Integrating learning agility with new employee orientation has significant potential benefits for organizations in terms of engagement. We all know that an engaged employee is a motivated and dedicated employee, so what better way to begin that engagement than by saying from the outset, “We want to accelerate your entry into our organization”?

Helping new employees understand their learning agility profiles sends a message that the organization – and the employees’ supervisor – cares about their individual strengths and development areas. Those strengths and development areas, interpreted from a learning agility perspective, can be integrated into each new employee’s performance objectives and development plan.

A new employee will know how important this process is to the organization if it begins on day one and a draft plan is in place by the end of his or her first week.

Learning agility, as defined in the first blog post of this series, is finding yourself in a situation in which you have never been, not knowing what to do and figuring it out. Learning agility is behavioral, so it can be developed and increased. It is affected by the employee’s skill level, motivation and defensiveness.

How do you integrate a new employee’s learning agility information into an orientation program? First, it’s important to measure learning agility using an assessment or inventory such as the one based on Warner Burke’s nine dimensions of learning agility: flexibility, speed, performance risk-taking, interpersonal risk-taking, feedback seeking, information gathering, collaborating, experimenting and reflecting.

Whatever assessment you use, new employees should take the test prior to attending orientation. A person within the organization certified to administer the test provides a background on learning agility and then discuss the results with the new employees to help them validate the information. It is important to reconcile any differences between how a person sees himself or herself and what the test results show. The objective – based on data and examples – is to determine the employee’s capabilities in each area of learning agility. Then, the new employee can identify one or two dimensions to strengthen.

Let’s say those two dimensions are reflecting and collaborating. Reflecting is about slowing down to think about a situation that has already occurred and determining what went well and what could be improved. Collaborating is about working with another person, possibly with a different perspective, in a way that generates opportunities for learning from each other. The process of developing these dimensions should begin during orientation.

Participants should write down something that went well, something that didn’t and something that could have been done but wasn’t. Each person in the program is assigned a learning partner with a different functional, ethnic, geographic or gender perspective. These pairs are given guidelines on collaborating and then share their reflections and attempt to add value to the conversation based on their perspectives. They summarize what they learned (reflecting) and discuss how they can improve their interactions going forward (both collaborating and reflecting). This process continues over the course of orientation, followed by a seamless hand-off to the supervisor.

In terms of reflecting, the supervisor might set up a short weekly meeting of no more than 30 minutes, led by the employee and focused on what he or she learned in the past week. What went well? What didn’t? What could the employee have done differently? Each week, the supervisor asks these three questions, and the employee answers them with links to prior meetings. The supervisor’s role is to listen and ask probing questions, with an expectation that the employee will capture and apply these learnings over time. The frequency of the meetings can be decreased but should always occur at the end of a project or on a quarterly basis.

Collaborating is attacked a little differently. The new employees can continue to engage with their partners from orientation and work on areas of collaboration. In addition, you can ask them to identify someone within their function but outside their chain of command with whom they want to start a collaboration. This relationship should be mutually beneficial, and the pairs should meet briefly each week on a previously identified topic. Each month, the new employees meet with their supervisor and, at a high level, summarize how the collaboration is going. The supervisor can gently suggest some topics the pair could explore. At six months, the new employees share what they have learned about collaborating, which also requires them to demonstrate reflecting.

In the next blog post, I will look at developing learning agility in a leadership development program.

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