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Learning Agility: Everything you need to know about it

During the peak of the pandemic, several companies found themselves in a situation where they didn’t know what to do. Some waited for a solution to arise and eventually vanished, while a few moved out of their comfort zone and figured out how to solve the situation. Most tried to capitalize on every opportunity they got during the crises and evolved stronger.

For instance, Shree Shakti Enterprise, a Walmart supplier dealing in essential Kitchenware, had to close all their three manufacturing units during the lockdown due to low consumption and sales. However, instead of panicking, they ventured into uncharted territory by tapping into the need of the moment. From sensor-based sanitizer dispensers to automatic foot sanitizers and handsfree sanitizers, Shree Shakti started building products that could be useful during the crisis. It received 850+ orders and had Rs. 1.15 crore sales during the lockdown. 

The agile mindset helped businesses like Shree Shakti Enterprise respond promptly to the changing market demands and flourish during the crisis.  If the same agility is applied to the learning and development of employees, a company can withstand any business turmoil. Post-covid, the need for a workforce that can adapt to the changing situations and execute the business leader’s plans has increased. So, learning agility has become the core focus of many organizations to prepare their employees to adapt and respond to unpredictable market conditions with confidence. 

What is the meaning of learning agility?

Learning agility is the willingness to learn from experiences and apply those learnings to new situations. It is the core capability to develop effective behaviours and keep pace with changing situations.

Speed and flexibility are two important components of learning agility. Speed enables employees to take quick action, and flexibility helps them be open to new concepts. 

Learning agility is the best way to future-proof your employees from unforeseen circumstances that might hinder their path to fulfilling the business goals. So your employees need to learn, unlearn and relearn continuously. They need to develop high-order thinking, problem-solving ability, and meta-skills to survive in the Post-COVID era to address the disruption caused due to digital acceleration. 

Examples of learning agility 

Below are two classic learning agility examples of how leveraging speed, variety, and depth helped companies make employees future-ready. 

Example 1 

One of India’s renowned jewelers was finding it challenging to keep employees upskilled and updated with the changing trends. Dependency on the external trainers was affecting in-house employee productivity. So, they embraced an agile learning strategy and moved from in-person training to a completely digital training model. 

By taking the agile learning approach, the company could reduce training costs and enable faster dissemination of information/knowledge to keep employees upskilled to handle unforeseen challenges. 

Employees could stay abreast with the changing policies/product updates and act in real-time to offer utmost satisfaction to the clients. This helped the company serve their client better and improve its bottom line. 

Example 2 

An Indonesian-based pawn broking company noticed that the new hires are taking a lot of time to reach full productivity due to the unstructured onboarding process followed. Hence they embedded learning agility into their onboarding process to amplify time to productivity by introducing a learning platform. A learning platform created a 4-week onboarding journey to onboard employees quickly. They could track learning progress and ensure workplace satisfaction through constant feedback. This agile approach helped them amplify time to productivity and reduce onboarding costs by 40%. 

Why is learning agility important? 

Agile learning has a profound impact on performance, so several companies are incorporating it in their learning strategy. 

60% of companies experience growth in profits after adopting an Agile approach.

Agile learners are not afraid of risks or challenges; they are comfortable in uncomfortable scenarios. Learning agility helps employees create a mindset that propels them to seek challenges, ask for feedback, ponder over shortcomings, improve and grow. Learning agility has a positive impact on both the employee and the organization’s success. 

With uncertainty becoming the new normal Post-COVID, strategies that led to success earlier now result in stagnation. Success is the destination that only the adaptable, innovative, and resilient employees can reach in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. 

Learning agility is crucial for both the team and the leaders. Leaders who have not walked on the learning agility path might find it challenging to manage change. In fact, they might not see the change in the first place; this might affect both the leader and the team’s performance. So it is pivotal to cultivate a learning agility culture for both the leader and the team so that they can unlock the lesson of experience when they get stuck in challenging situations. 

