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Learning Agility: How to Measure it?

Before we share a formula to measure Learning Agility, it’s important to know what is Learning Agility and why this skill is so critical for professionals, leaders, and organizations.

What is Learning Agility?

Learning agility is the ability to continually and rapidly learn, unlearn, and relearn mental models and practices from a variety of experiences, people, and sources, and to apply that learning in new and changing contexts to achieve desired results. It is a mind-set and corresponding collection of practices that allow people to continually develop, grow, and utilize new strategies that will equip them for the increasingly complex problems they face in their organizations. 

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.''

Future Shock, Alvin Toffler (1970)

Way ahead of its time, Toffler had defined learning agility in simplistic terms. Even though the competency did not become popular back then, it has now become essential in modern-day organizations that want to invest in high potential employees to further the learning and development goals. Research by the Center of Creative Leadership suggests that there are certain behaviors that high learning-agile individuals commonly employ. While these behaviors may be easier for some due to personality, but anyone, with sufficient effortful practice, can employ them. As per the research, high learning agile individuals are very active organizational members. They are sociable and active, create new plans and ideas, are methodical perfectionists, and are not afraid to challenge others or express opinions. Further, learning-agile individuals seem to be more resilient, generally calmer and at ease than their less agile counterparts, suggesting that learning-agile individuals not only seek out new and challenging situations that may serve as learning experiences but also manage these challenges effectively, allowing learning to occur.

What Is the Need for Learning Agility?

Since present-day organizations are becoming more complex and dynamic due to increasingly turbulent and fast-changing business, learning agility or mental agility has become one of the most desired competencies for the recruits as well as existing employees.

An organization with a learning agile workforce has:

  • Improved employee productivity
  • Future-ready workforce
  • Increase in number of high potentials
  • Higher overall organizational productivity and profitability

A Peek into the Future of Workplace

top_skill_organizations_look_for_while_hiring_talent_how_to_recruit_the_top_talent

We often come across terms, such as Industry 4.0 – the next phase of the industrial revolution – and several forces are changing the corporate landscape at an unprecedented pace. What used to be stable and predictable is now dynamic and interconnected.

The future of jobs is being shaped by:

  • Technologies like AI, robotics (leading to automation),
  • Increased competition due to globalization and
  • A constant need to innovate
  • The younger generations pushing against traditional notions of work and demanding careers that look different

This has given rise to:

  •  Gig workers who by several estimates will constitute 50% of the global workforce in the next 5 years
  • Multiple generations at workforce with widely differing personal and professional objectives

And all this is unfolding in a world that is digitally connected and smaller than ever before. The evolving landscape is challenging HR to not only to keep up but to stay relevant in today’s talent economy

Work tasks are becoming novel and require strong analytical and interpersonal skills. Jobs that require employees to do manual and repetitive work are disappearing fast. Automation is taking care of work tasks that are repetitive and do not need the use of high cognitive abilities or human touch. As businesses transform to meet changing customer demands and technology enables automation of jobs that are simple and repetitive, a lot of present jobs will go out of existence, and many new jobs will come into existence. Additionally, most of the jobs will transform to accommodate changing customer demands. To be able to keep up with the change, organizations need to develop a future-ready workforce that can be trained on futuristic skills.

The ratio of Man-Machine Working Hours 2018 vs. 2022

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World Economic Forum data on the new technologies and in what proportion they will be adopted worldwide by companies.

When we deep dive into the implication of this data, we see changes happening at a fundamental level – at the level of job roles, skills, and competencies. The fundamental skills required for most jobs are increasingly getting executed by machines. This change is happening as we speak, and in the next three years, almost 40% of most jobs can be performed fairly well by machines. And it will hardly take time for this mix to skew exponentially towards machines, with constant optimization of machine learning algorithms and the overabundance of data and processing power. This is the real challenge. So, what skills are relevant?

Skills: The Currency of Future of Work

Numerous jobs will become redundant and new roles requiring new skills will emerge. Some studies estimate that about 58 million new job roles will require reskilling by 2022. But a broad clustering of the new roles reveals that they will be around technology, organization development, and people and culture.  The new skills and roles support not only the technology disruption but most drivers of Industry 4.0 that we saw earlier.

