In an age of business disruption, the only thing we can be sure of is that things are going to change. Whether dealing with the realities of a pandemic, or shifting expectations around remote and hybrid work, or of emerging demands of sustainability and transparent operations,1 organizations must equip themselves to adapt to disruption in business changes by cultivating enterprise agility.
What is enterprise agility?
Up to 90% of CEOs believe their company is facing disruptive change, and 70% say their organization does not have the skills to adapt.2 Meaning, only 30% of organizations qualify as agile and are able to quickly adapt their processes, structures, technology use, and team makeup in response to change.3
Business agility calls for systems and approaches that enable workers to adapt swiftly, make ongoing improvements, and prioritize responsiveness and efficiency over robust planning and documentation.4
So, how do you help your organization grow business agility? Learning and development (L&D) managers can help organizations make this shift by building solutions to fill emerging skills gaps, bolster key competencies, and create an environment that empowers, encourages collaboration, and inspires teams to keep on improving.
7 ways L&D leaders can contribute to enterprise agility
1. Empower employees to learn in the flow of work
In order to iterate and improve quickly, teams need to expand their skill sets and keep their knowledge up-to-date. In fact, nearly 60% of the workforce needs new skills to better perform in their roles.5 And yet, as they go about their busy work day filled with competing priorities, most people who could benefit from upskilling simply don’t have the time they need to commit to it. This is where learning in the flow of work becomes a powerful tool.
Learning can be approached individually, within teams, or on a project-by-project basis.7 By creating an environment where teams, for instance, can learn and change their approach on a day-to-day basis, businesses equip themselves for the disruptive changes of tomorrow. But learning in the flow of work goes beyond enabling learning — it’s about creating a culture of learning where employees are actively looking out for opportunities to learn and improve.
2. Invest in self-paced, self-directed learning
To facilitate this kind of need-based learning, leaders should ensure that employees have access to self-paced and self-directed learning opportunities. This empowers employees to take a more active role in their professional development: be it through self-directed learning exercises or initiatives driven by L&D managers.
This type of learning environment is what differentiates agile organizations from others; in an agile work environment, employees take direction amid ambiguity, and take charge of what and when to acquire new skills.8 That means a Google update won’t grind SEO team operations to a halt. The team will have the resources and support they need to seek out up-to-date knowledge, and get started on tweaking their strategy in real time.
As the number of agile work environments has grown in recent years, so has the number offerings that support self-paced and self-directed learning at the point of need. Amongst these are online learning subscriptions that enable employees to address any skill gaps, and take the next skill in their career development pathway themselves.
This translates into new opportunities to embed learning into everyday work activities, such as microlearning exercises that are easily integrated into a busy schedule.9
3. Empower managers
Navigating change isn’t easy. Agile organizations already know that, have accepted it, and have equipped themselves with the required tools and culture to function amidst the change. To set its teams up for success, an agile organization invests first and foremost in training its managers, who can then provide support for their teams to adapt a growth mindset at work — believing they have the capacity to improve, adapt, and gain new skills — and learn to implement agile practices, like working quickly and iteratively instead of striving for perfection.10
Aside from helping to bolster a commitment to learning at all levels, management buy-in and participation also helps L&D managers to provide training that’s more relevant and connected to the daily needs of every specific team. Team managers, after all, know the realities their teams face and their very needs, and can easily communicate those to L&D managers.
Moreover, research reveals that 85% of employees are already aware of the skill gaps they need to address.11 What they need now — to feel empowered to adapt their learning journey based on these insights, and pivot swiftly and effectively in their day-to-day work — is their direct managers’ support.12
4. Encourage collaboration across teams
When leaders encourage collaborative environments, they open up myriad possibilities for growth and development.
Think about your colleagues. What individual skills and interests do they have? How do they approach problems? Chances are, there’s a diversity of perspectives and approaches in that group. That means they’ll each bring different competencies and perspectives to the table. When they are excited to voice their ideas, share their expertise, and divide and conquer on project needs, teams are primed to innovate and improve.
Setting the standard for a culture of collaboration and creativity, Google has cultivated work environments that bring great minds together. Between temporary pop-up office spaces for team collaboration, a volunteer teaching network called Googlers-to-Googlers, g2g, (where staff dedicate time to help each other learn and grow), and town hall ‘TGIF’ meetings that have become a standard of transparency and open communication for the rest of Silicon Valley, Google exemplifies the innovation that collaborative environments make possible.13
Instead of siloed working that reduces communication, and erodes trust and autonomy, teams in agile organizations are free to throw their collective knowledge at a challenge and find new and innovative approaches.14 And when individuals engage in upskilling, they can share training insights and lessons learned with the group, saving time and effort for all.
