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Editorial Team
01 May 2019

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Unlock The Holy Grail of Retention with Learning Agility

employee retention

What is learning agility and how it will help HiPos 

The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay” – Henry Ford.

In a perfect world with the wealth of unlimited resources, human resource managers will spend their time in driving training and learning initiatives for all. Before the eyebrows of speculations rise on the previous statement, let’s retreat the words and establish that we live in an imperfect world with scarce resources.

Learning though will not sing its swan-song; not today and not ever.

In a world with scarce resources, exclusive talent management will always take the driver’s seat. Even when you have all the A-listers in your company, there will be some who are A+. Harvard Business Review says that these High Potential employees are just 5% of your total workforce, and claiming that they contribute the most in achieving organizational goals will be no overstatement.

  • The top 1% contribute to 10% of organizational output
  • The top 5% contribute to 25% of organizational output
  • The top 25% contribute to 80% of organizational output

Without much ado, we nominate them to get the highest learning opportunity and wait for our chances. The success of a HiPo transcending into a successful leader is at its best like a toss of a coin – it is a 50-50 probability. However, to let learning stay put can be a mistake that no HR would want to commit.

Learning ability becomes the focal point for most of the L&D initiatives. High potential candidates have greater problem solving and learning ability and these significant markers set them apart. Club these with a thirst for knowledge, the onus to take initiatives and the drive to achieve more which in turn promote team excellence and you’ve got a person who is ready to leap two steps ahead.

Cognitive ability, however, will serve you just this much and beyond it, the hardwiring stands a bit dumbfounded. Behavioral ability is the second function of learning and unlike its cognitive cousin, it is flexible. Learning agility involves figuring out and reaching solutions when you find yourself at a tricky turn on a road previously uncharted. The $64,000 (or more) question - how to determine these learning agile HiPos and develop them?

Betting the best resources on HiPos heightens the chances of success aka organizational excellence because they are halfway there. The trick of the trade is, however, to find the people most fit to be learning agile. Learning agility happens under certain presets. These are called antecedents. For example, a person can be extrovert, on an introvert or she may be adept at a certain skill. This would be her antecedent. Next is the context. Context can promote innovation and creativity or block them.  Given the combination of antecedents and context, learning agility will determine the response and the potential of the participant.

Defensiveness can be a dampener of learning agility. Very few people to none can claim to be perfect the first time, every time. Feedback serves as positive and constructive criticism and a learning agile person will accept it. HiPo or not, a potential candidate turning a blind eye or in this case, a deaf ear to feedback will have a tough time in adapting to learning agility.

Consider your HiPos as a superhero team, take your pick ¾ Avengers or Justice League. They all have a distinct superpower and in the world of HiPos, it translates to each of them having a different dimension of learning agility. Learning agility has different functions or dimensions like speed, agility, and responsiveness to change. Recognize the dimensions that are the most prominent in a HiPo. Case studies might help. Understand the description of each of the dimensions. Ask participants or assess their learning agility strongholds. Once you know where to land the dart, start developing the learning agility dimension - that’s best done on the job.

Unique and first-time challenges like the future of jobs and change management get an ignored nudge which shouldn’t be the case. While learning ability solely focuses on past events, learning agility prepares for new challenges. You put a HiPo frontline to a managerial position where she has to delegate tasks i.e. something she has never done – she figures her way out with learning agility. The result, you get a succession planning with minimal to no chances of backfire.

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