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Article No.: 16-5, May 1, 2016

Article Title: Why Should HR Professionals Care About Learning Agile Employees?

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, CEQC

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HR professionals already have a great deal of complexity to handle on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  Do we really need to add more concerns and activity to our already overburdened career?!  Well, yes, there is one concept I suggest you concern yourself with, and that is recruiting and retaining learning agile employees.  I believe you’ll get a return on investment for the time and energy, and that’s what I’ll discuss in this article.

In my research for a 2014 book, Leadership in Balance:  New Habits of the Mind, I discovered that organizations who were successful over decades had some characteristics in common:  the ability to quickly learn new concepts and approaches to fulfilling customer needs; the ability to build a strong learning community within the company and throughout its industry; and the ability to manage knowledge so that the information highway is accessible to all employees.

In a study published in June, 2015 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
  • 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 demands

Sheri Caldwell and I reached out to 50 companies while researching our latest book, Learning Agility:  The Impact on Recruiting and Retention, and asked for examples of how employee learning agility affected their organization’s success.  Three typical responses are outlined below.

The CEO of a mid-sized publisher shared with us that he had recently hired a financial executive who was new to their industry and its unique business characteristics.  Although the executive brought a strong mental agility and that was very helpful in the financial planning aspects of his role, he was not strong initially in his ability to adapt to different types of people and their skill sets.  He had one, and only one, approach towards communication – and that was to speak in the jargon of financial professionals.  However, once the executive developed listening skills, learned to articulate his reason in a way nonfinancial executives could relate to, and was more flexible in his expectations about communication methods, he grew a strong financial team that led the company’s efforts to be number one in a dynamic industry.  That had been the company’s vision for quite some time; however, people had to buy into the executive’s approach before they’d follow him to achieve the vision.

A COO of a small start-up told us that his CEO’s willingness and ability to serve as a coach and mentor for employees at all levels have 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, even though he did possess a charismatic personality that drew people to him.  He could hire great people….he just couldn’t keep them!  Adding the coaching dimension helped the company recruit and retain highly skilled people who were highly motivated, so they could launch their products faster than competitors.

Another CEO and entrepreneur in our research attributed company success to her learning to design and then offer a Voice of the Customer service to clients. Few of her competitors did these customer surveys, or acted upon the results if they did.  Her willingness to actually cull through the results and then reach out personally to customers to tailor services to them provided the company with a 10% increase in sales within six months.

Building learning agility is worthwhile – it’s not a “kum bay ya”, feel-good exercise.  Read more success stories in our book, available May 12 through!


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

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