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Human Resources
Apr 1, 2016

Learning Agility: The Key to Your High Potential Employees

Sponsored Content provided by Dave Hoff - Chief Operating Officer and Executive VP of Leadership Development, EASI Consult

For the last few months, I have been nibbling around the edge of learning agility in this column. I wrote about an aspect of learning agility as seen in the movie, Bridge of Spies. I described another aspect of learning agility in comparing my experiences in two different countries in Asia. Some things have come in to focus for me, and I believe I need to take a more direct and in-depth approach to this thing called learning agility.
My firm, EASI Consult, entered into an agreement recently with Warner Burke, Ph.D., to represent a test he created and validated called the Burke Learning Agility Inventory. Burke is Thorndike professor of social psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and I have known him for 30 years. I also am an alumnus of Teachers College.
People who work in psychology and talent management have believed for some time that your highest-potential employees are the ones who are the best learners. The problem was that no one had been able to measure learning agility
Burke and I had a conversation about six years ago about an organization that had tried to measure learning agility and failed miserably. Burke said something along the lines of, “I think I can measure it, and am going to undertake an effort to do it.” I told him that when he got there, my firm, EASI Consult, would like to collaborate with him. About six months ago, Burke contacted me and said, “We have the questionnaire with the reliability.” Burke and EASI have been working together on this project ever since.
There has been a lot of research and a number of articles written about learning, learning ability and learning agility. Burke’s work was most influenced by the research of Scott DeRue, Susan Ashford and Christopher Myers in 2012 at the University of Michigan. DeRue and his collaborators say that individual differences set the stage for learning agility. This includes things such as goal orientation and openness to experience. Learning agility itself is a combination of  behaviors. These are in turn affected by contextual and environmental factors (climate and culture), and these variables lead to learning and performance.

So the diagram to describe this idea looks like this:

Burke developed and validated a test that established nine different dimensions constituting the cognitive and behavioral processes that make up learning agility. The nine dimensions are:

  • Flexibility
  • Speed
  • Experimenting
  • Performance Risk Taking
  • Interpersonal Risk Taking
  • Collaborating
  • Information Gathering
  • Feedback Seeking
  • Reflecting.
 The definitions of the nine dimensions are as follows:
  1. Flexibility. Being open to new ideas and proposing new solutions.
  2. Speed. Acting on ideas quickly so that those not working are discarded and other possibilities are accelerated.
  3. Experimenting. Trying out new behaviors (such as approaches, ideas) to determine what is effective.
  4. Performance Risk Taking. Seeking new activities (tasks, assignments, roles) that provide opportunities to be challenged.
  5. Interpersonal Risk Taking. Confronting differences with others in ways that lead to learning and change.
  6. Collaborating. Finding ways to work with others that generate unique opportunities for learning.
  7. Information Gathering. Using various methods to remain current in one’s area of expertise.
  8. Feedback Seeking. Asking others for feedback on one’s ideas and overall performance.
  9. Reflecting. Slowing down to evaluate one’s own performance to be more effective.
Over the next five months I will review each of the learning agility dimensions in greater depth. I will give examples of what each of dimensions looks like as it occurs in everyday life. We will review examples from the perspective of an individual contributor, a manager and a senior manager. In the first example, there is an on-the-job opportunity related to learning agility that is not taken advantage of. In the second example we will describe in each situation how the person can work on developing that specific learning agility dimension on the job.
EASI•Consult® works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult’s specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit, email [email protected] or call 1-800-922-EASI.

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