HR Forum

Learning agility a highly prized quality in today’s marketplace

In my last article I wrote about how the centre of gravity in the global economy is now rapidly shifting to Asia, driven by rising consumption and increased innovation.

In today's volatile, fast-paced marketplace, there is one professional attribute that has become highly prized: Learning Agility.

The region's economy is changing in many ways at once; companies are reinventing manufacturing, spreading technology, innovating for a new consumer base, and marketing to a burgeoning middle class.

In an environment of constant change, complexity and ambiguity, learning agility has become mission critical.

Individuals exhibiting high levels of learning agility can adapt quickly in unfamiliar situations and even thrive amid chaos. Leaders who are learning-agile continuously seek new challenges, solicit direct feedback, self reflect, are flexible and resourceful; and in times of uncertainty, they take charge and rapidly figure out the next best steps.

There's however one problem. Demand is high and supply of leaders and talent with this “X factor” is low. Faced with short supply and strong competition for executive talent, organisations need to swiftly put in place systems to identify and nurture learning-agile talent early and put future leaders on purpose-built career tracks that develop this critical characteristic.

A growing number of companies in Asia are starting to do just that, making learning agility a pillar of their organisation's talent management efforts.

Our three decades of Korn/Ferry research has shown that Learning Agility is an accurate predictor of leadership potential, and should be used to pinpoint people who might be groomed for high levels of responsibility.

A 2011 Korn/Ferry study of sales managers bears this out: the higher an individuals learning agility, the more promotions he or she received during a 10-year period. Research has proven that if an individual adapts well to any first-time situation, they will also do well when promoted as they are able to move out of their comfort zone, take risks, learn from mistakes and begin anew as they encounter new assignments.

That is why learning agility has become the number one predictor of leadership success today, more accurate than IQ, EQ, education level or even leadership competencies. In short, by measuring learning agility, you are able to identify who's scalable and thus ready to move up to the next level

Objectively identifying managers with high levels of learning agility has tremendous value for organisations. Before putting time, energy and money into developing an executive, an organisation can confirm if he or she truly is the right investment. They can also avoid an egregious mistake in overlooking a nondescript employee who really is a high potential

Learning agility can be measured across different facets. Such a multi-pronged approach enables organisations to not only identify the most highly agile individuals, but to diagnose agility weaknesses and find appropriate developmental opportunities.

Taking the right approach to development is likely to yield the biggest results.

The key is speed. The first step involves building up the literacy around learning agility as a measure of potential, as distinct from performance. The next step involves sifting out high potentials' from the larger group of high performers. Finally, these different categories of talent need to have their development paths tailored for them to ensure that their full potential is realised.

High potential leaders need to have assignments that not only stretch them, but provide the opportunity to practice and refine new skills required to lead the future organisation.

For companies willing to pursue this, Asia offers a host of competitive advantages. Learning experiences are everywhere in this fast-moving growth market. For example, leading a cross cultural team or marketing a new product offering provides future leaders with these critical must-have skills.

By looking at their high potentials with a fresh perspective, organisations can drive more informed decisions about career paths and ensure that they are putting its most valuable resource to optimal use.

Learning agility is the cornerstone of effective leadership today.

Identifying and developing those leaders who possess it is the best way for organizations of any size to optimize their talent pipeline and long-term succession plans. Talent decisions are too important to be based on gut feelings or left to chance.

Doing this right is extremely important to enable you chart your organisation of tomorrow.

Reza Ghazali, managing director of Korn/Ferry International in Malaysia, believes that cultivating strong leadership and talent is the key to unlocking an organisation's success. Article extracted from the Talking HR column, Business section, The Star.