SOURCE: Green Peak Partners

April 21, 2015 12:00 ET

To Excel in Their Careers, Aspiring Leaders Should Take a Higher-Risk, Higher-Reward Path and Become Learning-Agile

Learning-Agile People Often Follow an Untraditional Path and Are Able to Adapt Quickly to New Environments and Outperform Competitors, According to Green Peak Partners

DENVER, CO--(Marketwired - Apr 21, 2015) - Individuals who want to up their effectiveness at work and excel in their careers should consider taking a higher-risk, higher-reward path. Instead of moving surely and safely up the career ladder, they should cultivate "learning agility" -- a quality that is related to being more extroverted, more focused, more original, more resilient, less accommodating and, ultimately, more successful.

Learning-agile people can process new information and situations faster than others and adjust on the fly to changing conditions, making companies more flexible and responsive. They also help firms outperform their competitors, according to research conducted by Green Peak Partners. Green Peak defines learning agility as flexibility, openness to information and the ability to get -- and apply -- insight, even from a misstep.

To determine the value that learning-agile people bring to their companies, Green Peak collaborated with researchers from Teachers College, Columbia University to extend work previously done in conjunction with Center for Creative Leadership. Their study finds that private equity-backed C-suite leaders who ranked high for learning agility on an assessment test also outperformed less-agile peers as measured by revenue growth, EBITDA performance and boss ratings issued by the Board.

"Despite the compelling links between learning-agile people and business performance, learning agility has traditionally been undervalued, even in the modern workplace," says J.P. Flaum, Managing Partner at Green Peak Partners. "Organizations have tended to ignore, resist or try to 'smooth out' the rough-seeming edges of their learning-agile people. But there is a strong reason for employers to seek out learning-agile employees -- and for employees to cultivate the trait themselves."

Learning-Agile People Give Their Companies -- and Themselves -- a Competitive Edge

When people train themselves to be more learning-agile, they can excel in their careers and give their companies a critical edge. "Learning-agile people jump among assignments, take on severe challenges and sometimes fail badly. But, in doing so, they learn fast and contribute more," said Dr. Becky Winkler, Partner at Green Peak Partners. "As such, a growing number of companies recognize that learning-agile employees can be a huge competitive advantage."

"Learning-agile people often don't follow the standard corporate path to success -- instead, they challenge the status quo, take risks and view failures as learning opportunities," adds Flaum. "They may not always resemble ideal corporate citizens from a conformity perspective, but their qualities can add tremendous value to teams and workgroups -- which means that learning-agile employees can find themselves on a fast career track."

The Path to Becoming More Learning-Agile

What can an employee or manager do to become more learning agile, or to cultivate learning agility within their organizations? Flaum and Winkler advise them to:

  • Innovate -- seek out new solutions. Repeatedly ask, "What else? What are 10 more ways I could approach this? What are several radical things I could try here?" "It doesn't mean you do all of these things," Winkler says. "But you consider all of them before proceeding." Managers can encourage their people to seek new solutions, and ask the same questions of team members.

  • Trust your intuition and try to find the patterns in complex situations -- for example finding the similarities between current and past projects, or focusing on end goals without getting bogged down too early in how to get there. Cultivate calm through meditation, and then use that newfound calm to improve listening skills -- listening instead of immediately reacting.

  • Become more reflective, exploring "what-ifs" and alternative histories for projects you've been involved in. And seek out real input -- ask "What are three or four things I could have done better here?" Make sure the question is specific but still open-ended -- that way, colleagues will open up, and you'll learn something you can act on.

  • Take more risks, as long as they're smart risks. Look for "stretch assignments" where success isn't a given. These might involve new roles, new parts of the company, or new geographies. Managers can help by giving stretch assignments to their employees -- and by defining success as the learning and exploration, not just the outcome.

  • Avoid getting defensive. Acknowledge failures -- perhaps from those stretch assignments -- and capture the learnings. Managers can help their reports do the same, in settings that give them the space to learn from failure -- for example, in 360-degree reviews that focus on projects rather than people, and that focus on learnings and how to apply them in future.

"Learning agility is worth cultivating regardless of where you are in a company. A learning-agile person can be someone who is inventing a better manufacturing process, or spotting what's wrong in the supply chain, or taking on a tough overseas assignment," added Flaum. "If you're learning-agile, you might be arguing with managers that a strategy needs to change, or alienating colleagues as an initiative you championed falls on its face. But you'll be able to come out of the experience better than before, and take advantage of new opportunities."

For more information or to speak with J.P. Flaum or Becky Winkler, please contact Katarina Wenk-Bodenmiller of Sommerfield Communications, Inc. at (212) 255-8386 or katarina@sommerfield.com.

About Green Peak Partners

Green Peak Partners is an organizational consulting firm with offices in Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Denver, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle committed to expanding the talent and leadership capability of our client companies at both the individual and team level. For more information, visit http://greenpeakpartners.com.

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