What is learning agility, and how do you measure it successfully?

Written by Rhiân Davies
Learning agility measure successfully
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In recent years, it’s become increasingly important for HR professionals and business leaders to measure learning agility to make better staffing decisions. Despite this, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what learning agility is, how to measure it, and how to evaluate learning agility in the workplace. 

In this post, we go through everything you need to know about learning agility, including what it is, why it’s important for leadership positions, the benefits of evaluating it, and how best to measure it.

What is learning agility? 

The ability to learn quickly is crucial in the modern workplace: According to recent estimates, the half-life of a skill is around four years. In other words, the value of a given skill is halved after just four years. The value of technology skills declines even faster.

This means you need people who can quickly pick up newer, more relevant skills.

Learning agility is the combination of specific skills and attributes that enable individuals to quickly pick up new knowledge and abilities and successfully apply them to different situations and problems.

Learning-agile people can readily adapt and learn within changing conditions and environments. They use their insight and intuition to think critically and creatively to apply the right solutions to specific problems. 

People who are learning agile are comfortable being uncomfortable; they thrive on learning from unfamiliar experiences and actively seek out new challenges. 

Here are a couple of examples of learning agility in practice:

  • Company A onboarded a new client, but since the onboarding, the client’s company has been acquired by another organization. This means that the client’s business strategy and, therefore, the way Company A will work with the client has been completely overhauled. 

The project lead at Company A – a learning-agile person – reflects on their experience with other clients. They use this as an opportunity to quickly create a new business strategy to ensure that the client’s needs are met without compromising on the promised results.

  • Company B decides to expand its social media strategy to leverage TikTok in a bid to keep up with its competitors.

Even though Company B has never created any video content, a learning-agile member of the social media team has previous video editing experience and decides to put together a video content creation manual for other team members to learn from.

Based on this manual and their own research, another learning-agile member of the team – who doesn’t have much previous experience with social media platforms – puts forward a proposal that describes a month’s worth of potential TikTok video content. 

The 5 factors of learning agility 

Learning agility comprises several key traits. Here are the five main factors of learning agility: 

Five factors learning agility
  1. Mental agility

Mental agility refers to the ability to think critically, gather information quickly, and apply it to real-life scenarios. Learning-agile people welcome complexity and thrive on analyzing situations to devise effective, unique solutions. 

  1. Change agility

Individuals who are highly curious, experimental, and ambitious when it comes to investigating new ways of solving problems are learning agile. They approach change with a positive, calm, and inquisitive attitude and are excited by the prospect of experimenting with transformation processes.

  1. People agility

Those who are open-minded towards others, desire to understand other people, and can use their grasp of social dynamics to easily forge successful relationships are learning agile. 

  1. Results agility

Learning-agile people are results-oriented and can produce and foster positive results even amid large-scale change and challenging environments. They respond well to pressure and thrive when working on difficult tasks and overcoming obstacles.

  1. Self-awareness

Finally, learning-agile people are highly self-aware. This is a rare quality: It’s been estimated that only 10% to 15% of people have self-awareness.

Those with learning agility know themselves well, understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and adapt well to challenging situations. They also understand that there is always more to learn and unlearn and are confident enough to appreciate feedback and use it to implement changes.

Why is learning agility important in leadership?

In a business landscape that’s constantly changing and evolving, you need learning-agile leadership to thrive and achieve the best business results possible. According to a survey of 1,500 executives in more than 90 countries, 71% of respondents believed adaptability was the most important leadership quality.

Since learning-agile leaders embrace new ways of solving problems, are willing to take risks, and can constantly adapt to improve results, they are a huge asset to companies across all industries. 

These leaders are resilient and can successfully guide their organizations through unexpected changes and disruptions by pivoting to new processes and strategies and identifying opportunities based on their previous experiences.

With their “people agility” trait, they can also recognize the strengths of their teams and capitalize on the most suitable resources to produce great business outcomes. 

For example, the COVID-19 pandemic intensified demands on organizations and forced them to adapt quickly to acclimatize to ever-changing and increasingly complicated regulations.

