Column: Why Learning Agility helps Growth in Performance

By Jair Shankar, MSc

This is the year of research, where compelling ideas and insights are shared with all! Having conducted multiple research analyses for clients, I thought it was time that we, at HFMtalentindex, shared the information and insights gained through these research requests with the HR community. The idea is to focus on a specific topic, whereby an article will be written and which will be followed with an interview of a person working within the HR work field. This is meant to infuse hard data with a more human touch! The article will mainly focus on the research elements and what the results means, followed by an interview, which will place these results in a more relevant real life context.

I thought I would start the series of articles this year on the topic of Learning Agility and its relationship with performance. More specifically, I wanted to delve into what factors of Learning Agility may contribute most to a growth in performance over time within the same function.

Before starting on the results, what is Learning Agility? It is the ability for someone to rapidly develop new effective behaviour based on new experiences and to easily move from idea to idea within and across experiences. Learning Agility is comprised of four domains and one transcending factor.

HFMtalentindex Learning Agility model

So, which factors play a role in improving performance? And what type of relationship is it? The analysis found that People Agility and Self-awareness both show strong positive correlation with growth in performance. I was curious, why is it that these two elements have such a strong relationship? I delved into the literature and came across interesting ideas that could explain the observed relationships.

People Agility and team learning

The relationship between People Agility and growth in performance can be linked to the overarching concept of “team learning”, which is the idea that a person utilises those within their team to learn. They are taking advantage of the unique experiences, talents, perspectives, and skills of those around them to tackle any and all situations themselves. This also means that they will most likely learn more than they would individually, since they are utilising a greater resource base than just their own experiences. I wanted to know why “team learning” was so useful. This can be explained by social learning, which dictates that the best way to learn is through the modelling of others and getting knowledge from others. Simply put, one of the best ways to develop one’s skills is to listen to and learn from an expert doing the same task and internalise the process for success.

This means that those who are People Agile are using those around them to their benefit, by implementing the best approaches, skillsets, and experiences from others in their current function.

Self-awareness and self-management

Concerning Self-awareness, those who are more self-aware are more adept at self-management. It is believed that there are two underlying elements that help someone self-manage. The first is the person’s motivation for self-development and the second is more behavioural, where the person seeks feedback from others.

Self-development means the individual strives to improve their skills and expose themselves to unique opportunities which will help further their development. This drive means that they are able to set their goals for development and monitor their progress. In conjunction with this drive, there is the feedback seeking behaviour they display. They are asking for feedback from others, which helps them understand where they need to improve, whether they are implementing the appropriate solutions to the problem, and whether they are on track to achieving their goals.

Thus, someone who scores high on Self-awareness is driven to improve and develop their skills. By seeking feedback, they can create appropriate goals for development and accurately monitor their progress.

Food for thought

What does this all mean? How can you, as the reader, take advantage of these mechanisms and apply them to your organisation, ensuring that you help those in your organisation grow in performance over time? Here are some people’s first, top of mind, reactions after reading this article:

  • Make sure that those within the team are in a state to learn from each other; At a minimum, an average score on People Agility is desired, which will benefit the team as a whole.
  • Team members that are more conscious of their own development ensure better team performance.
  • People Agility has a positive influence in relation to working together. This means that those who score high on People Agility are more readily in a state to receive feedback and to learn from others.
  • People Agility is evidence of the saying: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
  • Those who score low on People Agility will make less progress than those who score high. Therefore, make sure that you have people in the team who are willing to take care of each other and to learn from each other.
  • In the long term, People Agility is a more successful performance indicator than only the individual’s desire to perform well.
  • The opportunity to work from home can inhibit the learning curve of individuals within a team. Therefore, ensure that there are enough opportunities between individuals to get in touch and work together.
  • Compared to those who work with others, those who work for themselves need to work harder to learn the same things. This is something that those who work on their own have stated as being a problem.

What are your thoughts? Please share them at info@hfmtalentindex.nl.

If you would like to read a more in depth explanation about the analysis and the theoretical background, please read the complete research article ‘The impact of Learning Agility on the Growth in Performance’, by Shankar & Hofkes (2017).

For a more in depth explanation of Learning Agility, its domains, and how its measured, please refer to ‘The Potential of Learning Agility – Research Paper’, by Haring, Shankar, and Hofkes (2016)