Change Agility: a leadership priority in 2020

Little did we know when we started writing about Learning Agility in 2019 that we were soon to face a worldwide threat that would cause millions of people to dramatically change their daily lives.

We expected our next topic would focus on defining Change Agility and making a compelling case for it to be central to leadership development in 2020 and beyond.

Now, we find ourselves in the grip of a global crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has reached more than 2.5 million known cases, claiming over 177,688 lives across 210 countries.*

Revisiting our plan in this context, we quickly recognised that the mindset and behaviours associated with Change Agility are even more critical for leaders than before.

To explain, we initially called out the need for leaders to:

  • Understand the social needs of their people, especially during times of change.
  • Cultivate curiosity and scan the environment diligently for opportunities and threats.
  • Prepare for the future of work with strong growth in flexible working and remote teams.

Today, we are seeing these in a new light through our coaching practice as we talk daily with leaders dealing with the critical issues of caring for their people and safeguarding the future of their business.

Change Agility defined

Energy for the new and different is the essence of Change Agility. We see it in people who embrace change and seek out continuous improvement, from small, incremental enhancements to large-scale transformations.

As we look at the characteristics of change agile leaders, we see they:

  • Regularly scan the environment, inside and outside the organisation, for opportunities and threats.
  • Envision the future and project multiple scenarios to maximise their chances of success.
  • Like to experiment and use an iterative process in devising new methods, products and services.
  • Look outside the box to find creative and unique ideas they can bring to life.
  • Recognise that change is unsettling for many and take steps to deal with their own feelings and alleviate the anxiety and fear of others.
  • Encourage input from others, recognising that they themselves do not have all the solutions.

How many of these are true for you?

Take time to reflect on each point and ask yourself how much time and attention you devoted to practicing each one in 2019. What does this tell you about what you need to do differently in 2020?

Honest self-appraisal

An accurate view of our self and our capability is essential for leveraging strengths and managing weaknesses. Sometimes, we know what we need to work on for development, but don’t prioritise the action steps that are required.

At other times, daily pressures get in the way and we lose sight of the value of equipping ourselves with new skills, habits or the mindset that will make work easier and results more attainable.

If you need inspiration on how to strengthen your Change Agility in the current environment, seek input from two or three people who know you well. Invite their suggestions on how you can strengthen your impact as an agile leader.

Listen to their suggestions and decide which to apply to raise the bar for yourself, as you support people, lead change and ready your business for the future.

Leadership in a crisis

Leaders everywhere have faced accelerating disruption in recent years. No industry is immune and disruptive forces come in many forms, such as rapidly emerging new technologies, unexpected competitive threats and shifting social trends.

Right now, disruption has landed in the form of the coronavirus crisis at a scale and speed that the majority of people have not experienced in their lifetime. The reaction of leaders we know is an all-consuming urgency to find ways to manage the impact and fight for the survival of their businesses.

In this context, Change Agility is vital. We propose to amplify it with two critical behaviours identified though research at the IMD Business School in Switzerland:

  • Act quickly to execute decisions. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to speed especially in large organisations. Leaders need courage and determination to implement change promptly.
  • Be visionary, which means holding fast to a sense of long-term direction even in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. Hard to do, but a clear definition of where the organisation needs to go is important for everyone as they work out how to get there.

In her book Forged in A Crisis, Nancy Koehn illustrated how five legendary leaders demonstrated a sense of urgency and unwavering resolve during times of great adversity. She described how each one navigated through the calamity they faced and was transformed as a result. You can see her latest blog post here.

Tips for increasing Change Agility

We put it to you that the way you conduct yourself during this time will be long remembered by those who work with you and for you. Here are some thought starters:

  • Help people adjust to the new and different. For many, resistance is a natural response. Be more available to your people, keeping them informed and letting them know you are there for them. Accept that this is going to take more of your time.
  • Keep things in perspective. Identify the issues that are of most concern to your people so you can address them. Tune in to any individuals or groups who seem to be having a greater struggle. Find ways to resolve their immediate challenges and act on them.
  • Be ready to disrupt your usual style of leadership. Human beings are creatures of habit. Formed in the brain, habits allow us to perform daily tasks without having to think about them. Reboot your approach to leadership by looking for what you can do differently for greater impact.
  • Create a safe place for yourself. Stress and anxiety can impede performance. When times are tough, establish a physical location you can go to regroup and do your best thinking. Find a trusted person who can act as a support for you.
  • Behave strategically. Leading through a crisis involves intense pressure to focus on day-to-day operations. As soon as you can, address the longer term by working with your team on future-focused planning with clear intentions and purposeful actions.