What is covered in the agile learning process?

Agile learning is a positive approach that motivates employees to look at challenges as opportunities rather than risks and problems. However, it is essential to set the process right to create an agile learning environment that makes developing new skills much more accessible for your employees 

Here are the points that need your attention while implementing an agile learning process:

  • Set goals – Have clear goals and objectives before commencing the agile learning process
  • Identify the skills – Identify and benchmark the skills needed to be fully agile
  • Develop agile learning programs – Curate content and design learning modules that are aligned with the company’s goals and required skills.
  • Executive buy-in – Help employees see the benefit of being fully agile and what impact it will have on their careers. 
  • Encourage communication – Move beyond being silos for learning to be fully agile and boost collaborative productivity through encouraging communication within the team. 
  • Review and revise – Track the agile learning process and make timely changes to ensure the agile learning approach is successful. 

Learning Ability ≠ Learning Agility

Without underestimating ability, we have to first understand the difference between ability and agility. The latter starts where the former ends. Ability takes you to a certain point. Thereafter, Agility becomes important.

Learning ability is more IQ-based, whereas learning agility is behavioral and relates to your emotional intelligence. Learning ability could well be hard-wired, but learning agility can be developed and enhanced.

You can teach ability, but you can not teach agility. Agility is something you can only inculcate, and develop, through continuous learning and training with a sense of awareness and involvement toward things that surround your ecosystem.

Three essential components of learning agility

According to Harvard Business Publishing, organizations need leaders with learning agility in order to move ahead successfully in volatile times. The question is, can we teach someone to be a more agile learner? They say yes, and have identified some key elements that could help someone boost their learning agility. These capabilities are essential to successfully lead businesses in today’s VUCA operating environment, and essentially comprise three components:

1. Potential to Learn  

The competencies that make you successful in a specific role today might not be sufficient tomorrow. A learning agile person has an open and receptive mindset to constantly experience new things to reach new goals.

2. Motivation to Learn

Learners need to be engaged and inspired by the learning process for learning to take hold because changing ingrained behaviors and long-held habits is hard work.

3. Adaptability to Learn

 If you remember, sometime back Google and Procter & Gamble had organized an employee swap — for about two months, their marketing and HR employees worked at the other organization to see how they managed operations differently. Once their tour was completed, they brought those ideas back to their respective companies. Instead of following a business-as-usual routine, learning agile employees have an adaptability to learn attitude, consistently working on improving their skills.

Agile learners are proactive; they look for opportunities to learn and experiment with new approaches.

Successful companies are the ones that harness Learning Agility to rapidly adapt, adopt and innovate

According to a report, by 2030, automation could eliminate 73 million jobs in U.S. and about 48 – 54 million US workforce may need to change their occupations.

This could call for a push towards cross-functional promotion from the product side and a transition from individual contributor to a team manager on the leadership side.

Most companies use one or other performance management systems to track employees, but that could well mislead at times. True, with limited budget at hand, you can’t spend significant dollars on everyone — so to whom do you give this extra time, money and attention? That is the million dollar question (or a few thousand one).

One way is to spend a major portion of your learning & development budget on the most learning-agile person. What does that mean anyway? How do you determine learning agility? The best answer could be “Those who can learn on the go — learn while they work, work while they learn.”

The problem is, most of our promotion criteria are based on past performances rather than on whether employees possess the skills needed to achieve business targets. Whereas we need human resources who are not only accomplished but are also agile learners. Organizations especially need leaders with learning agility in order to move ahead successfully in volatile times.

A recent Korn Ferry study says executives with high levels of learning agility are 5X times more likely to stay highly engaged. And that companies with highly agile individuals have 25% higher profit margins than their peer group. Not that organizations do not realize this clear return on investment. According to the same report, individuals with high learning agility are promoted 2X times faster in current times.

5 factors of learning agility 

So what makes up learning agility?

