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.
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:
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
Leaders at all levels understand their role in the change process
Leaders are taking concrete steps to engage employees
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
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.
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
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.
Recently, I’ve been sharing some thoughts about what learning agile companies look like. If you’re a leader who’s wondering what to look for to indicate that your company is not learning agile, here’s a checklist of sorts. If most of your employees would respond “yes” to these questions on a survey, your culture is not learning agile:
1) Do people here seem to keep information close to the vest?
2) Are industry trends only shared with a small group?
3) Do people hold back on passing along information to other departments that they believe might be useful?
4) Are brainstorming activities treated with suspicion?
5) Is the concept of a career matrix for employee development foreign to your culture?
6) Do leaders dismiss the idea of company wide core competencies?
7) Is taking time off to attend seminars frowned upon?
8) Is huddling spur of the moment to discuss an exciting new idea seen as a waste of time?
9) Are employees discouraged from taking time to develop individual development plans?
There are many reasons to build a mentorship culture. First, this can provide a recruiting and retention advantage for your organization. Employees of all ages, and in particular Generation Y (born in 1991 or later), seek out companies that provide mentors for employees as soon as they’re hired. Often, these organizations will assign a “learning buddy” on day one to provide some guidance for new hires on how to succeed within the company and the industry. My research for a previous book, Bridging the Generation Gap, (Gravett and Throckmorton, 2007) found that employees in their 20’s will stay longer with companies that provide mentoring and special assignments to help them develop core competencies the company needs.
Mentoring supports succession planning, which is essential for any organization to survive and thrive over the long term. High potential employees are typically the most learning agile and are often flight risks because competition for their talent is so keen. If these employees have mentors to nurture their development, growth, and contributions to the company, it’s a win for individuals AND the company. In fact, these high potentials are prime candidates to become mentors!
I believe that organizational culture is simply “the way we do things around here.” Every company has a culture – the key for leaders is to understand whether it’s the culture you want. Here are some questions I ask client companies to help them determine if they have a culture of learning agility.
1. How do employees handle disagreements and conflict?
2. Is there a healthy debate prior to decision making on teams?
3. Do your brainstorming efforts lead to transparent discussions and straight talk, or are there hidden agendas?
4. How do you know whether employees relate to and identify with the Mission and Core Values of your company?
5. Is recognition and positive feedback only provided to employees who agree with the leaders’ ideas, or is recognition provided for the brightest idea regardless of the source?
Directed assignments are opportunities for employees to develop core competencies that are important for the organization’s success. These types of learning experiences can positively impact employees’ skill levels.
Google was featured last year in Newsweek because of an opportunity they provided for their product managers. The company few a team of product managers to Bangalore, India. Their first assignment was to make their way to the Commercial Street Shopping District for a bartering competition. Each manager had 500 rupees (about $13) to spend on items that interested them. The manager that achieved the highest discount on an item they purchased won a prize.
Building and fostering a work environment that fosters learning agility requires dedication and commitment from top leadership. This commitment can take many forms, and here are some examples:
– Allow employees to complete the full training experiences for which they register, rather than pulling them out half way through because of work pressures. In other words, plan ahead to cover all contingencies.
– Provide opportunities for new learning to be used immediately after the competencies or skills are acquired.
– Encourage employees to take ownership and responsibility for learning. One way to accomplish this is by inviting employees to draft their own Individual Development Plans on an annual basis.