* Worldometer, 22 April 2020

Continue ReadingChange Agility: a leadership priority in 2020

People agility: a potential game-changer for leaders

People agility has emerged as a ‘must-have’ capability for leaders in today’s complex and dynamic business world.

Not only do leaders need to navigate this turbulent environment successfully themselves, but they also need to be the enablers for their people to solve problems and deliver results.

One way they can create the inclusive, collaborative and innovative culture their organisations need is by consistently demonstrating a desire to explore, discover and learn with others.

Simply put, it’s about being agile in the way they engage with their people. However, many strategic and operational demands on senior executives can get in the way.

People agility defined

At first glance, people agility seems to describe the capacity to get on well with others, but there is more to it than that. People agility is the ability to take an open-minded, curious and flexible approach to people, looking for diverse opinions to broaden mutual understanding and achieve common goals.

People agility is also about communicating clearly, adjusting the style, pace and message to the audience. It’s being willing to take on a different viewpoint depending on the person or circumstances. People agile individuals learn quickly how to hear out opposing views and take care not to incite or escalate tension or conflict.

These characteristics are rounded out by the ability to read people well and predict how individuals and groups will respond to various events and situations and being ready and willing to help others to excel. This is often referred to as ’emotional intelligence’ or EQ.

This is the second of five blogs on why Learning Agility matters for executive success, with specific tips for enhancing the people agility dimension for yourself and others.

Social leadership

Leading involves understanding the social needs of people, including those who consider themselves focused on tasks rather than people. It must be recognised that social engagement is fundamental to human health and well-being which has a significant impact on organisational performance.

Dr Matthew Lieberman, neuroscientist and author, describes social engagement as a fundamental requirement built into our biology along with the basic needs for survival. In his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect he suggests that it deserves to be at the foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Infants embody the need to be connected because they are totally dependent on their caregiver(s) and the quality of care they receive has been shown to influence their cognitive and emotional development. The effects can last a lifetime.

So, what are the implications for business leaders? They need a mindset that helps them focus on:

  • Recognising the need for people to ‘belong’ and emphasising the importance of the team.
  • Facilitating open dialogue with a wide variety of contributors and stakeholders.
  • Breaking down barriers to collaboration across the organisation.
  • Building a sense of community connected to a higher purpose.

People orchestration skills

In his book Know-How, Ram Charan describes skills that separate leaders who perform from those who don’t. One of those skills is the ability to manage the social system of their business so people can work effectively and cooperatively together.

As many of us recognise this isn’t always easy, and the title of that chapter tells us so – Herding Cats!

Charan says that building the right social system requires making superb judgments on people, knowing how to select them, get them into the right jobs and help them build the skills to lead. He says this is highly developable.

So is people agility. Each of its elements is described in behavioural terms, so with targeted and systematic efforts leaders can adopt the practices used by great people leaders.

Tips for increasing people agility

  • Keep an open mind by suspending judgment. Listen to what people are saying and find clues about how they formed their opinions. Think about why you might differ and how you can reach common ground.
  • Take time to get to know your people, make sure you are aware of their strengths, weaknesses and career aspirations and check in regularly. Don’t assume you know.
  • Be alert when decisions are to be made, by being present and in the moment. Stop and consider whether you have all the facts in unfamiliar situations. Look for anything you are missing and read the people in the room.
  • Slow down when you disagree with others. Choose your words carefully so you don’t appear biased. Focus on the issue at hand, not the person.
  • Set people up for success by sharing what you know. Be an advocate for people you believe in and make sure you give credit where it’s due.
  • Build a network for yourself outside your immediate circle. Connect with individuals and groups who don’t know each other so you than can access new information and fresh thinking.

The future of work

The rapid pace of change today brings a need to transform the way we do business and find new ways of working. We are in the midst of a massive shift, evidenced by the trend to flexible working, remote teams, coworking spaces, artificial intelligence and more.

Add to this the fact that people are living longer and retiring later, whilst younger people are now entering the workforce. This means that, for the first time, we have five generations in the workplace and must accommodate the different needs and expectations of those groups.

Last year research conducted by PWC published the results of a global survey of business and HR leaders. In a paper entitled Preparing for tomorrow’s workforce, today, they note that the most astute leaders must ask the question: “How can I deliver great performance by helping our people to thrive?”

Yes, indeed! The need for leaders to cultivate people agility has never been greater!

