Become a Better Student at Work

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Yesterday’s Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business Review and the article it was derived from stated “Research has found that learning agility – the ability to grow and to use new strategies – is a good indicator of whether someone can be a high performer”.    This concept caught my eye from a few different perspectives.  First, I do a lot of training and coaching as part of our consulting practice.  I can very often pick out the high potentials by the attitude of the participants.  They are the ones that are eager to learn new concepts, throw the old ones away, challenge the status quo and get excited about applying new ideas through case studies or new assignments.  They are also not afraid to fail because they see failure as a way to learn.  These are the key characteristics of a learning-agile individual.  Since much of my work is leading organizations through a major change or transformation, I recognize that these qualities are CRITICAL.

According to Teachers College, Columbia University and the Center for Creative Leadership, learning agility is defined as follows:

“Learning agility is a mind-set and corresponding collection of practices that allow leaders to continually develop, grow and utilize new strategies that will equip them for the increasingly complex problems they face in their organizations”. 

There are four behaviors that enable learning agility:

  • Innovating – challenging the status quo and questioning long-held assumptions. Generating new ideas by viewing issues from multiple angles
  • Performing – overcoming an unfamiliar challenge. This requires using observation and listening skills to process data quickly in order to perform
  • Reflecting – asking for and USING feedback
  • Risking – volunteering for roles and jobs where success is not guaranteed and failure if possible

There is one behavior that derails learning agility: 

  • Defending – being defensive when challenged or given critical feedback.

In addition, according to the article, “learning-agile individuals stand out in particular for their resilience, calm and ability to remain at ease.  It’s not just that they are willing to put themselves into challenging situations; it’s that they’re able to cope with the stress of these challenges and thus manage them more effectively”.   

Why is recognizing, cultivating and encouraging learning agility important?   When I think about the role of the Sourcing or Supply Chain professional, particularly today as our landscape changes at a rapid pace, learning agility should be a prerequisite.  We are called upon to challenge old ways of doing things, stick our necks out where we are often not wanted, learn from our mistakes and readjust and take on assignments where success is not certain. The change we are leading is necessary to make our organizations relevant and competitive but it is HARD.  We are not always welcome and can be perceived as “difficult to manage” which is the perception some will have of the learning-agile individual. In the long run, this is exactly the type of individual required to lead change.

The second reason I found this article interesting is because I am about to speak to a group of students from my Alma Mater.  I was asked to talk about my education, the career path I’ve taken and what I wish for them for their future.  Learning agility is of interest there because it is about being a perpetual student.  Taking every opportunity to learn something new, volunteering for different assignments, taking lateral jobs to be exposed to new experiences is all part of the growing process.  Being a student at work and in life is what I wish for them and for all of us.

Let us know what you think and join in the conversation. . . . . . . . . . .  

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Anne Kohler
Anne has been leading consulting and financial management organizations for over 25 years. She has extensive expertise in Strategic Sourcing, change management, contracting & contract management (both the buy side and sell side) organizational design and supply chain management. Anne has a passion for collaborating and educating her clients while helping them to uncover hidden value in their organizations. In addition, Anne has been named by Supply & Demand Chain Executive as a “Top 100 Provider Pro to Know” every year since 2007 and a 2013 Top Female Supply Chain executive.
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