You need people/social skills to manage a multi-gen diverse workforce.

You need focused and targeted L&D initiatives to drive the adoption of new skills to innovate and create leadership muscle to manage the increasing number of freelancers and gig workers.

So now that we know why we need to reskill and what skills we need to reskill on, we need to understand how quickly people can pick up on training. Do they have the ability/willingness to learn new skills and apply them to unfamiliar situations? The good news is, with rapid advancements in the science of assessments, we can now measure this objectively using one of the most effective L&D solutions, i.e., Learning Agility.

The Willingness to Learn

In a world of constant business and technological disruption, the desire to know more and learn new skills in order to survive and improve as per the change has become crucial. Achieving business results without learning new strategies and models has become next to impossible. Constant learning not only helps businesses but individuals who are career-driven and aim for higher roles of responsibilities. The willingness to learn has multifold benefits.

  • Provides career growth and promotion opportunities
  • Enhances the readiness to face challenges and uncertainty
  • Assists in innovation and ideation
  • Improves flexibility and adaptability

How to Measure Learning Agility?

In the past, we have tried to predict an individual’s potential for future success based exclusively on past performance and demonstrated skills and abilities. However, this approach is inherently flawed. Research reveals that fundamentally different behaviors are required across organizational levels and that the practices that are effective at one level may or may not hold for subsequent steps. Moreover, the rate of change within organizations is higher than ever. Thus, leaders are always required to adapt. When discussing the issue of long-term potential then an individual’s current skill-set is of secondary importance to his/her ability to learn new knowledge, skills, and behaviors that will equip him/her to respond to future challenges. As a result, our focus must shift to finding and developing individuals who are continually able to give up skills, perspectives, and ideas that are no longer relevant and learn new ones that are.

Keeping this in mind, Mercer | Mettl has devised a method for measuring a person’s Learning Agility based on two factors: ability and orientation.

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

measure_learning_agility_how_to_recruit_the_top_talent

To accurately and reliably predict the Learning Agility of an individual, it is essential to measure both the ability and orientation to learn. This method of measuring Learning Agility is based on extensive research, which includes a review of literature from peer-reviewed journals, as well as qualitative data collection and interviews from subject matter experts (SMEs).

Measuring Learning Ability

An individual’s ability to learn is determined by his/her fluid intelligence or the 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 the ability to make fresh connections between different concepts.

Measuring Learning Orientation

An individual’s orientation towards learning is determined by his/her 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.

Ren Jones, owner of Rennovate It, shares how learning ability and intent/orientation are both needed to be learning agile. Learning ability is not weighted more or less heavily than learning intent, but rather, they are both necessary for a learner. For learning to occur, the learner must have varying degrees of intent and ability, the necessary levels of each depend on each other. For instance, if an employee has a lower learning ability, they will need a higher level of intent/orientation to help them comprehend the new information. If an employee has low intent, they will need a higher amount of ability to help them catch on. The best employee would be one with a healthy balance of both ability and intent.”

Mettl Learning Agility Matrix

Any company can require employees with fundamentals to a high level of Learning Agility. To identify the demand for Learning Agility for every job role, industries, and organizations, we have devised the ‘Mercer | Mettl’s 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 four categories of Learning Agility, based on different permutations and combinations of learning ability and learning intent. The four types are average, enthusiastic, latent, and high potential.

learning_agility_matrix_how_to_recruit_the_top_talent

 

Mercer | Mettl’s 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.

 

Average Learners

 

Who Is an Average Learner?

An average learner is an individual having average levels of both fluid intelligence (ability) and behavioral traits that support a Learning Agile mindset (intent)

When Do You Need an Average Learner?

A job role, industry, or organisation requires average learners if the job mandates performing routine, non-novel, and straightforward tasks.

e.g., Data entry, KPO/BPO

Enthusiastic Learners

Who Is an Enthusiastic Learner?

An enthusiastic learner is an individual having an average level of fluid intelligence (ability) and above-average level of behavioral skills that supports a Learning Agile mindset (intent)

When Do You Need an Enthusiastic Learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands enthusiastic learners if it involves performing work that requires creativity, people skills, passion, expertise in their fields, and innovative thought process.

e.g., Journalism, Media & Entertainment, Photography

Latent Learners

Who Is a Latent Learner?

