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Why-organizations-need-to-focus-on-learning-agility-assessments

Learning and Development | 10 Min Read

Why Organizations Need to Focus on Learning Agility Assessments

Introduction

The ongoing pandemic has brought to fore the importance of human adaptability. One of the key insights from the COVID-19 situation is that companies need to be resilient to tide over any crisis. What do organizations being resilient mean? Resilience refers to a company’s ability to survive and thrive despite VUCA events such as the current pandemic. At this point, one may ask what VUCA is?

Let’s go back in time to elucidate further. The year 1991 had brought unprecedented hardship to the US Army, for they lived in dire circumstances in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. These conditions were starkly different from the ones they faced ever before. Asymmetrical warfare and rough terrains appeared so overpowering that conducting standard military operations felt like a mammoth task. It was the first time that the U.S. military coined the term “VUCA” that would redefine the nature of war forever. 

VUCA stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. The acronym, which was coined to describe soldiers’ complexities, has become significant in corporate circles as organizations enter into a competitive environment distinguished by rapid, unforeseeable and constant evolution. From a business perspective, VUCA is a new reality and is here to stay. 

The skills landscape is fast evolving. The half-life of skills is abruptly decreasing, placing great emphasis on learning in today’s fast-paced era. Consequently, organizations are always looking for talented individuals that can keep abreast of fast-changing industry demands. For organizations to achieve consistent growth, it is imperative to hire a diverse workforce eager to learn new skills rapidly while unlearning those skills that will become irrelevant soon. However, it’s not as easy as it seems. To achieve this feat, organizations need to embrace learning agility to drive their hiring decisions. Learning agility is one of the most sought-after skills in today’s workplaces. Learning with an agile mindset is imperative for human-centered businesses to perform efficiently in the current environment.

What Is Learning Agility?

We are living in unprecedented times. In the foreseeable future, some of the most remarkable tech breakthroughs will become outdated. Learning to keep up in an ever-changing world of emerging technologies has become an utmost priority for employees and organizations. Learning agility in simple terms is the ability to draw on past experiences and eagerness to learn from those experiences and then applying that learning to perform effectively in unknown situations.

People who employ learning agile mindset:

  • Enjoy solving complex problems and challenges
  • Always seek out novelty for new experiences to learn from
  • Learn through different experiences
  • Perform to the best of their abilities

Learning-agile individuals are more likely to be resilient, creative and social. They don’t shy away from challenging the norms. The concept of learning agility has gained ground during the last few years and has been utilized by organizational executives and human-resource professionals for their talent decisions. This concept has been used to identify individuals who possess these skills – flexibility, willingness to learn and openness. A learning-agile individual is characterized by his /her high tolerance for ambiguity and propensity for curiosity, socializing, and innovation. Learning agility indicates a person’s adaptability and willingness to embrace the unknown. Specifically, it is aimed at predicting a person’s potential and performance in novel tasks.

Types of Learning Agility

Learning agility can be classified into four types:

Learning Agility Types

People agility refers to those highly self-aware individuals who are good at dealing with challenging situations and diverse people. They understand different perspectives and want to be a part of a diverse team instead of associating with a like-minded group. 

Mental agility refers to those individuals who prefer solving complex problems first, scrutinize issues, and identify patterns between different things.

Change agility refers to individuals who keep forging ahead despite the discomfort of a sudden change and choose an experimental approach to solve their problems.

Results agility refers to those ingenious individuals who are highly result-oriented and significantly impact others by delivering results in the first attempt and inspiring them. While many individuals may consistently provide good results in similar situations, a differentiating factor would be their ability to produce strong results in an unfamiliar and challenging position with the same consistency.

Being aware of the four classifications can enable supervisors and managers to perform effective resource allocation and assign roles carefully by permitting team members to be their most productive selves based on their learning agility profile.

Types of Learning Agility Profiles

Much like personality types, there are seven profiles created to identify people with high learning agility, and each profile includes a varied combination of strengths and developmental needs. Listed below is a summary of these learning agility profiles:

Troubleshooters

The most commonly prevailing profile, Troubleshooters (or problem solvers), take a new approach to a complex problem and work to sort it out with utmost precision and zeal. They can work independently, but they can also seek contribution from others to achieve their goals. They’ll utilize all the tools at their disposal to get the job done.

