Learning Agility Prime Indicator of Business Success

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Agile enterprises make effective moves: pivoting at the right moment, finding resourcefulness to grow in difficult markets, seizing opportunities when others are uncertain. 

But how can an organization measure its enterprise agility? Through its people and their distribution of learning agility, claims a new study from Korn Ferry Insitute. In fact, Korn Ferry found that companies with the greatest rates of highly learning agile executives produced 25 percent higher profit margins

Korn Ferry Institute analysts Vicki Swisher and Guangrong Dai clearly define learning agility in The Agile Enterprise: Taking Stock of Learning Agility to Gauge the Fit of the Talent Pool to the Strategy. They explain that  learning agility is an individual’s ability to acquire new skills, learn from experience, face new challenges, and perform well under changing conditions. In addition, their research finds that learning agility encompasses five factors: 

  • Mental agility—embracing complexity, examining problems in unique ways, making fresh connections, and staying inquisitive. 

  • People agility—being opening toward others, enjoying interactions 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, seeing feedback and personal insight. 

More importantly, Korn Ferry’s and independent research indicates that learning agility is a prime predictor of successful leadership—perhaps even more so than IQ, emotional intelligence, or education. Here are just a few stats: 

  • Executives with high levels of learning agility are 18 times more likely to be identified as having high potential.

  • Executives with high levels of learning agility arefive times more likely to be highly engaged.

  • Executives with high levels of learning agility are promoted twice as fast as individuals with low learning agility. 

Clearly building learning agility has tremendous value for organizations. But how? 
To discern how organizations can best use learning agility to increase leadership and productivity, Korn Ferry analyzed the talent components of five common business strategies: innovation, M&A, growth in new markets, customer loyalty, and consolidation/restructuring. For each strategy, it examined learning agility data from nearly 1,000 companies spanning a wide range of industries. 

The result: Korn Ferry developed an index that reflects the specific types of learning agility most needed among the workforce for that strategy to succeed. For example, companies striving to increase innovation require high levels of mental and change agility, while companies pursuing M&A need executives with high levels of change and people agility. 

To learn more, download The Agile Enterprise: Taking Stock of Learning Agility to Gauge the Fit of the Talent Pool to the Strategy.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at 

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