Learning Agility In The Future Of Work

Learning Agility In The Future Of Work

Gone are the days when organisations could stay successful by merely recruiting talented individuals who are good at doing their current work and showcase potential to succeed in the future.


Since 1987, the acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous), which was drawn from the leadership theories of Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, has entered the vocabulary of business leaders and has continued to find a place there. Most organisations have been operating in a VUCA environment for a while now; however, the degree of VUCA has not remained the same.


It was not too far back in the past that businesses spoke about disruptions and how new methods and technologies completely changed the traditional way in which industries and markets operated. While organisations were busy pre-empting the next possible disruption and preparing for it in advance, we saw an event that got termed as “unprecedented times” and made leaders head back to the drawing board to design business continuity plans and future-proof their organisations.


In times like these, one of the key competencies gaining prominence is learning agility.


Learning agility is the ability, willingness, and speed of learning something new and successfully applying the learnings in an unknown situation quickly. It’s the ability to gain new knowledge, experience, and exposure and then cross-connect them for application in different, new contexts to create successful outcomes.


Gone are the days when organisations could stay successful by merely recruiting talented individuals who are good at doing their current work and showcase potential to succeed in the future.


The future of work itself is dynamic and a moving target. Hence, the potential assessed today may fall short tomorrow when the need arises unless key competencies like learning agility are part of the assessment.


The talent that is being acquired and developed needs to be assessed for their learning agility. Will they be able to adapt, be flexible, learn, unlearn, relearn, and cross-connect the learnings for application in ever-changing situations to create organisational success in the future of work?


Depending on the speed of learning and its successful application to new situations, the existing talent and potential recruits will have to be groomed and mapped for the right matches. Primarily, the mapping can be done in a four-box matrix as shown below:



Theoretical Experts: This quadrant includes individuals who are fast in learning new things but slow in successfully applying the learning to new situations. This may be due to a lack of willingness or ability to apply learning to unknown situations.


This quadrant is a little tricky from a talent management standpoint. Ideally, individuals belonging to this quadrant would be quick learners and would have acquired a reputation as experts in their circles. However, in the dynamic future of work, they are likely to face challenges in successfully adapting and applying learnings in varied contexts due to their low action orientation.


 • Laggards: This quadrant includes individuals who have a slow learning speed and are also slow at applying the learning to new situations. There is a probability that there is either a skill or a will gap here. The individuals in this quadrant are unlikely to be a part of the talent pool.


Experimenters: This quadrant includes individuals who are slow or not so interested in learning new skills or developing themselves but have had a fairly successful history, willingness, and confidence to apply themselves to new situations.


The experimenters tend to be admired for their confidence, flamboyance, and risk-taking ability. And if they have a good success rate of managing varied situations in the past, it gives others the confidence to place bets on them for the future. If talented individuals in this quadrant are encouraged to invest in learning new skills and developing themselves, it will equip them with a more robust skill set and broader experience and exposure to manage the future of work.


Agile Learners: This last quadrant includes fast learners who successfully apply their learnings to new situations and truly showcase learning agility. They invest in their own learning and development and are willing and capable of applying their learning to new challenges and situations.


If talented individuals who belong to this last quadrant are identified correctly, they will turn out to be a gold mine. These are not only individuals who perform well and showcase future potential but also agile learners who can lead the future of work.


Building Learning Agility


Not only are organisations required to recruit individuals with learning agility, but they must also build systems to nurture and enhance the proficiency of this competency through newer exposures and experiences. On the one hand, it is the responsibility of leaders to invest in their employees’ learning and development and bring in the most relevant, new-age learning opportunities for them to gain new knowledge and build skills and capabilities.


On the other hand, it is equally vital to create new opportunities and situations to apply learnings and bring people out of their comfort zones in order to explore themselves.


Leaders will be required to enable organisations with possibilities like job rotations, new projects, new business opportunities, new teams, new structures, a cross-functional task force, etc., to ensure that there exist enough challenges for employees to experience new situations in which they can cross-connect and apply their learnings.


For any organisation to successfully navigate disruptions and unprecedented events in the future of work, leaders will have to foresee the changes in the environment and lead change initiatives. The more an organisation can recruit and skill their workforce to be agile learners, the quicker will they be able to change themselves to succeed.


Manish Punjabi is a seasoned HR professional with 12+ years of experience in leading various portfolios in large organisations like Asian Paints Ltd and UltraTech Cement Ltd. He is currently managing Learning & Development for UltraTech Cement as the Senior General Manager.


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