Trailblazers

They love entering uncharted territory and venturing into the unknown. Trailblazers are innovative and self-assertive individuals who are resolute in their determination to achieve their goals, come what may.

Thought-leaders

They’re the ones who ask and answer difficult questions, striving to get at the truth by any means necessary. They are progressive, knowledgeable and insightful. Given the typical scholarly role, they prefer working behind the scenes rather than on the leading end.

Pillars

Pillars are those creative individuals who need not reinvent the wheel but can enhance the wheel's performance. They believe that there’s always a scope for improvement and can prove that with the help of unique solutions. They’re highly focused and insightful individuals.

Diplomats

These individuals have mastered the art of conversation. They can have a smooth, effortless conversation in all of their social interactions as they can fine-tune their communication style following the situation.

Champions

Champions address conflicts and deal with confusing situations with optimism. They believe in righting the wrong, and inspiring their teams, sharing their success with everyone.

Energizers

Energizers are known for their go-getting attitude, who know that anything is possible with perseverance and a good company. They leave no stones unturned when it comes to getting the right things done.

The Role of Learning Agility in Management

In the present situation, modern organizations have to thrive in VUCA conditions, wherein unforeseen disruptions are compelling organizations to redefine their selection and development processes. These processes focus on identifying and encouraging a set of specific attributes that allow employees to tackle complexities, navigate through unchartered territories and perform consistently in unknown situations. Changing socio-economic environments affects the labor market, marking the need for new types of behavior and skills required for success. Consequently, new job categories are emerging, ousting the archaic ones. As modern organizations embrace complexity and uncertainty unprecedentedly, such as the current pandemic, an individual’s ability to be learning agile and adaptable has preceded everything else. 

What makes a good leader? There is no definitive answer to this most debated question. The reason for this is that nobody can create an objective list of ideal characteristics. However, compared to many candidates, people with high learning agility can become great managers. Having managers that are learning agile means that organizations will have leaders who can readily acquire new skills, treat their subordinates well and adapt to changing workplace dynamics.

Resilient, adaptable leaders are must-haves for every organization, considering that a staggering 88 percent of employees turn to their colleagues for insight and information. Some get overwhelmed by a sudden change, so being able to consult an agile leader is critical.

What is the learning agility assessment?

Till a few years back, talent assessment was based on two criteria, namely performance and potential. The performance was easily assessed through benchmarks to compare the performance of one individual to another. However, considering the potential was a bit tricky because it was subjective and more likely to lead toward human misjudgment. For instance, some individuals were assessed and labeled as high potential and made to quickly climb the corporate ladder even though they didn’t follow a performance-oriented approach. Hence, such discrepancies were easily resolved by replacing the age-old concept of potential with learning agility. 

What Is the Learning Agility Assessment?

A learning agility assessment is designed to recognize and develop high potential individuals. With these assessments, agile learners, who are essential for your organization’s success, can be easily identified and nurtured for ensuring future leadership success. A learning agility test takes an individual’s ability to learn and orientation to learning into consideration for identifying agile learners.

The learning agility assessment aims to identify individuals’ abilities to exhibit their fullest potential in relatively new or unfamiliar situations. Learning agility assessment takes high-level cognitive processing and behavioral aspects such as self-awareness, self-reflection, experimentation, self-improvement into consideration. Learning agility plays a pivotal role in modern workplace environments and is recognized as one of the most critical success factors for enhancing organizational productivity. People with high learning agility exhibit specific attributes and behaviors that enable them to embrace uncertainty and make the best out of any situation.

That's perhaps why market-leading organizations are keen on adopting learning agility measures for:

  • Hiring a future-ready force
  • Identifying high potentials
  • Creating significant learning and development programs

The process of measuring learning agility is much more objective than the mere concept of assessing the ‘potential.’ It is easily trackable, observable and describable. The better one becomes in understanding and implementing learning agility; the better one will assess talents. The market is abundant with several psychometric tests and assessment tools to evaluate learning agility’s core elements. However, learning agility assessment tests that measure a combination of learning agility and orientation are considered to predict an individual’s learning agility more accurately and reliably. The test results help identify learning agility gaps and critical parameters for measuring an individual’s potential.