Korn Ferry has stated five factors of learning agility:

5 factors of learning agility copy 2

Mental agility 

Mental agility is more akin to street smart rather than book smart. The best example is those best-performing salespeople who can play on the USPs of a product. They make you swipe the card with the power of their words. Such employees are curious, and they constantly explore new strategies and techniques to excel in their selling game. Employees with mental agility embrace complexity, stay inquisitive and make fresh connections. 

People agility 

People’s agility consists of characteristics like communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. Such employees have a high level of emotional intelligence and are capable of bringing out the best in others. So people often approach them during crises. For example, employees with great leadership qualities who are good at navigating difficult situations. Team members often prefer them during mock calls or stress testing. Individuals with people agility are constructive towards others and can seamlessly work through conflict. They are great collaborators and are capable of obtaining insights from various perspectives.  

Result agility 

Individuals with result agility can deliver consistently in new or challenging situations. They are often calm and composed. Such employees do not give up and try to reach their goals even in unfamiliar situations. For instance, the best-performing SEO specialists try to keep up with Google’s ever-changing algorithms and explore different approaches to ensure the website ranks well. They do not panic even if they see a dip in the website traffic. Instead, they experiment and collaborate with other teams like the content writers and marketing team to improve the ranking and traffic of the website. 

Such professionals keep enhancing their knowledge to respond to various challenges that come their way. 

Change agility 

Change agility is quite similar to result agility. Those with change agility are experimental, and they do not hesitate in walking on unknown paths to solve a problem. They aren’t afraid of failure; such employees learn from their experiences and keep trying until they succeed. The best example of change agility is the top-performing customer success executives who do not give up despite not getting referrals. They change their approach and try again to get quality referrals from successful clients. 

Individuals with change agility are always willing to learn something new. They integrate learning into the flow of work to address any hurdle that comes their way easily 

Self-awareness 

Employees who achieve a high score in self-awareness know their strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. They take feedback to get better and excel at their job.  The best example is the employees who are aware of the possibilities of improving. They often note their goals and track their progress through objective assessments. 

Employees with low learning agility vs employees with high learning agility 

Agile learning can bring a notable difference in work performance.

How?

Well, let’s compare employees with low learning agility to employees with high learning agility to see that:

  • Employees with low learning agility hesitate to move out of their comfort zone and perform new tasks. While employees with high learning agility confidently develop expertise in performing new tasks quickly.
  • Employees with low learning agility fail to add value as they blindly follow instructions. While employees with high learning agility move beyond the horizon, take initiatives,  experiment, and innovate to always add value. 
  • Employees with low learning agility don’t like change or challenges. While employees with high learning agility put their best foot forward during challenges or change. They invest time in upskilling themselves for unleashing their full potential 
  • Employees with low learning agility are confined to present business requirements. While employees with high learning agility foresee future requirements and accordingly learn new skills to always be job-ready. 
  • Employees with low learning agility fail to cope up with new processes and so end up taking more time in completing tasks. Employees with high learning agility embrace the latest tools and upgraded skills so they can do more work in less time. 
  • Employees with low learning agility need to be supervised while employees with high learning agility can monitor their work and fill the performance gap in real-time. 

Various aspects of learning agility  

Below are the different facets of learning agility that you must consider if you want to be an agile learner:

Challenging the status quo 

It is important to question the status quo, to discover new and innovative ways of doing things. Most employees feel bound by their status in the organization and are afraid of challenging the long-held assumptions. This stereotype needs to be changed. 

For that, one needs to have new experiences and grow the knowledge base of understanding. High learning-agile individuals generate fresh ideas through their ability to view issues from multiple perspectives. They ask questions and even voice their opinions until they fully agree with a point of view. 

Learning from experiences

Overcoming an unfamiliar challenge is an experience. To learn from such challenges, it is important to be calm, focused, and engaged. Further, one needs to efficiently handle the stress that accompanies such uncertainties and adapt swiftly to perform better. Keen observation, listening skills, and the ability to process data quickly are of paramount importance here. Doing so enhances the capability of high learning-agile individuals to quickly pick up new skills and deliver better performance compared to their less agile peers. 

