stephen Covey's book of the same name. Mohla's firm has been offering personal improvement programmes as well as personal coaching and mentoring for about a decade. "All the people we have trained and mentored were sponsored by companies," says Mohla.

While the initiative taken by corporates to train their employees is fine, the fact remains that stock appreciation of You Inc. is too important to be outsourced to the HR department. Also, what if your employer is among those who don't send their staff for PITPs? Would it be worthwhile to spend your hard-earned money on it?

"Whether a course will do you any good ultimately depends on what you make of it," answers K. Pandiya Rajan, managing director of Ma Foi Management Consultants. Clearly, you need to be keen on enhancing your competitiveness.

What you get from PITPS

Indirect and intangible benefits: Uday Chawla, CEO of executive search firm Transearch India, thinks it makes sense to pay for the course. He explains: "The benefits may not be direct in the sense that you may not get a raise or a promotion because you have done the course (unlike, say, a finance program). However, better practices and habits often lead to clearer thinking and improved execution, often in less time. That is likely to improve your prospects as an employee indirectly."

That is also the sense one gets from Pravin Anand of Anand And Anand Advocates, which deals with intellectual property rights issues. Anand recently attended APEX, the corporate course of Art of Living, and has benefited from the "positive energy" it generated. But he refuses to quantify the benefits.

"There are some things that cannot be quantified," he says. "Today, a client comes in to litigate and we try to solve his problem. We don't look to just make money, but build relationships." But it works better when your entire team is doing a course and everybody is aligned, says Sanjiv Kakar, who teaches in the APEX course.

There are other intangible benefits: If you want to set up your own enterprise, these workshops help you network, crystallise concepts and apply them to your life or future businesses, says Ma Foi's Pandiya Rajan.

How to choose a course

Options galore: Once you have decided to go for a PITP, you will have to pick one from numerous choices. Some of them are focussed on specific areas -- stress management, time management, presentation skills, leadership skills and communication, among others -- although they are not function-specific. Others, like the programme run by Art of Living and Seven Habits . . . take a more holistic view.

Some of them, like the Vipasana courses, have clear religious underpinnings, while others do not. If you are uncomfortable with the religious lean, choose something without it. If exotica is what you want, go for it. Choose a programme that you are most comfortable with, but make sure that there are no nasty surprises (for a basic list, see Program Yourself).

Read before you enroll: PITPs should make you curious and open your mind, says Ashish Rajpal, CEO, idiscoveri, which does PITPs for companies. "At the same time,  they should make you reflective and confident." Organisations which offer PITPs have websites. It would be prudent to go through them. Some are based on books, like  the hallmark Dale Carnegie course, which is based on his best-selling How to Win Friends and Influence People. It may be a good idea to read these books before choosing the course.

Check the history: Use the test of time and find out how long the course has been on offer. In this space, survival is generally synonymous with success and effectiveness. This filter should help you sift out most of the many dubious PITPs. Just about anyone here claims associations with big names, individual or corporate. If you are so inclined, you could run a check on the testimonials too. Also, treat the arcane with suspicion. After all, the courses do not come cheap. Most two- or three-day non-religious programmes will set you back by anywhere between Rs 12,000 and Rs 25,000.

"Most of the time, personal investment in education ends with a job," says Pallavi Jha, chairperson and managing director, Walchand PeopleFirst, which runs the Dale Carnegie Centers in India. It can no longer remain so. As India tries to work its way up the competitiveness ladder, it will need competitive employees, self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs. This is where PITPs could stand them in good stead. After all, as Garelli puts it, the future is not what it used to be.

Program Yourself

Dale Carnegie Training



Franklin Covey South Asia



TMI Associates



Milt Foundation



Art of Living



Note: The list is not exhaustive

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