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Learning agility drives growth

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Learning agility is essential to growth

Imagine a team where everyone felt safe volunteering for new tasks, asking questions, and learning from each other. What problems could you solve? What could you create together?

It's important to create a learning culture in the workplace and develop strategies to increase learning agility. Let's explore what learning agility is and why it's so important to your team's long-term success and will help your team foster a growth mindset.

Growth requires learning agility

Speed, flexibility, agility—these traits have become critical to the short and long-term success of today's organizations. As our workplaces continue to evolve, the need for teams to operate with curiosity and flex as needed has never been greater. Whether creating new ways of working, collaborating across cultures, or having to learn new skills to solve problems, our ability to be agile learners is not only an important part of the success of our team, but also to our careers.

Learning agility is learning how to learn

According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), "Learning agility is about knowing how to learn—knowing what to do when you don't know what to do. It's about learning from experience and applying it in new ways, adapting to new circumstances and opportunities."

An agile learner has a mindset that helps them to continually grow and adapt to unfamiliar situations. This growth mindset encourages specific learning behaviors like:

  • Asking for feedback
  • Seeking advice and support
  • Volunteering to participate in unknown situations
  • Embracing new challenges, even when scared
  • Considering the situation from different points of view

Korn Ferry, a world leader in leadership and organizational development, concluded that "learning agility is not necessarily an academic skill, rather it encapsulates an individual's ability and passion to quickly study a new problem and use their own learning process to gain deep understanding before making a decision."

Learning agility predicts success

Being learning-able helps us navigate new situations and continually grow and adapt. "Those who demonstrate strong 'learning agility' often excel at being able to study, analyze, and understand new situations and new business problems," reports Korn Ferry.

Their research found that individuals with high learning agility were "18 times more likely to be identified as high-potential employees than their low-learning agile colleagues. They are also twice as likely to be promoted."

Korn Ferry found that while individual success is important, the real impact of learning agility is best understood by looking at the larger company-wide impact. Their research found that "companies with the greatest rates of high learning agile executives produced 25% higher profit margins compared with peer companies."

For teams to experience these kinds of benefits, they first need to feel safe exercising learning agility behaviors.

Learning requires psychological safety

Learner safety is the second stage of psychological safety, following inclusion safety. It satisfies our basic human need to learn and grow. In this section we'll cover the barriers to learner safety and how to create a growth mindset culture.

Learning is both intellectual and emotional

While we can practice new skills that increase our learning agility, we need to feel safe in the workplace to exercise those behaviors. Whether asking a team member for support in rectifying a mistake, seeking feedback on a result we've produced, or volunteering to complete a task we've never done, exercising learning agility requires some degree of risk and personal vulnerability.

Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable

Timothy R. Clark, author of The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety: Defining the Path to Inclusion and Innovation, found that "We all bring some level of inhibition and anxiety to the learning process. We all have insecurities." Clark goes on to explain that "When we sense learner safety, we're more willing to be vulnerable, take risks, and develop resilience in the learning process. Conversely, a lack of learner safety triggers the self-censoring instinct, causing us to shut down, retrench, and manage personal risk."

Essentially the safer we feel, the more comfortable we are being uncomfortable. And this is the foundation of our learning agility.

Cultivate a culture of learning

As a leader, you have the power to cultivate a culture where team members feel safe being vulnerable in the learning process. How safe we feel is greatly influenced by our environment, including what we understand as team norms—which behaviors get rewarded and which get punished.

Some of the cultural factors that positively influence learner safety include:

  • Seeing others ask for help with positive outcomes
  • Having clear goals and purpose
  • Working on a supportive team
  • Understanding it's okay not to know how to do something
  • Having time to learn

When a team feels safe to learn, they take more risks, which in turn drives more engagement, innovation, and results.

Learning is personal

In a world where we have so many choices in how we receive and retain information, a great way to become more learning-agile is to increase our awareness of our personal learning preferences. At some point in our education it's likely we've come across a learning model that helps us identify how we learn. Starting with Neil Fleming's foundational VARK model, we may have some knowledge of our preference to learn Visual, Aural,Read/write, or Kinesthetic sensory modalities. Fleming's research, supported by more recent research, suggests that we seldom operate in just one mode.

What seems to be more important when identifying our personal learning style or preferences is that we can identify how we learn and communicate that to others to accelerate our ability to learn. By honoring these preferences and sharing them with team members we can create a culture where we feel comfortable learning and adopt a growth mindset as a team.

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