Evaluating Learning Agility

February 15th, 2016

Some companies use group exercises as a key part of evaluating their candidates to assess how they’d perform on the job. Factors such as teamwork, communication and problem-solving skills can be observed. This may involve discussing a particular issue, constructing something, or analyzing a complex business case study and presenting the findings. Target uses group exercises to evaluate their candidates, for example, and they look for people who are flexible and full of ideas yet willing to listen to and help expand others’ ideas. Here are two examples you may want to use if you have multiple candidates at the same time for an opening:

The Leaderless Task, which involves each candidate being given a description of a role or a situation, that may or may not be different from others in the group. No one is designated as the leader. As a group, the teams must come up with a decision acceptable to all within the time limit provided. The goal is for the group to find a compromise solution. Sometimes negotiation is involved, so the employer can assess who is a better fit for the leader.

The Tower Power Task, which asks groups of candidates to build the tallest free-standing paper tower they can. Teams must build their structure out of 20 pieces of paper and one yard of tape. Allow 10 minutes of pre-planning time and 10 minutes of tower building time. Surprising lessons emerge and allow employers to assess who is a natural leader, who planned well, who is flexible when plans change, and how the teams handle defeat.

Interview Questions that Determine Learning Agility

January 29th, 2016

Asking the right questions during an interview can result in making a smart hiring decision. Here are five questions I like for this purpose:

1) Would you prefer to learn by reading instructions, watching someone else perform a task, or by doing it on your own by trial-and-error?

2) Do you think it’s important to always have an answer for customers’ questions? Why or why not?

3) Is this true or not true of you: I like logical, analytical approaches to solving problems. Describe an experience that fits your problem solving style.

4) Share an example of a time when you had to collaborate with a coworker to succeed at completing a project. Specifically, how did you work together to do a good job?

5) How do you use failure as a learning opportunity?

Learning Cultures are High Impact

January 28th, 2016

In a study published by Bersin & Associates, titled High-Impact Learning Culture: The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise, organizations with strong learning cultures are found to be:

– 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 rates
– 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

For our upcoming book on learning agility, Sheri Caldwell and I have done some research of our own. We surveyed organizations of all types across the U.S. We asked, of the four types of learning agility (mental; people; change; and results), what is most critical in your organization today and why? We heard many stories similar to the following.

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 model. Although he brought a strong mental agility to his position which was very helpful in the financial planning aspects of the role, he was not strong initially in his ability to adapt to different types of people and their skill sets. He couldn’t win his team over to follow his vision of how the financial structure of the publisher should be reorganized because he would dictate and direct rather than invite discussion. Once the financial executive developed listening skills, learned to articulate his reasoning in a way that nonfinancial executives could relate to, and was more flexible in his expectations about organizational structure, he grew a top notch financial team that is leading the company’s change efforts in a dynamic industry. We’ve observed case after case in which employees will buy into a person as leader before they buy into the vision.

An Inconvenient Truth: Company Knowledge is Leaving without Being Replaced

January 22nd, 2016

According to my research over the last five years, interviewing 500+ people in each of today’s five workplace generations, employees between the ages of 18 and 24 stay with their companies an average of 18 months. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average tenure of employees in 1983 as 3.5 years. That’s quite a change! Baby Boomers, born between 1946 – 1964, began retiring in large numbers in 2010 and there are far fewer Gen X’ers to fill their vacated positions. Statistics like these lead me to believe that organizations have no choice but to step up 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, regardless of age, in order to help their companies stay responsive to the marketplace is critical. Not at some future date. Today.

Why Should Organizations Care About Learning Agility?!

January 21st, 2016

No matter how conceptually intriguing a topic my be, 21st century organizations have limited time and resources that have to be targeted on areas which will bring a return on investment. Here are some specific reasons I believe learning agility is a critical success factor for organizations today:
1) The world is becoming smaller, more interconnected and intelligent, resulting in the need for companies to have employees who can manage change, so the company survives and thrives.
2) Employees with learning agility can ensure business agility through their development of improved processes and systems.
3) Learning agile employees know how to transfer knowledge throughout the organization….knowledge that’s invaluable for future success.
4) New knowledge is everywhere around us, and it can, if managed well, generate excitement and employee engagement, as well as bottom line success.

The Future of Learning Agility

October 9th, 2015

After researching and working in the area of learning agility for the last eight years, I believe that this topic will continue to generate interest and study over the next decade. Leaders in my client companies are concerned about being competitive in a global, fast paced workplace. They can accomplish this if they foster a work environment with employees who are energized by innovation. For the next few days, I’ll write about ways to achieve this type of workplace.

A Change Agility Dashboard

September 10th, 2015

Many of my clients have been asking for elements of a change management dashboard in order to assess how they’re doing in their efforts to build change agility. Here are some suggestions:

Shared Vision
A clear vision has been articulated
The change process is aligned with the strategic plan

Sense of Urgency
A reason for required change has been communicated
Benefits of the change vs. status quo have been shared

Leadership Accountability
Leaders at all levels understand their role in the change process
Leaders are taking concrete steps to engage employees

Stakeholder Involvement
All stakeholders have been identified
Strategies have been developed to engage stakeholders

Increased Change Capability
Method to leverage lessons learned has been developed
Tactics for including lessons learned into future projects have been established

Succession Planning and Learning Agility

August 28th, 2015

The foundation of a learning agile workplace is alignment of succession planning with strategic objectives. This alignment includes the Mission, Vision and Core Values. I’ve found that alignment at the beginning of succession planning processes ensures that employees will target their competency development in ways that support not only their professional growth, but the company’s competitive advantage as well.

An integral component of succession planning is leadership development. In order to build organizational agility, leaders with critical core competencies must be ready at appropriate junctures to support leadership continuity. That’s why I believe that the corporate objectives should be woven into leadership development efforts.

The next step is to identify critical positions for which succession planning is a priority, since those positions have a huge impact on the organization’s ability to survive and thrive.

Building Change Agility

August 25th, 2015

I’ve found that people resist change for many reasons; however, most of the reasons are fear based. To overcome this fear as a leader, I try to create what I call moments of truth. These are the lightbulb moments when a person feels compelled to make necessary changes. You can create these moments by:

– Explaining exactly what will change in their world. What will they have to give up, specifically? It may be their routine, comfort level with the tried-and-true, or convenience. The sooner you have this discussion, the sooner you can help someone develop an action plan for dealing with the change.

– Explain your plan or vision for new possibilities. Will people have an opportunity to meet new people; travel somewhere interesting; move upward in their career? Help them get excited about a new normal.

– Invite discussion. Let people vent for a moment or share potential barriers. Just having this dialogue helps people voice their fears and lets you understand what resources you may need to provide to help them cope.

– Help people

Metrics for Learning Agility

August 24th, 2015

Like any organizational endeavor, I believe that metrics should be established when an organization decides to focus on building a learning agile culture. I suggest the following steps for incorporating metrics into this effort.

1) Clearly describe each success metric. You can use the SMART goals framework so that metrics are specific; measurable; achievable; relevant; and time based.

2) Top leadership must support the company initiative and be prepared to strive to achieve the metrics themselves. Some of my client companies include company initiative success on leaders’ performance reviews.

3) The number of metrics chosen should be manageable. It’s better to have five meaningful, valid metrics than 20 that aren’t really related to the initiative objectives.

4) As time goes by, it will likely be necessary to revise the metrics selected. Keep the targets challenging enough to ensure a culture of excellence, yet achievable so that employees are motivated to reach objectives.