Learning-agile leaders were able to embrace and navigate the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment and still achieve remarkable business outcomes.

Brian Chesky, the chief executive officer of Airbnb, adapted quickly when the pandemic cut the company’s valuation in half. By quickly learning from users and adopting new strategies like focusing on suburban and rural areas, the organization bounced back and became profitable again under Chesky’s leadership.

Why is measuring learning agility important?

Learning agility is quickly becoming a highly sought-after competency in business. Measuring learning agility helps you identify which of your employees are learning agile and which competencies staff can cultivate to become more learning agile. 

Additionally, measuring learning agility during the recruiting process enables you to quickly pinpoint candidates who will help you foster a more learning-agile workplace and identify high performers and potential leaders. 

5 benefits of measuring learning agility 

Let’s take a look at the main benefits of measuring learning agility at all levels of business:

Five benefits measuring learning agility
  1. Contributes to higher performance: Measuring learning agility provides insights into how effectively an individual can acquire and apply new knowledge, skills, and experiences. This can help guide your efforts to improve business performance, increase productivity, and better adapt to changing conditions.

  2. Helps you understand your workforce better: Measuring learning agility levels shows you how well your employees adapt to disruptive and sometimes chaotic circumstances. This enables you to assign learning-agile employees to transformation tasks, identify employees with other strong traits (such as emotional intelligence), or engage in redeployment efforts.

  3. Reduces employee turnover: By assessing learning agility, you can identify which employees will thrive in changing environments and those who need more support. This enables you to better target learning and development initiatives to reduce turnover and retain top talent. 

  4. Fosters flexible processes: Learning-agile employees are highly flexible and adaptable and recognize when established processes aren’t serving new situations. By measuring learning agility, you can identify the right change agents to lead transformation efforts. 

  5. Optimizes talent management processes: By assessing learning agility during the recruiting and hiring process, you’ll be better placed to identify candidates who can help drive organizational success. 

How to measure learning agility: Methods and techniques 

There are multiple ways to measure an individual’s learning agility. However, according to David Hoff and Warner Burke in their book “Developing Learning Agility: Using the Burke Assessments,” there are nine indicators of high learning agility that all methods and techniques should evaluate. 

Measure learning agility methods techniques
  1. Flexibility: This refers to an individual’s flexibility when it comes to adapting to new situations, proposing novel solutions, and remaining open to new ways of doing things. 

  2. Speed: Learning-agile people are quick to assess how well an action will benefit the organization, act on new ideas, and move on from failed attempts with ease. 

  3. Experimenting: How eager individuals are to try different processes and ways of working and how well they learn from experimenting are major indicators of learning agility. 

  4. Performance risk-taking: This refers to how willing people are to take risks to bolster performance outcomes. 

  5. Interpersonal risk-taking: Learning-agile people are open to learning from others, can readily admit mistakes, and overcome difficulties easily.

  6. Collaboration: How well an individual works with others, understands how their team members’ skills complement their own, and adapts to others’ working styles is a key benchmark of learning agility. 

  7. Feedback seeking: Learning-agile individuals welcome and thrive on feedback from others and can readily apply it to boost future performance. 

  8. Information gathering: Being able to quickly seek out information, remaining curious about new ways of doing things, and being eager to bolster one’s existing knowledge are signs of learning agility. 

  9. Reflecting: Learning agility also encompasses the ability to slow down and evaluate past performance, failures, and successes to help adjust processes and improve future performance.

3 methods for measuring learning agility 

Now that we know the key indicators of learning agility, let’s explore the three main methods you can use to measure it effectively in candidates and existing employees. 

1. Skills testing and assessments 

To use learning agility as a metric when recruiting new hires, you need to know how to assess it in applicants. 

Since learning agility is made up of several different competencies and skills, it’s a good practice to use skills testing to assess candidates’ level of learning agility. 

Here are the main skills and traits to test to identify learning-agile individuals. 

Cognitive abilities

Cognitive skills encompass several different mental abilities that are important to learning agility since they are essential for processing, understanding, and applying new information and ideas.