A latent learner is an individual having an above-average level of fluid intelligence (ability) and the average level of behavioral traits that supports a Learning Agile mindset (intent)

When Do You Need a Latent Learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands latent learners if it involves performing work that requires attention to detail, focus, and perseverance, performing complicated routine tasks and strong cognitive abilities.

e.g., Accounting, Banking

High Potential Learners

Who Is a High Potential Learner?

A high potential is an individual having both: very high level of fluid intelligence (ability) and behavioral traits that support a Learning Agile mindset (intent).

When Do You Need a High Potential Learner?

A job role, industry, or organization demands high potential learners if it involves performing work that requires very strong interpersonal, cognitive, analytical, problem-solving, logical thinking, and decision-making skills. High potentials are required when the nature of work is very complicated, novel and has high stakes attached to it.

e.g., CXO and leadership roles, stock market trading, management consultant

mettl_learning_agility_matrix_how_to_recruit_the_top_talent

Learning Agility is a meta-concept reflecting the constellation of an individual’s cognitive ability and behavioral predisposition. Outcomes of High Learning Agility includes the ability to make a smooth transition between different roles as per the role/company requirement, having a high potential for career advancements and better job performance due to the constant addition of new skills and knowledge.

Business Impact of Using Learning Agility Assessment

According to Mercer | Mettl’s State of Workplace Learning and Development 2020, Training Effectiveness Significantly Increases when Organizations Measure Learning Ability of Employees Before the Training

Our research indicates 51% of organizations that use learning agility matrix have more successful training programs as it helps in identifying the training needs of employees effectively.  Meanwhile, organizations that do not invest in analyzing the mental agility of their workforce have a low training effectiveness of 35%. Learning Agility Matrix gives insight into which employees can be trained and which skills can they be easily trained on. This cumulative intel assists L&D departments to make customized development plans that increase the training effectiveness.

It is important to note here that since present-day organizations are becoming more complex and dynamic due to increasingly unstable and rapidly changing business, Learning Agility has become one of the most desired competencies for the recruits as well as existing employees. Organizations need to assess the mental agility of potential hires and existing employees to ensure that they can keep up with changing job role demands. Job descriptions need to mention that the employee must be capable of ‘upskilling’ themselves and learning on-the-job to take care of future job tasks. During job interviews, candidates should be asked to solve problems or accomplish tasks that they have never attempted before to assess how comfortable they are in dealing with change.

How Can Mercer | Mettl Help in Creating a Learning Agile Workforce

About the Client

Mercer | Mettl worked with a leading financial services company specializing in pensions, investments, double counseling, with service offices across South America. The organization has departments such as commercial, customer service, and technology, among others. The company encompasses everything from financial security to financial education program, with specialized focus on various aspects such as multi-affiliation and programmed withdrawal. The client on the lookout for a psychometric assessment platform to enhance its HR processes.

Problem Statement

The company wanted to speed up the recruitment process by replacing the traditional pen-and-paper tests as these tests did not yield credible outcomes and were time-consuming. Additionally, the psychologists took up to five days to deliver the test reports, which used to cause delays to the entire process of recruitment. Hence, the company needed to adopt a modern and reliable approach.

Solution

The company came across learning agility test during Mercer | Mettl’s demo and liked its interesting elements such as result, people, and mental agility. At the same time, tools like differentiator and response-style negated the ability of the candidates to find answers on the internet. With many modules within the learning agility tool, the company found Mercer | Mettl a comprehensive platform with a broad spectrum of tests. The assessment is now used as a filter in the selection process.

Impact

The assessments helped in evaluating the opportunities and strengths of the hires. The financial conglomerate also applied this test in developing its existing workforce in conjunction with the talent matrix to identify high potential. The learning agility test helped in streamline the selection process, which in turn assisted in influencing both internal and external clients. The process that took around 5 days could now be completed within a day. The recruitment cycle significantly reduced to 20 days from about three months.

Originally published December 6 2018, Updated June 16 2020

Megha Singh

Written by

A writer at heart, Megha has been in the content industry for 4 years. Starting her career from print, her journey spans across IT, legal and consulting industries. She has been associated with Mercer | Mettl as Assistant Manager, Content Marketing for 2 years.

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