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Learning and Development | 6 Min Read

Understanding Learning Agility: Key to Leadership Success

Learning Agility-Fact or Fad

When I first came across the term ‘Learning Agility’, I was not sure if it’s just a passing trend or an upcoming trend. But the reality is, it is an existing trend which is here to stay for a long time. Anyone who has any corporate work experience can just look back and observe that ‘learning agility’ is the key skill that defines high performers – people who seem to be sailing smoothly in their career without getting stressed or overwhelmed no matter how difficult a task is handed to them.

This is especially true for freshers, who have just entered the corporate world and need to learn fast to keep up with people who have some work experience. When you are new in a job, you need to learn new skills, tools and get used to the way of working in that organization. The learning curve is getting steeper and new employees are expected to start performing tasks independently almost immediately.

Need for Learning Agility

The world is rapidly moving away from institutionalized education that is provided in colleges and formal education after school is getting replaced by people learning mostly on the job. In such a fast-changing scenario, how are organizations supposed to know if a person is fit for a job role? Let’s think more long term. How are organizations supposed to know if a candidate will succeed at his/her job role and prove to be a high potential? After all every employee that an organization hires is expected to contribute in the organization’s growth and one day lead it.

Keeping up with the changing paradigm of learning, a new kind of talent is proving to become more and more essential by the day. This new talent is called ‘Learning Agility’.

We have found that learning agility is the leading predictor of success, number one above intelligence and education!

Laszlo Bock
Former Senior Vice President HR of Google

When you look at job openings today, the number of jobs requiring data analytics, coding, and software development skills is staggering. You can barely find a job that simply requires soft skills such as verbal ability, basic numerical skills or communication skills. This is because any job that requires performing basic repetitive tasks are getting automated. This a source of concern for individuals who do not have any technical skill sets and are from a non-tech educational background. The old-age thinking of working as per one’s educational training is hindering the ability of people to learn new skills on their own. The siloed thinking of people that makes them stick to a certain type of job role is going to be a major cause of unemployment in the future.

The present business environment is so fast-changing that businesses tell customers what they want and not the other way around. The whole trend of ‘keeping up’ with whatever new and exciting is happening and the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ is what is driving today’s global economy. Individuals that pride themselves in their ability to always be on top of things when it comes to being knowledgeable about the latest technological advancements are the kind of individuals companies are looking for– people looking forward to change, not those who shy away from it. Having the ability to foresee change before it takes place and adapting to it before others get a chance is a winning mantra that separates top performers from average ones.

The Learning Agility Advantage: How being Learning Agile contributes to individual, leadership and organizational success

Knowing how being learning agile makes a huge difference in your work performance- Let us compare two employees who joined their first job, have the same skill training and educational background but possess different levels of Learning Agility.

Mettl Learning agility

As you can clearly see, the employee with high learning agility is the dream employee every company is looking for, whereas the employee with low learning agility is on the verge of becoming obsolete in terms of driving organizational productivity and profitability. Employee B can be easily relied upon to take up leadership positions and is more dependable in terms of their present and future performance.

Measuring Learning Agility

Now that we have established beyond a shred of doubt, how important learning agility is for achieving individual, leadership and organizational success, its essential to know the competencies that define high learning agility.

An individual’s Learning Agility is dependent on their ability to learn as well as their inclination or orientation to learn. It’s not just high IQ or cognitive intelligence that determines if a person can learn a variety of things fast and in great depth. Behavior also plays a key role. Keeping this in mind, Mettl has devised a method for measuring a person’s Learning Agility based on two factors: ability and orientation.

  • Ability to learn: essential cognitive competencies that predisposes a person with the ability to learn quickly by identifying patterns, logical rules, and trends in new data.  
  • Orientation to learn: essential behavioral competencies that will predispose the respondent to learn new things faster than others.

Measuring Learning Ability

An individual’s ability to learn is determined by their fluid intelligence or their ability to learn new things from scratch and then apply that knowledge in different ways. Fluid intelligence can be measured with the help of abstract reasoning or spatial reasoning tests.

Learning Ability = Fluid Intelligence = Ability to discern patterns and linkages and ability to make fresh connections between different concepts.

Measuring Learning Orientation

An individual’s orientation to learn is determined by their behavioral attributes such as open-mindedness, drive for mastery, consciousness and inquisitiveness.

Learning Orientation = Open-mindedness + Inquisitiveness + Drive for Mastery + Consciousness = Essential behavioral competencies that will predispose the respondent to learn new things faster than others.

Developing Learning Agility

Just like any other skill or competency, an individual can learn to be learning agile by strengthening their fluid intelligence and by developing an interest in learning new things.

Mercer | Mettl’s Learning Agility Matrix

Any company can require employees with basic to a high level of Learning Agility. To identify the Learning Agility demand of every job role, industries and organizations, we have devised ‘Mettl Learning Agility Matrix’. This Matrix can be used to categorize job roles, industries and organizations based on their Learning Agility demand. As per this Matrix, we have identified 4 categories of Learning Agility, based on different permutations and combinations of learning ability and learning intent. The four categories are: average, enthusiastic, latent and high potential

Mettl Learning Agility Matrix is a matrix that measures an individual’s/organization’s Learning Agility and provides actionable insights needed to improve the organization’s performance and productivity

Mettl Learning Agility Matrix

The level of learning agility that any job role in any organization requires, determines the level of learning agility that employee’s working in that job role must possess. Journalism requires enthusiasts whereas accounting requires latents. The average level of learning agility that the workforce of an organization must have to succeed in their specific job roles determines the organizational learning agility demand.

Conclusion

Learning Agility is among the top skills that organizations look for while hiring and while selecting people who can take up leadership positions in the organization. Employees having high learning agility have proven to be high performers and high potentials. Organizations that are focusing on selecting and promoting learning agile talent are more future-ready and will have a much easier time adapting to technological, skill and business environment changes.

Originally published December 13 2018, Updated July 29 2020

Romila Kanchan

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