The learning agility matrix

The learning agility matrix

The old models of learning agility were performance-oriented as they could only label a person as low/medium/high agile based on their work performance. While they shed some light on their office dynamics, they didn’t measure a person’s capacity to grasp new things with ease and gain expertise at various subjects by investing considerably less time and effort. 

Knowing the mechanics of assessing learning agility is just the beginning of harnessing this distinctive skill set. Realizing where there’s a need for learning agility within an organization is critical. The Mercer | Mettl learning agility matrix is designed to address that need, assess and recognize this skill in new and present employees and determine their learning preferences.

The easy-to-comprehend matrix consists of four categories:

  • Average learners: perfectly suited to roles that entail straightforward tasks and routine work (e.g., data entry operators).
  • Enthusiastic Learners: ideally suited to roles where high-level creative and behavioral skills are required (e.g., writing).
  • Latent Learners: known for their high intelligence, these individuals can perform well in complex work environments (e.g., detail-oriented accounting jobs).
  • High Potential Learners: these individuals are good at decision-making, problem-solving and interpersonal skills. They are ideally suited to high-stakes roles (e.g., leadership roles).

Mercer-Mettl’s-Learning-Agility-Matrix

Understanding the skills, capabilities, and developmental needs that define an individual is the cornerstone of creating an idle team where every member feels motivated, engaged, content, and productive.

Competencies to Measure Learning Agility

Organizations worldwide are realizing that employees of all levels need to be learning agile. Learning agility is the most potent indicator of an individual’s potential to excel in their existing and future job roles. Without an agile learning workforce, one can’t even think of increasing and sustaining organizational productivity. Considering this, Mercer| Mettl has devised a method for assessing a person’s learning agility based on two factors: ability and orientation.

Ability to learn

A  person’s ability to learn is evaluated by his/her fluid intelligence or the ability to learn new things from the beginning and then apply it in different ways. Fluid intelligence can be measured with the help of abstract reasoning or spatial reasoning tests.

Orientation to learning

Learning orientation refers to critical behavioral competencies that will predispose the respondent to learn new things faster than others. An individual’s orientation to learn is determined by their behavioral attributes such as open-mindedness, drive for mastery, consciousness and curiosity. By measuring both the ability and orientation to learning, one can accurately predict an individual’s learning agility.

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

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

Evaluation of Competencies Needed to be Learning Agile

How Mercer | Mettl Can Help

Mercer | Mettl learning agility assessment is a surefire way to assess, identify and develop your high potentials. Inherently, self-reflective, high potentials are agile learners. They tend to try their hardest in every project they take, objectively analyzing their past experiences and applying past knowledge in new work conditions. The Mettl learning agility assessment helps you identify these agile learners, who will play a pivotal role in an organization’s success. When presented with the opportunity to learn, not all individuals are on the same page. There are noteworthy differences in each person’s learning potential. The learning agility test is a comprehensive assessment that broadly measures three dimensions, which are further mapped to twenty competencies. 

Mettl’s learning agility test is critically important for generating a talent pool for identifying high potentials (including early career, emerging talent), special job assignments, succession planning and training and development programs. These tests will help you make better hiring decisions for roles where learning agility is a fundamental requirement. Most importantly, you can identify existing employees who are likely to succeed in international assignments. Moreover, the learning agility assessment test is designed as an adjunct to team-building exercises. 

Whether you’re looking for a customized version of this test or looking for a new test build according to your requirements, you can always reach out to our subject matter experts and discuss your requirements. Now that you know the imperative necessity of learning agility assessment, it’s mission-critical to create a new learning agility roadmap for your organization.

The key profiles for which the learning agility test can be used are:

  • All CXO level roles
  • President/ Vice President/ Director
  • Mid-management level roles
  • Profiles involving quick and effective strategic thinking
  • Entry-level profiles across industries
  • Mid managerial profiles across industries
  • R&D profiles across industries

The learning agility assessment questions are divided into four sections:

The learning agility assessment questions are divided into four sections

Mettl learning agility assessment primarily measures four significant abilities, further mapped to five competencies each.