Last words

If you would like to see how leaders can create a circle of trust to build cooperation and collaboration, check out Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk – Why good leaders make you feel safe.

Sinek says that doing this, especially in an uneven economy, is a big responsibility for leaders – but it’s the key to helping ordinary people achieve extraordinary things.

 

Continue ReadingPeople agility: a potential game-changer for leaders

Learning Agility: Why it matters for executive success

Learning Agility refers to the ability and willingness to quickly adapt. The concept was derived from systematic research over several years into the careers of highly effective business leaders.

These leaders were found to share important characteristics that set them apart. Keen observers of what was going on around them, they were intellectually curious, flexible and adventurous.

Reflective about their experiences, they frequently made creative connections between apparently unrelated pieces of information and they had a preference for bold and new solutions to problems.

Learning Agility Dimensions

Further studies revealed some interesting facts about those who had greater Learning Agility – not only did they get promoted faster and more often than others, but they were significantly more successful after they were promoted.

Learning Agility has since been widely accepted as a key indicator of potential, and interest in Korn Ferry’s multidimensional model as a way to develop leadership capability and performance has grown.

This is the first of five blogs on why Learning Agility matters for executive success, each focusing on one of the agility dimensions – mental, people, change, results and self-knowledge – with tips for enhancing Learning Agility for yourself and others.

Learning Agility in the 2020’s

The qualities associated with Learning Agility have taken on new currency in today’s complex and dynamic business environment where change and uncertainty are the norms.

Significant shifts in technology, globalisation and social trends require organisations to transform the way they do business to stay relevant in their markets. Over the next decade, the organisations most likely to succeed will be those that are nimble and adaptable.

The guidance of forward-thinking and strategic leaders will be essential. You’ll know them when you see them – they embrace complexity, examine problems in unique and unusual ways and are open-minded toward ideas and people. In other words, they are learning agile.

Developing Learning Agility

A commonly asked question is – can people develop their Learning Agility? Whilst it’s a relatively stable attribute, Learning Agility is defined in terms of behaviours. So, the answer is yes. Conscious and deliberate practise of those behaviours will enable people to enhance their Learning Agility.

As a starting point, a person should be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and grow or, even better, embrace the concept of learning as a lifelong journey. In her book Mindset: The Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck described this as having a ‘growth mindset’ which she says is the key for realising one’s full potential.

Mental Agility

This dimension of Learning Agility concerns the way people deal with concepts and ideas. Being mentally agile is primarily about being curious and inquisitive – searching for the new, exploring the unknown, taking time to think things through and looking for themes within and across situations.

A person with this orientation doesn’t stop at obvious answers to problems but looks below the surface for underlying causes, drilling down into complex issues to simplify and make sense of them.

About Curiosity

A Google search today on ‘curiosity’ resulted in 122 million results. Seems like a lot of people are writing about it! Narrow the search by adding the word ‘executive’ and there are still 44 million results. Impressive.

One of the top results points to a feature on curiosity published in Harvard Business Review (2018), highlighting that curiosity is vital to an organisation’s performance.

The author says curiosity helps leaders and employees come up with more creative solutions to external pressures. It enables leaders to gain more respect from their followers and inspires employees to develop more trusting and collaborative relationships with colleagues.

Sounds good? Well, of course, there’s a trap. Although leaders say they value inquisitive minds, in practice they may stifle curiosity. It was reported that about 70 per cent of employees who were surveyed said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

Tips for increasing Mental Agility

  • Challenge yourself to think about how curious and creative you are. Over the last week, what was the balance between the solutions you provided and questions you asked?
  • Questions are the fuel for new ideas, so start and keep asking why, how and what. Listen to the answers carefully, suspending judgement as you do.
  • Encourage curiosity and learning by reviewing events and outcomes, posing the right questions. Why did that happen? What can we learn from that?
  • Become an observer of agile thinking, listen to people talking and note the words and phrases that reveal a ‘growth’ mindset versus a ‘fixed’ one.
  • Reflect on questions asked in your organisation. Are they encouraged or are they seen as a challenge to authority? Do your people explore ideas with each other or are they too task-focused to take the time? What do you need to do to enable creative and innovative thought?

Last Words

If you are looking for inspiration on what it means to be curious and creative, try reading A Curious Mind, written by Oscar-winning film producer Brian Grazer.

Having practised ‘curiosity conversations’ for years with people outside his industry, he describes curiosity as having many shades and intensities that serve different purposes. A great read!

Continue ReadingLearning Agility: Why it matters for executive success

Why measure Learning Agility?

