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Article No.: 15-5, May 1, 2015

Article Title: Learning Agility: The Competitive Advantage

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SPHR, CEQC

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No matter how conceptually intriguing a topic may be, 21st century organizations have limited time and resources, which must be targeted on areas that will bring a return on investment.  In this article, I’ll explore some of the reasons why learning agility, a “hot topic” today, is a critical success factor for organizations.
 
The world is becoming smaller, more interconnected and intelligent, resulting in the requirement for companies to hire employees who can navigate through change in order to survive and thrive.  Employees with learning agility can ensure business agility through their development of improved processes and systems.  New knowledge is everywhere around us, and can, if managed well, generate excitement and employee engagement as well as bottom line success.
 
A 2010 IBM study analyzed businesses that have increased their agility and enjoyed improved business results.  The companies represented in the IBM research are in the financial, insurance and healthcare industries in the U.S., U.K. and India.  These companies saw a positive correlation between learning agility and:

  • Growth in new business        
  • Cost reductions across the organization
  • Innovative solutions that improved brand image
  • Reductions in product life cycles
  • Expansion of call center productivity without staff increases

According to my ongoing research on generational differences, employees between the ages of 18 and 24 stay with their companies an average of 18 months.  Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, began retiring in significant numbers in 2010 and there are far fewer Generation Xers to fill their vacated positions.  Statistics like these lead to the conclusion that organizations have no choice but to step up their efforts to recruit, select and retain the people who will help them survive over the next few decades.  Finding people who can learn quickly and stay mentally agile in order to help their companies stay responsive to the marketplace is paramount.
 
In my research for my 2014 book with Dr. John Kucia, Leadership in Balance, I discovered that organizations which have survived for at least 100 years have some common characteristics.  The patterns uncovered demonstrate that employees have:

  • The ability to learn new concepts and approaches – quickly
  • The ability to build a learning community within the company and industry
  • The ability to manage knowledge so that if one individual doesn’t need incoming information at a given time, he or she knows to whom to pass along that information

In a study published in June 2011, High Impact Learning Culture:  The 40 Best Practices for Creating an Empowered Enterprise, Bersin & Associates shared  some interesting statistics.  Organizations with strong learning cultures are:

  •  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 than their competitors
  • 39% more likely to report success in implementing customer suggestions
  • 58% more likely to be successful in developing the skills needed for meeting future customer demand

These are, in my mind, compelling reasons to develop a culture of learning agility!

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