Mettl learning agility assessment primarily measures four significant abilities, further mapped to five competencies each

Understanding learning agility assessment outcomes

Our comprehensive assessment report can be used to delve deeper into organizational aspects of ensuring workforce agility:

Understanding learning agility assessment outcome

FAQs

Is learning agility a skill?

Learning agility is considered as the most crucial skill needed to achieve success in a career or business. Learning agility is vital in industries, companies, and roles where there are constant changes and complexity.

How do you show learning agility?

Listed below are core attributes of learning agile individuals: 

  • Someone who exhibits behavioral adaptability, skills, critical thinking skills and comfort with ambiguity is an agile learner
  • They can handle change and navigate your way through difficult times
  • They always take time for self-reflection and self-evaluation
  • They quickly pick up new skills at work
  • They can reflect on their performance and articulate a change for the next time

What is the learning ability test?

Learning ability assessments have become a critical part of many organizations’ recruitment processes. They are designed to assess the learning abilities of candidates. Learning ability is an essential trait in the workplace because individuals are expected to become familiar, possibly on their own, with the systems, responsibilities and procedures associated with a role. 

How many aspects go into learning agility?

Human beings are agile in varying capacities. Not everyone possesses the same skills in each dimension; everybody has their strengths and weaknesses. There are five dimensions (aspects) of learning agility: People Agility, Mental Agility, Change Agility, Results Agility and Self-awareness.

Why is leadership agility necessary?

Organizations that have the willingness and capacity to adapt in uncertain times will emerge victorious with time. Market leaders have started adopting management approaches that promote innovation and creativity. These agile approaches prompt leaders to navigate faster in a VUCA world. Many companies make the mistake of opting for agile transformation without undergoing a shift in conventional leadership mindset, leading to failure. After all, putting a square peg into a round hole is an exercise in futility.

A new leadership model is imperatively necessary in today’s times. If we look at business statistics for the U.S. markets, we’ll find that:

  • Since 2000, more than 50 % of Fortune 500 companies have ceased to exist
  • the CEO turnover rate in 2018 was perhaps the highest in ten years
  • 75% of all VC-funded startups falter so severely that it is now a matter of survival 
  • Currently, about 33 % of small businesses have gone bankrupt
  • Two out of three employees feel exhausted at work

These are just a few of the many troubling stats that shed some light on the current situation. The rise in technological advancements and aspirational consumers are influencing the modern business market. What does it imply? The situation calls for leaders to become agile and build agile teams that would make organizations nimbler than ever.

That brings us to the question of what is leadership agility?

In simple terms, leadership agility is the ability to embrace change and make smart and substantial decisions in a rapidly changing world. Agile leadership is synonymous with traits such as forward-thinking, flexibility, ability to navigate new business challenges, team building, and leading organizational change. Leadership agility is of the utmost importance because it helps chart a course of action for corporate growth.

Conclusion

In times of volatility, building an agile system that will outlast the pandemic is of paramount importance. Learning agility plays a crucial part in today’s dynamic, uncertain and complex business environments. An individual’s cognitive ability and behavioral predisposition can speak volumes about his/her potential. Analysis of learning agility assessment results enables candidates to smoothly transition between different roles as per the role/company requirement, helping them showcase their potential for career advancements and perform better due to the constant expansion of new skills and knowledge. Mercer | Mettl’s competency-based assessments can be customized for each job role and benchmarked as per industry standards. The insights derived from its detailed candidate diagnostic report can help create a future-ready workforce.

Customized Solutions For Measuring the Learning Agility of Your Workforce

Simplify your recruitment process with customized Mercer | Mettl's Learning Agility Assessments to ensure that candidates have the required knowledge & skills.

Originally published September 24 2020, Updated September 24 2020

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Abhilash works with the Content Marketing team of Mercer|Mettl. He has been contributing his bit to the world of online business for some years now. Abhilash is experienced in content marketing, along with SEO. He’s fond of writing useful posts, helping people, traveling, and savoring delicacies.

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