Part of the ASPIRE Talent Management series. Improvement is the ‘I’ in ASPIRE: Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement, Retention and Engagement

Improvement and development of your people is the ‘cornerstone’ process of bridging the knowledge, skills and behavioural gaps needed to drive people, talent and business growth in your organisation

Agile learning can help you to drive your people, talent and business growth, and should form a cornerstone element of any improvement & development plan for your talent. This article offers insight into how you can develop a culture and environment of agile learning in your organisation so that your talent, or High Potentials, have the opportunities to satisfy their need for learning agility.

What is meant by Agile Learning?

It’s a term that is often heard in the context of project work, but when we talk about agile learning, learning agility and talent, what we are talking about here is ‘on demand’ and flexible learning.

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Routes of learning have in the past traditionally revolved around formalised college qualifications, or structured training courses. That is no longer the only way to learn. With the internet providing a constant backdrop to life in today’s world, it provides a huge resource which offers learning opportunities in a multitude of different formats and styles, consumable at an individual’s own pace. There are also opportunities for flexible learning and learning as you go through so many other avenues; through experience, or from coaches or mentors.

In addition to flexibility, having the mindset to learn, develop and improve is incredibly important to agile learning. The High Potentials, or HiPo’s, in your organisation are self-starters and self-motivated, and are more likely to take the initiative to go out and find out what they need to know rather than waiting to be put on to a training course. They tend to have the drive to take responsibility for developing and broadening their own knowledge, skills and behaviours. This is why it is vital for organisations to create the right culture and environment for those people who have that initiative to maximise the opportunities which are put in front of them to learn and develop in order to progress their own careers. High potential talent will certainly be looking for their organisations to be able to offer this to them, and if it is not made available to them, are likely to look for this need to be satisfied elsewhere.

Agile learning can help close the gaps

Why would a company want to have agile learning? What’s the purpose? In today’s fast moving pace of business and where developments in technology and processes never stand still – can we afford to wait for the next formal training course? Those knowledge, skills and behavioural gaps are there ALL THE TIME, for many different reasons.

When it comes to the more traditional training courses, the knowledge, skills and processes learnt can quickly become out of date. If we wait to bridge those gaps using formal once-or-twice a year training, that could be just a little too infrequent.

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We know that lack of investment in CPD (Continuous Professional Development) of people and talent creates a knowledge, skills and behaviours gap which can impact productivity and business performance. It is globally recognised that there is a productivity gap in the UK; the latest release from the UK Office of National Statistics states that the UK is approximately 16 percentage points behind the average G7 nations on productivity levels.

Naturally the more you can improve and develop your people, it will help to grow your business, but it should really be performance driven and results driven, which will help to start closing some of those gaps. Of course, there are other environmental, economic, cultural and political factors which will contribute towards that gap but there is definitely a correlation.

The correlation between employee engagement and productivity is well documented by such organisations as Engage for Success and Gallup. When you consider that global engagement levels are around only 30%, and that productivity levels are down, creating a culture of agile learning that can be tailored to individuals will help to motivate those high-potential employees. This in turn will help to improve productivity and performance levels in your organisation, narrowing that productivity gap. We will be delving further into the topic of employee engagement in future articles and videos.

5 Factors for Learning agility

If a culture of agile learning is what you want to develop for your organisation, what are you looking for from your high potential talent which will allow them to maximise the learning opportunities offered?

This is where the phrase ‘learning agility’ comes in. If agile learning is about the organisation, then learning agility is about the individual. This is a trait that you need to be looking for in your high potentials during your acquisition and succession planning phases.

Renowned global talent consultancy Korn Ferry define learning agility as “the ability and willingness to learn from all kinds of experience and use those lessons to perform effectively in new and different situations”, and describe 5 factors of learning agility in this, and other articles:

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  • Mental agility—embracing complexity, examining problems in unique ways, making fresh connections, and staying inquisitive.
  • People agility—being open-minded towardS others, enjoying interaction with diverse groups, bringing out the best in others.
  • Change agility—willingness to lead transformation efforts, continuously exploring new options.
  • Results agility—delivering results in tough situations, responding to challenge, inspiring others to achieve more than they thought possible.
  • Self-awareness—being reflective, understanding strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback and personal insight.