Well, just having new experiences doesn’t ensure that one will learn from that experiences. It is essential to garner feedback and invest focused energy processing information to have a better understanding of one’s assumptions and behavior. 

Venturing into unknown territory

The next core component of learning agility is venturing into unknown territory and putting oneself in an unfamiliar environment to try new things. Agile learners are curious, adventurous, and comfortable with progressive risk. They welcome risks that lead to opportunity, not just thrill-seeking. 

They don’t hesitate in volunteering for jobs and roles where success is not always guaranteed, and in fact, where failure is a possibility. Learning-agile individuals never miss on any opportunity to learn, and they amass confidence by stretching themselves outside their comfort zone, resulting in a cycle of perpetual success.

Traits that boost overall agile learning process

Below are a few traits essential for making any agile learning initiative successful:

Determination 

Implementing an agile approach isn’t a walk in the park. It needs unwavering determination from both the leaders and the employees. 

The transition to agile learning can be a cumbersome task as the L&D must not only design courses but also review and revise it regularly. For example, an L&D leader creates a playbook for the pre-sales team on strategies and techniques, send prospecting emails and make cold call but do not update it. The strategies ane techniques keep changing in the sales domain. So, L&D leaders must take real-time action and keep updating the playbook with unwavering determination. Even employees need be determined to complete the courses and analyze their own performance to get better at their job

It is crucial to look at failure through a positive lens rather than giving up on the goal of setting up an agile process.

Once the framework is successfully established, it can reap fruitful results. So, it is pivotal to set the foundation right and secure executive buy-in for a smooth transition to an agile learning culture. 

Stay organized 

Being organized makes the transition to learning agility easy. It is imperative to streamline the agile learning process by setting goals, defining principles, planning the process, and measuring the impact.

Makes sure the executive and leaders adhere to the agile learning principles and follow it diligently. Agile learners who are well organized tend to adapt to changes effortlessly and succeed in producing the best results. 

Commitment to continuous learning

A true commitment to continuous learning is essential to implement agile learning at scale. It is crucial to analyze and spot the hurdles in agile learning and make efforts to address those hurdles. 

The importance of continuous learning is often overlooked by L&D professionals, which leads to unsatisfactory results. A business cannot become agile in a day. It needs to be handled incrementally with timely changes in proper intervals and delivering just-in-time learning. Maintaining transparency and having discussions about what went wrong and where the team has to walk an extra mile is imperative to improve the entire agile development process. 

How cultivating agile learning can enhance leadership qualities?

Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “Be the change you want to see” The leaders must adopt an agile mindset and lead by example.

Agile leaders exhibit great openness towards innovation. They are enthusiastic about revitalizing the processes and transforming the way things work to evolve with changing business environment. Rather than being impulsive and making knee-jerk decisions, agile leaders learn, listen and then react. Therefore it is crucial to develop agile leadership qualities and skills to pivot quickly and deal confidently with frequent disruptions. 

Leadership skills are changing at a fast pace. Learning agility helps develop those skills in real-time and exhibit new behavior to drive the team in a positive direction quickly. Leaders with the right skills can adapt to complex situations and guide their teams to work in new ways. Learning agility aids the leaders in facilitating change, empowering the team, and making a difference with their stellar performance. 

Best practices to organize agile learning

Learning requires an agile and receptive mindset. Anyone can become an agile learner and achieve success in the current VUCA world. 

Below are the best practices that can help cultivate a learning agility environment. 

Assessments to measure learning agility 

Learning agility is an important metric while focusing on the learning and development of employees. Companies can consider the 5 learning agility factors while measuring the learning agility of any employee. Using that as a base, you can assess the personality traits, abilities, emotional intelligence, and behavioural style to gauge the learning agility level of an individual. 

