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Article No.: 12-2

Article Title: Why Organizations Should Concentrate on Learning Agility

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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No matter how conceptually intriguing a topic may be, 21st century organizations have limited time and resources, which must be targeted on areas that will bring a return on investment.  This is one of the reasons why I believe learning agility is a critical factor for organizations today.
 
The world is becoming smaller, more interconnected and intelligent, resulting in
the need for companies to have employees who can manage change in order
to survive and thrive.  Employees with learning agility can ensure business agility through their development of improved processes and systems.  New knowledge is everywhere around us, and it can, if managed well, generate excitement and employee engagement as well as bottom line success.
 
A 2010 IBM study analyzed businesses that have increased their agility and
enjoyed improved business results as a consequence.  The companies
represented in the IBM research are in the financial, insurance and healthcare
industries in the U.S., U.K. and India.  These companies saw a positive
correlation between their employees’ learning agility and:

  •  Growth in new business
  • Cost reductions across the organization
  • Innovative solutions that improved brand image
  • Reductions in product life cycles
  • Expansion of call center productivity without staff increases

According to my ongoing research for the second edition of Bridging the
Generation Gap (2007, Gravett and Throckmorton, Career Press, Newark, NJ),
employees between the ages of 18 and 24 stay with their companies an average
of 18 months.  Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, began retiring in
significant numbers in 2010 and there are far fewer Generation Xers to fill their
vacated positions.  Statistics like these lead to the conclusion that organizations
have no choice but to step up their efforts to recruit, select and retain the people who will help them survive and thrive over the next few decades.  Finding people who can learn quickly and stay mentally agile in order to help their companies stay responsive to the marketplace is paramount.
 
In my research for another book, Leadership in Balance, (to be released in
2012) I discovered that organizations which have survived for at least 100 years
have some common characteristics.  The patterns uncovered demonstrate that
employees have:

  • The ability to learn new concepts and approaches – quickly
  • The ability to build a learning community within the company and industry
  • The ability to manage knowledge so that if one individual doesn’t need
    incoming information at a given time, he or she knows to whom to pass
    along that information

In a study published in June 2011, High-Impact Learning Culture:  The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise, Bersin & Associates shared some interesting statistics.  They found that organizations with strong learning cultures are:

  • 46% more likely to be strong innovators in their markets
  • 34% more likely to get to market before their competitors
  • 33% more likely to report higher customer satisfaction than other organizations
  • 39% more likely to report success in implementing customer suggestions
  • 58% more likely to be successful at developing the skills needed for meeting future customer demand

My experience with client companies is that employees who exhibit the ability to relate to internal and external customers, actively listen and assess others’ needs, and articulate their own feelings and expectations contribute significantly to their organization’s success in the marketplace.
 
A COO of a small start-up told me recently of his CEO’s willingness and ability to serve as a coach and mentor for employees at all levels within their organization has been pivotal in the company’s efforts to retain talent and respond to change in their global business environment.  The CEO had to learn coaching competencies because he didn’t bring them to the job; however, he did possess a charismatic personality that drew people to him.  Adding the coaching dimension helped the company recruit and retain highly skilled people.
 
I’ve found that CEO’s in all my client organizations are seeking employees who find better ways – consistently – to do their work.  This means that employees are regularly designing plans to serve customers better, make improvements in existing products, and generally come up with ideas that will save time and energy.  3M’s Post-It® notes and Apple’s personal computers are examples of this type of innovation in the workplace.
 
I’ve also observed a direct correlation between learning agility and these characteristics:  critical analysis, problem solving, self-awareness, and ability to deliver results effectively in first-time or challenging circumstances.  Learning agility has a direct and strong impact on their bottom line because of a linkage to problem solving, decision making and customer retention.

In her April 1, 2010 article, “Agility Can Pay Dividends” for HRMagazine, Pamela Babcock lists some impressive results from the February 2010 Organizational and Leadership Agility Survey conducted by i4cp.  The survey of 454 respondents found that:

  • Companies that consistently outperform competitors in profitability, market share, revenue growth and customer satisfaction reported a high level of learning agility in their workforce
  • Nearly 58% of the surveyed high performing organizations recognize and respond to change quickly and adeptly, as compared to 30% of other companies
  • 49% of the learning agile organizations anticipate and initiate changes needed for sustained high performance (compared to 20% of other companies)

I, too, believe that learning agility is a key differentiator that separates high performing, long-lived organizations from those that will languish in mediocrity.

 

If you have any questions or need more information about this article, please complete our Contact Form, or call Dr. Gravett at 513-753-8870.

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