5. Focus on soft skills development at all levels
A staggering 50% of leaders are said to fail in achieving what they were hired to do. So says Warner Burke, professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Burke, who is an expert in leadership and organizational change, argues that this failure is due to a lack of learning agility.15
Learning agility is an individual's ability to learn new things, adapt their understanding, and relearn knowledge if necessary. It requires an openness to new knowledge and skills, and involves a number of soft skills that equip individuals to make their way through ambiguous circumstances. Soft skills — interpersonal skills like communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, giving and receiving feedback, problem-solving, and decision-making — can be learned just like any other skill. L&D leaders should invest in soft skill training for team members at all levels to support and grow enterprise agility.
But learning agility isn’t limited to individuals alone — it can also be part of an organization’s identity. Just as in the case of individuals who show learning agility, organizations who share this trait show flexibility — the ability to move on from old methods or thinking when they aren’t working — and speed — how quickly they can make a new plan of action when new information surfaces.16 That means, when a digital marketing campaign fails to meet its targets, agile marketers will investigate what went wrong and move on to new tools or new approaches to existing tools, instead of throwing time and money at a strategy that’s just not working.
By first focusing on developing soft skills at all levels of an organization, L&D leaders can equip teams to work decisively and confidently in the face of uncertainty.17
6. Create metrics to track the success of L&D agility initiatives
L&D is an iterative process that evolves alongside business demands; it’s therefore important to track its progress and measure these against key business metrics. Since speed and efficiency are part and parcel of enterprise agility, it’s also very useful to include time as a key metric to measure success.18
For example, you could track the time it takes to develop and deploy a new training intervention. Alternatively, you could also measure how quickly employees are able to gain and implement targeted skills. With insights such as these, L&D managers can get closer to training that meets business needs as efficiently and effectively as possible.
7. Foster a culture of lifelong learning
As much as 50% of the global workforce will need to upskill or reskill by 2025.19 That means continued education is no longer optional; it’s key to continued employability. It’s this same state of affairs that lends credence to agile methodologies, which prepare organizations to meet global transformation head-on.
Agility and a culture of learning go hand in hand. Organizations that embrace a culture of learning create agile learners who move quickly, and embrace innovation and change. As a result, these organizations are 30% more likely to be trailblazers in their industry.20
For an organization to truly embed learning within its culture, it needs to promote and support learning at all levels, from entry level to middle management, and all the way to the C-suite. Aside from providing access to relevant learning materials to all, this also means setting time aside for development, for celebrating new ideas, and for emphasizing individual links to organizational goals.21
An agile working environment calls for empowered employees who can pivot, unlearn, and seek out new solutions. A culture of learning offers employees opportunities to upskill and grow their careers, and to place value on seeking out new insights and solutions; it also provides employees with intrinsic motivation.22
To find out more about creating a culture of lifelong learning, read our blog, How a Learning Culture Primes Your Organization for Agility.
To discover more about the power of enterprise agility, get in touch to discuss edX For Business online learning opportunities.
1The Good Work Framework: A new business agenda for the future of work. (2022). World Economic Forum. Retrieved September 22, 2022.
2How to Achieve Organizational Agility by Developing a Learning Culture. (2020). BizLibrary. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
3 How to Achieve Organizational Agility by Developing a Learning Culture. (2020). BizLibrary. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
4What Is Agile Methodology in Project Management? (Nd). Wrike. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
5Gartner HR Research Finds 58% of the Workforce Will Need New Skill Sets to Do Their Jobs Successfully. (2021). Gartner. Retrieved September 26, 2022.
6Learning In The Flow Of Work. (2021). Forbes. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
7Learning In The Flow Of Work. (2021). Forbes. Retrieved September 23, 2022.
8Learning Agility: How to drive your employees to the right skill. (2021). disprz. Retrieved September 26, 2022.
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10 5 ways L&D teams can contribute toward making organizations agile. (2021). Chief Learning Officer. Retrieved September 26, 2022.
11The Secret to Organizational Agility? Empowering Your Managers. (2021). Association for Talent Development. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
12 Learning Agility: How to drive your employees to the right skill. (2021). disprz. Retrieved September 26, 2022.
13 Case Study: How Google Boosts its Employees’ Engagement. (Nd). 6Q. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
14Learning Agility: How to drive your employees to the right skill. (2021). disprz. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
15 Learning Agility: What It Is and How to Assess It. (2020). Harver. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
16 Learning Agility: What It Is and How to Assess It. (2020). Harver. Retrieved September 27, 2022.