Most people are good at doing things they’ve done in the past and coming up with solutions they know from experience work well. Fewer are adept at handling new and unique challenges where there are no obvious answers. Yet, this is precisely what is demanded of leaders today.

A dynamic and complex business environment requires people to be resourceful and adaptable, to think and act in new ways as situations change. It takes people out of their comfort zone and pushes them beyond their usual ways of doing things.

The extent to which people enjoy these challenges varies significantly. Some prefer to avoid them, holding on to trusted skills, expertise and patterns of behaviour, whilst others actively seek them out in order to satisfy their natural curiosity and enjoyment of doing new things.

Agile learners demonstrate the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to succeed in new and different situations. They look for many, diverse experiences and this runs counter to sticking with any one discipline for long periods.

On this basis, not every job is suited to agile learners. Some jobs require deep expertise where being highly learning agile could actually be a disadvantage. Organisations can better manage their talent when they measure learning agility and carefully match the right people to the right jobs, career paths and developmental experiences.

How can learning agility be measured?

Learning agility is a multi-dimensional concept. Based on research over three decades, Korn Ferry’s model is made up of five factors – Self-Awareness, Mental Agility, People Agility, Change Agility and Results Agility. These are defined as a set of behaviours that are both observable and measurable.

Multi-rater assessment

A straightforward way to measure Learning Agility is through a 360-degree survey. Choices® is a proven, easy-to-use online assessment that provides people with meaningful feedback on their overall Learning Agility and each of its five factors.

Choices® is useful as it raises awareness of what Learning Agility actually is among individuals and their raters by reading the behavioural descriptors as they complete the assessment. It is also supported by the FYI for Learning Agility™ book that contains specific actions a person can take to develop Learning Agility.

Self-assessment

A second way to assess Learning Agility is through an online self-assessment called viaEDGE™. To overcome the tendency of individuals to over or underrate themselves, rigorous verification scales are used to determine the accuracy of their scores, providing a confidence index for each completed assessment.

viaEDGE™ is useful when time is at a premium and is effective for assessing larger groups of individuals. It is supported by a development guide called Becoming an Agile Leader: A Guide to Learning from your Experience.

What are the benefits of measuring learning agility?

An organisation’s success depends largely on its people, talented individuals who contribute to the achievement of organisational goals. Those who effectively leverage the abilities of their people are focused on understanding and differentiating their talent.

All talent is important, but all talent is not the same. On one hand, there are high-professionals who generally have deep technical expertise and do well in functional roles. On the other are high-potentials, those who prefer broader experiences and responsibilities and are better suited to general management positions.

It’s worth noting that people across both of these groups are critical to an organisation’s future success, yet their contributions are quite different and they need to be nurtured and developed differently.

The key criterion that differentiates talent along the high-professional/high-potential continuum is Learning Agility. Knowing where your people stand on this scale will allow you to make more informed decisions in selection, succession management, career planning and development.

The benefits for individuals are obvious – better alignment between career and personal interests and motivation means greater job satisfaction and a greater likelihood of access to personally meaningful development opportunities.

For organisations, measurement of Learning Agility gives that all-important big picture view of the talent pool. Group data with scores across each of the five factors of Learning Agility offers the opportunity to identify candidates who have the right skills for a job now or those who would benefit from specific developmental opportunities.

Importantly, the overall Learning Agility Index for your talent pool provides critical insight into the dominant themes in your organisation’s culture and how agile it is as a whole.

 

Continue ReadingWhy measure Learning Agility?

Understanding Learning Agility

What is Learning Agility?

Learning Agility is defined as “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to succeed in new and different situations”.

People differ significantly in what and how they learn from experience. Some acquire skills and knowledge, readily picking up technical information, whilst others are more adept figuring out how to solve unfamiliar problems and finding new ways of looking at issues.

Learning Agility is defined as “the ability and willingness to learn from experience and use those lessons to succeed in new and different situations”.

People differ significantly in what and how they learn from experience. Some acquire skills and knowledge, readily picking up technical information, whilst others are more adept figuring out how to solve unfamiliar problems and finding new ways of looking at issues.

Primarily, learning agility is an indicator of adaptability rather than intelligence. Although intelligence influences the ability to learn from a traditional perspective, learning agility is a different and distinct trait that is not significantly correlated with intelligence.

Agile learners tend to approach new experiences with curiosity and resourcefulness; they respond well to situations that stretch their thinking and current way of doing things. On the other hand, less agile learners prefer what is familiar and to go with proven solutions.

