Building a Learning Agile Workplace Helps Your Bottom Line

November 14th, 2016

I’ve often wondered during my career why smart people – high IQ and “book smarts” – often fail in life or in the workplace. Part of their failure, I’ve come to understand, is because they don’t have learning agility, or the ability to learn from new experiences or even the openness to learning. In my recent research of 750 U.S. organizations, I found that companies that intentionally hire for and develop learning agile employees are 46% more likely to be leaders in their industry in terms of sales and growth and are 39% more likely to implement customer suggestions and requests.

The good news is that individuals can develop their own learning agility and companies can foster a culture of learning agility. Concrete ways to building individual learning agility are taking a class in a topic completely different from one’s usual area of interest; frequently working on large, complicated picture puzzles; reading passages from books or articles and then writing a summary of what was just read; or writing words or sentences using one’s opposite hand. All of these steps build the “muscle” in the area of the brain that controls learning agility.

If you’re a leader who wants to foster a learning agile workplace, you can:
– provide employees with new assignments often
– ask employees to bring you solutions, not just problems, by asking questions such as “Our customers would be happier if_____”
– be a role model for necessary changes required for your company to remain competitive
– promote good nutrition and exercise

With these consistent, steady changes, your organization can have an energized and successful workforce and your company can have a culture of learning agility.

What a Leader in Balance Will and Will Not Do

November 7th, 2016

My experience is that a leader who is not in balance (balance between being collaborative and autocratic) searches for ways to tear down others’ ideas; doesn’t have a viable option once the ideas have been dismissed; tends to fall back on tried and (maybe) true approaches; and accepts a rubber stamp “yes” to his or her own thoughts too readily. Other the other hand, a leader who wants each person in the organization to have a voice truly collaborates, going beyond basic communication.

Communication is sharing information. For example, “We have a customer who is asking for new approaches to how we deliver products.”

Cooperation is sharing an attitude. For example, “Let’s pull together and figure out how to serve the customer’s request.”

Coordination is sharing responsibilities. For example, “Who should do what, and by when, to get the newest product delivery out as requested?”

Collaboration is sharing a common purpose. For example, “Our mission is to provide a safe, quality product when we say we will.”

Behaviors that Support the 8 Ways of Thinking for Balanced Leadership

November 4th, 2016

A successful leader has to move beyond thinking about finding balance between authority and collaboration. An effective leader must be able to engage in behaviors that get results. In my experience as an executive coach, I’ve found that the most critical behaviors are:
– The ability to articulate AND execute the company Vision
– Emotional intelligence, and in particular, empathy
– Calm in the face of adversity
– Absolute, unwavering integrity
– Humility

Here’s why I believe these behaviors are critical:

Individuals will be more engaged in their jobs if they clearly understand how their role and their contributions affect the achievement of the company’s Vision. The Vision can be mere words on a plaque in the foyer…or it can be a roadmap for how people channel their time and energies on a daily basis.

Whenever I conduct employee focus groups, the most prevalent complaint I hear from disengaged employees is that leaders don’t understand them; don’t ask them what they think about projects or processes; and don’t exhibit caring if they’re anxious or fearful of change.

If a crisis erupts, leaders at any level are the ones that employees look to for a steady, objective and calm approach towards resolution. The leader sets the tone, helps others keep calm, and fosters an environment where solutions to solve the crisis can be generated.

Integrity means different things to different people; however, a fundamental description for me is this: a person of integrity does what she says she’ll do. A person of integrity upholds the core values that he has said are important to him, even when that’s really, really hard to do.

Bob McDonald, when he was CEO of Procter & Gamble, is one of the leaders John Kucia and I interviewed for our book. He said, “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less often.” A confident leader is willing to let others share their ideas and explore their creativity – she allows true brainstorming and doesn’t allow brainstomping.

In my next post, I’ll explore some concrete tools and approaches to build these leadership competencies.

The 8 Ways of Thinking of a Leader in Balance

November 3rd, 2016

Yesterday I mentioned my research for the book I co-authored with Dr. John Kucia, Leadership in Balance: New Habits of the Mind. We interviewed over 50 leaders of successful, resilient companies and found these patterns in the way they think about leadership:
1) Leadership is a relationship, not a position. People respond to humans, not dictators.
2) The leader embodies the brand promise. People watch what leaders do, not say.
3) A leader is motivated by company Mission; that Mission drives the numbers. Focus on why the company exists.
4) Collaboration must have a purpose. Meetings should not be random – understand who, and why, people should be there.
5) Power, authority and responsibility should be shared throughout the organization. Educate and Empower others.
6) Teaching and leadership have a great deal in common. Telling isn’t as effective as modeling.
7) A personal comfort with diversity is at the center of collaboration. “My way or the highway” doesn’t work.
8) The challenge of leading change is focusing on not trying to completely control people.

These mindsets are necessary for successfully giving a voice to employees throughout the organization, yet still maintaining a strong leadership role. Tomorrow I’ll share some of the critical behaviors that support these ways of thinking.

Balanced Leadership: Finding Your Voice and Helping Others Find Theirs

November 2nd, 2016

If you’re like me, you’re sometimes in a quandary about how much leadership “power” to assert and how much to be collaborative with team members so they find their own power. This is a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to, and I experiment with finding just the right balance on a daily basis.
In this next series of Blogs, I’ll explore 8 Ways of Thinking that my research with Dr. John Kucia, as well as my practical experience, indicate support organizational success and resiliency. I’ll also discuss leadership behaviors that are aligned with these 8 Ways of Thinking and concrete approaches and tools that help leaders find their voice and their balance.
In my experience, leaders are built from the inside out. That is, the way a leader thinks affects how he or she interprets the world and results in the strategies and actions taken on a day to day basis. Each of us brings a world view with us to work every day which is based on past experiences and influences. Before I make a leadership decision, I try to take into account just which influences are affecting the choice I’m about to make – especially if the choice is about how to leverage a team member’s skills, knowledge and talents. This pause for reflection is very helpful, and I resonate with this quote from John Dewey: “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”
Tomorrow I’ll share the 8 Ways of Thinking of a Leader in Balance.

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.