Developing meta-skills to deal with uncertainties

Meta-skill is the high-order skill that’s a catalyst for learning and building new skills quickly. Mastering meta-skills can help your employees navigate through uncertainties without any hassle. It is imperative to create a culture of continuous learning as we live in a transition era. An agile learner tries to cultivate meta-skills through self-paced learning or microlearning for developing a broad set of capabilities that can be applied in unforeseen circumstances. 

Collaboration through social learning to learn from colleagues

Collaboration plays a significant role in achieving a high level of learning agility. Collaboration helps in finding faster solutions to unforeseen problems. You can bring all your employees on one platform to brainstorm and address uncertain situations through social learning. For instance, disprz offers a social learning platform like Buzz where all the employees can post queries, discuss new strategies and discuss the plan of action to tackle various challenges. 

Make training accessible 

You can’t expect learners to be agile by offering only in-person instructor-led training. Employees need full control over their skill development and round-the-clock access to learning materials. 

With an AI-powered LXP, you can create a seamless digital learning experience where employees can access learning modules at any hour of the day. Moreover, it gives the flexibility to blend in-person training with interest-based learning. The AI in LXP  provides personalized and intelligent learning recommendations based on the job role, interest, and the employees’ learning preferences. With Disprz LXP, you can give your employees the flexibility to explore skills that interest them, all while driving learning initiatives that seamlessly blend with your employee’s flow of work.

Open the door to communication through two-way feedback 

A synergy between learners and L&D professionals can catapult the success of your learning agility culture implementation. Make feedback a two-way street where employees get feedback on their learning progress, and L&D can receive feedback on the learning modules they’ve designed. 

It is crucial to dive deep into analytics to determine if the learning agility approach delivers the desired outcomes. Are the executives putting their best foot forward and taking ownership in unfamiliar situations? Are the leaders able to foresee twists and turns to take necessary steps in real-time? With the help of the right analytics, you can answer these questions and provide data-based feedback to fill the performance gaps. 

Facilitate social learning 

A lot of valuable information can be transmitted through peer interactions. So setting up a social platform is essential to enhance learning agility and foster an environment where employees can learn from each other.

Social learning that engages employees from different teams in conversation not only boosts knowledge retention but also helps expand professional networks. Employees can share valuable resources and brainstorm new ideas to respond to different challenges confidently. 

Impact of learning agility on the appraisal process 

Agile learners are interested in evolving and are strategic thinkers willing to take chances and make changes. Such traits capture attention during the appraisal process and impact the performance review. 

An agile learner does not hesitate to take up new projects and explore new areas beyond what they have already established within their existing job roles if given the correct directions. 

Hence it is crucial to provide employees with a clear picture of the importance of learning agility and how it can impact their appraisal process to motivate them to be more agile in their learning approach.

The need of the hour: A continuous professional development platform to harness agility

Traditional L&D processes don’t harness learning agility. With millennials taking over and workplace environment evolving every other day, what organizations need at this stage is a comprehensive continuous learning and dynamic performance tracking mechanism which measures both tangible as well as intangible values an employee brings to the team.

On the other hand, if you want to contribute to your company’s agility, you have to remember that your job is not only to train people but to put in place programs and strategies which create a continuous learning environment.

The time has come to marry learning with working. Both of them are not separate. One of the hallmarks of a learning agile organization is that they infuse learning into daily work.

In today’s times, the major difference between successful people and those whose careers falter is their ability to make meaning from their experiences. That includes understanding the entrenched patterns of behavior and recognizing the fine nuances in different situations. These are the cognitive traits you could conveniently associate with someone who is learning agile, and shows the willingness and ability to learn throughout their careers, if not their entire lives.

Conclusion 

Learning agility helps your team capitalize on every opportunity that comes their way. It helps them develop the skills needed to survive in today’s volatile, uncertain, and unpredictable business world. When blended with the right learning solution, learning agility can help empower your employees to address any challenge or roadblock. Preview disprz, an all-in-one skilling suite to explore how it can help in making your employees future-ready. 

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