Where did the term Learning Agility come from?

Dr Michael Lombardo and Dr Robert Eichinger introduced the term Learning Agility two decades ago as a key indicator of leadership potential, based on extensive research into executive success and derailment carried out at the Center for Creative Leadership[1] and Lominger International.[2]

This work has been carried on by Korn Ferry since 2006 and their findings have echoed by many others who have highlighted the importance of learning from experience. For example, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas found that successful leaders commonly had critical experiences that changed their thinking.[3]

It should be noted that the origin of Learning Agility as a construct was derived from leadership research, as opposed to educational psychology. However, other streams of research have contributed to the understanding of Learning Agility, including studies of different forms of intelligence.

Dr Robert Sternberg put forward his theory of “successful intelligence” as the kind of intelligence used to achieve important goals. He emphasises analytical, creative and practical abilities as key components of the ability to succeed in career and life.[4]

Why is Learning Agility important?

As Learning Agility comprises a set of skills that allow us to learn something in one setting and apply it another, it is especially significant in today’s business environment where change, uncertainty and ambiguity are the norms.

As much as we may like to think that things are stable and under our control, the reality is quite different. The vast majority of the problems facing executives and managers lack clarity and have no obvious answers.[5] New technologies, new processes and new business challenges. Nothing stays the same very long.

In addition, jobs themselves become more complex at higher levels in an organisation and it’s here that Learning Agility must move into high gear. Executives need to sort information from a variety of sources and drill down to distil it into simple themes that are understandable for others.

 

[1] McCall, M Lombardo & Morrison, 1988, The Lessons of Experience, The Free Press

[2] Lombardo & Eichinger, 2010, The Leadership Machine 10th Anniversary Edition, Korn Ferry

[3] Bennis & Thomas, 2002, Geeks and Geezers, Harvard Business School Press

[4] Sternberg, 1997, Successful Intelligence: How practical and creative intelligence determine success in life, Plume.

Continue ReadingUnderstanding Learning Agility

Four ways to advance the representation of women at the top

  • Today, more women graduate from university than men and yet far fewer make it to senior executive roles in organisations.
  • The percentage of women on ASX 200 boards is 15.4% and of those companies 52% have no women on their boards.[1]
  • Some 78% of women now leave their middle and upper management positions to start their own business.[2]

A challenge for women

A Harvard Business Review study conducted by Boris Groysberg and Deborah Bell found many leaders see a greater representation of women at the top of organisations is key to diversity and sustainability. At the same time, we have all heard the line that there are simply not enough skilled and experienced women around.

Here lies a challenge – women lag behind men in getting the type of assignments that prepare people for success at the top, such as those with P&L responsibility, heavy strategic demands and high visibility from top management. Understandably, it’s hard to sustain a career long term without the right experiential learning.

Agility is the key

In his article “The Importance of Agility” in Human Resource Executive online, Andrew McIlvaine says that in times of unprecedented change and uncertainty, we need to ensure that leaders have the requisite agility to not only operate in unchartered watersbut to thrive in them.

Agility has been a theme for Lominger International for two decades, after successful executives were found to embrace new and diverse challenges and integrate and draw numerous and varied lessons from them. In other words they are “learning agile”. Here is another opportunity to help women keep pace in development.

Helping women advance their careers

  1. Give women the opportunity to understand and develop their learning agility
    Women (and men!) benefit enormously from knowing where they stand now on learning agility. It is a measurable trait that can be developed. Coaching and self-help resources such Lominger’s Agile Leader series are useful for becoming a more agile leader.
  2. Ensure organisational career paths are identified and open to women
    When an organisation identifies its most critical jobs, any bias against women must be overcome so they are included in succession plans. Career pathways that are visible to themselves and others and appropriate development planning will help them stay the course to realise their potential.
  3. Support women in making successful leadership transitions
    Each step up the corporate ladder brings a new set of requirements in terms of skill, complexity of work and focus of effort. Navigating these changes at each transition is essential for long-term career success. Stephen Drotter’s book “The Performance Pipeline” is a good resource for understanding what it takes.
  4. Give women opportunities to build their professional network
    Women can often be distracted by the variety of roles they play in their lives – partner, mother, daughter, sister, etc. With so many facets to their lives, they may need encouragement to build a network of peers inside and outside the organisation, as well as finding mentors to help guide their path.

[1] Women in Leadership Report, CEDA, June 2013

[2] National Survey of Women Business Owners, Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, March 2012

Continue ReadingFour ways to advance the representation of women at the top