These abilities form the foundation of learning agility and enable learners to quickly and accurately process information, make decisions, and adjust their approach to best suit the situation.

When testing for learning agility, make sure to use skills assessments to evaluate candidates for the following skills: 

  • Critical thinking: Evaluating candidates’ critical-thinking abilities will reveal how well they can solve logical problems and think analytically to optimize business performance. 

  • Problem-solving: Assessing problem-solving skills will show you how effectively applicants analyze information and problems and their responses to them. 

  • Attention to detail: Since information gathering is one of the nine learning agility dimensions, it’s crucial to test how well candidates can process and digest new information. 

Personality types 

Personality plays an important role in learning agility since a person’s individual traits and characteristics have an impact on their ability to learn and apply new skills.

When identifying learning-agile candidates, you should use at least one of the following personality tests to help inform your hiring decisions:

  • The 16 Types test is a self-reported personality test that measures how people perceive the world and make decisions. It gives you insight into how candidates process information and make decisions. 

  • The Big 5 (OCEAN) test evaluates applicants’ openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism/emotional stability. The results of this test will help you assess candidates’ level of learning agility. 

  • The DISC test assesses candidates’ behavioral styles and attitudes when they are faced with certain situations. The results of this test help you understand how applicants behave in personal and professional relationships and collaborate and work as team members. 

2. Interviews 

You can also evaluate candidates’ learning agility during the interview process with targeted interview questions. 

The best learning agility interview questions focus on the nine dimensions explored above. Here are a few questions that will help you determine candidates’ learning agility. 

  • How do you integrate feedback into your work life? Tell me about a time you received feedback and how you implemented changes. 

  • How do you learn from other people? Tell me about a time you adapted your working style based on your experiences with other colleagues. 

  • Tell me about a time of radical change in one of your previous organizations and your role in responding to this change. 

  • Describe an experience you had when you had to adjust to unexpected alterations in the requirements of a project you were working on. How did you respond?

  • Can you describe an occasion when you had to do something you had never tried before? How did you react?

  • Tell me about a time you achieved positive results by tackling a challenge in a new way. 

  • Can you share with me an experience when you had a major work setback? What did you take away from it?

  • You can also ask candidates how they would approach an entirely new challenge. Describe a scenario to them and ask them to explain how they would respond. 

3. Performance reviews

You can conduct performance reviews to measure the learning agility levels of your existing employees. 

By baking the evaluation of learning agility into the performance review process, you can continually review your employees. Here’s what to include in performance reviews: 

  • Questions about how the employee approaches new tasks and how well they adapt to changes in the workplace

  • Feedback from colleagues and supervisors on how the employee responds to new challenges

  • Questions about the employee’s willingness to take initiative and proactively seek out new skills and knowledge

  • How managers rate the employee’s ability to learn from mistakes and apply these lessons to future tasks

  • A review of the employee’s progress in mastering new skills and processes

  • A review of how well the employee devises creative ideas to provide novel solutions for complex problems

Use skills testing to identify learning-agile candidates

Learning agility is quickly becoming a must-have ability in today’s dynamic business landscape. Research shows that willingness to learn and adaptability are among the most sought-after skills in the job market.

This is especially the case for leaders, who need to adapt rapidly to change, quickly acquire new skills, and experiment with new processes and strategies. 

Measuring learning agility is equally important because it helps you evaluate candidates’ and existing employees’ ability to fulfill the role of change agent and respond to new challenges. 

Skills tests are the most accurate method of measuring learning agility. TestGorilla offers a wide range of scientifically validated tests to evaluate applicants objectively and without bias. Since learning agility encompasses a range of skills, you can create assessments that evaluate candidates in several key areas:

The best candidates have a strong desire and willingness to learn and grow. These tests will help you identify which applicants can navigate modern business challenges and be ready to pivot when needed. 

If you’re ready to evaluate candidates’ ability to drive business outcomes, try TestGorilla for free and start building a strong, learning-agile workforce today.

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