How to Learn and Lead with Agility | Mindset & Agility — The Rocket Fuel for Customer Experience Success

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In my last post, I spotlighted social psychologist Carol Dweck’s landmark work on growth mindset and offered a link between her research and customer experience excellence. Building on Dr. Dweck’s findings, let’s dive into the first of three posts that unpack Dr. W. Warner Burke’s model of learning agility.

Professor Burke is an organizational psychologist who began studying the characteristics of high potential individuals and high-performance teams. In 2017, Professor Burke released his ground-breaking book, aptly title Learning Agility, Dr. Burke, along with partners at the Center for Creative Leadership, assessed hundreds of leaders to determine the behaviors needed to adapt and maximize leadership potential. 

Dr. Burke defines learning agility as a set of skills for dealing with new experiences flexibly and rapidly. These skills involve trying new behavior, getting feedback on those attempts, and making quick adjustments, so new learning occurs when there is no clear path to success. Dr. Burke’s research uncovered nine learning agility skills:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Speed
  3. Experimenting
  4. Performance Risk
  5. Interpersonal Risk Taking
  6. Collaborating
  7. Information Gathering
  8. Feedback Seeking
  9. Reflecting

In addition to defining these skills, Dr. Burke developed a tool for assessing the degree to which individuals possess them. In a moment, I’ll discuss the first third of the learning agility skillset (the other two-thirds will be reviewed in upcoming posts).

The leadership development company, Korn Ferry, looked at learning agility across organizations and how learning agility connects to leadership potential. According to their research, only 15 percent of employees at most organizations are “highly agile,” meaning there is a significant opportunity to increase this valuable competency across most businesses. Korn Ferry also found that high learning agile individuals (compared to the less learning agile) are eighteen times more likely to be identified as high potential employees.

So, what are some of these agile learning skills, and how do they relate to improving internal and external customer experiences? Let’s look at three of them.

According to Dr. Burke:

Flexibility involves “being open to new ideas and proposing new solutions.” Flexibility is the process of shedding behaviors that have worked in the past in favor of new behaviors that meet future demands. In this way, flexibility involves unlearning as much as learning. Flexible team members adjust course based on current needs and the feedback from others. To successfully meet rapidly changing internal and external customer experience needs flexibility is a superpower.

Speed involves “acting on ideas quickly so that those that aren’t working are discarded, and other possibilities are accelerated.” Speed is about quickly changing behaviors and expeditiously reading situational cues to form a plan of action. In my work with and a book about Zappos (The Zappos Experience), I spend a lot of time addressing service speed. I also blend speed and accuracy through a concept I call service velocity. Velocity is meant to emphasize service speed at the desired trajectory.

Experimenting involves “trying out new behaviors (approaches, ideas) to determine what is effective.” I’ve worked with highly talented CX teams grounded in design thinking (deploying processes where they empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test). Their customer-centric and iterative approach continually relies on “test and learns” to observe consumer behavior and actively pursue customer feedback.

Inspired by Dr. Burke, here are this week’s challenge questions:

  1. Using the definition of learning agility provided by Dr. Burke (a set of skills for dealing with new experiences flexibly and rapidly – by trying new behavior, getting feedback on those attempts, and making quick adjustments), how learning agile are you?
  2. How has your learning agility affected your impact as an individual contributor or leader in your organization?
  3. What percentage of your team members are highly learning agile? What processes are either fostering or hindering learning agility in your organization?

In my latest book Stronger Through Adversity, I feature more than 140 learning agile leaders who’ve positioned their companies for world-class experience delivery during and after the pandemic.

Until next time, may you experiment, move with service velocity, and demonstrate the flexibility needed to create effective customer solutions and organizational growth.

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