This set of learning agility traits, along with a growth mindset, a desire to be developed, a desire for challenge, being able to take initiative and being self-motivated, are all things to look out for in your high potentials, but can this be measured?

The simple answer is yes, by looking at a number of elements such as strengths, personal preferences and key motivators – this is something we will explore in further detail in future articles and videos. For those of you who might want to know more at this stage about how you can quantify these aspects you can find out more here, but the traits above are certainly qualities you want to be on the lookout for when you’re bringing talent into your organisation.

Agile learning opportunities might not be for everybody. It is worth recognising that not everyone in your organisation will have that driven desire for improvement and development. Some of your employees will be happy to come to work, get their work done, take pride in doing a good job and that’s enough for them – and those people are also really valuable to an organisation. And this is where it is worth recognising that ‘sheep-dip’ training, which can be expensive, is not an effective or economic solution for your organisation, rather that investment in an agile and on-demand learning culture will better serve all employees; make the opportunities available to everyone, but it will be your HiPo’s that really demand and drive that need.

What can agile or on-demand learning look like?

No alt text provided for this imageAs we’ve mentioned before, agile learning really focuses on individual needs and supporting learning agility. To do that you will need to find out what those individual needs are. The easiest way to do this is through your performance and appraisal processes and the personal development plans (PDPs) you create with each of your employees.

Unique and individualised PDPs

Make sure that each employee has a PDP in place, and that it is unique to them. Any talent analytics or psychometrics tools which are available in your organisation, including engagement and retention reports and 360° feedback tools, can provide a valuable source of information about that individual and their intrinsic preferences, motivators and expectations. Providing a clear career navigation pathway (we go into further detail on this in a previous article on Succession Planning) for your HiPo’s will help to design individualised PDPs.

Access to online resources

As well as the more traditional classroom learning and education opportunities, which do still have a place in current development programmes, consider what additional online resources you can offer, which can be targeted to individuals and can be consumed at an individuals own pace. There are plenty of excellent online learning and development platforms in the market currently. We use one called ASPIRE Mindtools Connect which has excellent resources for developing leaders and managers.

Consider individual learning styles

Everyone has different personal preferences for learning styles and there are many different formats which support these individual preferences; some people like reading articles and content on line, others prefer watching a video, and some will prefer listening to a podcast. Smart phones can bring all this content in to one place, and allow an individual access anywhere and anytime they want.

Offer the support of a mentor and a coach

HiPo’s will thrive with the guidance and support of a mentor and a coach (again we explored this further in our previous article). A mentor would usually be someone from within your organisation who can use their experience and understanding of the business to support the development of knowledge and skills. A coach will support an individual to work on the behavioural elements, which is where a HiPo can really broaden their horizon and scope, and is an especially useful resource as you progress further up the leadership structure. Many successful and comprehensive aspiring leaders or leadership development programmes will include the support of both a coach and a mentor.

So in summary, we advise that you develop a culture and environment of agile learning in your organisation so that your talent, or High Potentials, have the opportunities to develop their learning agility. This in turn will help you in growing your people, and growing your talent to grow your business. The knowledge, skills and behaviours gap will be there all the time and it’s about how you close that gap as fast as possible. You need to understand the knowledge, skills and behaviours gaps which are affecting your business performance.

Consider diversifying the learning opportunities you offer to accommodate learners individual preferences and styles. The Learning & Development world uses the acronym ‘NET’ – No Extra Time – to cover resources which can be consumed whilst doing other things – reading a book or watching a webinar whilst travelling, or listening to a podcast whilst walking the dog. These are all ways of offering learning opportunities which can also fit around business constraints so you’re not taking everyone out of the business and into the classroom and enables learners to learn at their own pace.

Look at what flexible resources you can offer, or provide access to online, and on demand, and create a culture of agile learning in your organisation. If you provide the opportunities for your HiPos to satisfy their learning agility needs it will positively impact on productivity and on business performance.


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This wheel provides a reminder of those 4 key elements of ASPIRE: Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement, Retention and Engagement, which covers the full talent management cycle.

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Peak Performance Partnership Ltd (3P) is a Business Performance Consultancy specialising in Talent Management. ASPIRE by 3P is our talent management solution which supports the talent life cycle of Acquisition, Succession Planning, Improvement and Retention & Engagement.

Co-authored by Lindsay McGhie, Trevor Norman and Michelle Manning