Preparing for the Future: The Value of Learning Agility

April 22nd, 2024 – SkillCycle

While a skilled workforce has always held value, how we work is shifting so quickly that the ability to learn new things stands apart as a way to prepare for the future. This adaptability, or learning agility, allows people to use what they have learned from past experiences to succeed in new situations. 

“We think of it as keeping a constant space for learning within team dynamics, company strategy, and company expectations,” says Rebecca Taylor, CCO and Co-founder of SkillCycle. 

According to Harvard Business Review, three components are at the core of learning agility: navigating newness, understanding others, and self-awareness. Think of it as not just gaining knowledge, but building the ability to apply it in different ways. 

Learning agility can support long-term career success, whereas demand for various hard skills will rise and fall. It’s high time that employers consider soft skills as important as hard skills.

In this article on the value of learning agility, we’ll explore:

  • Why learning agility will hold value longer than hard skills
  • How to prioritize soft skills as you develop, hire, and promote staff
  • A key sign there could be an imbalance in your skills currency
  • Recruitment and retention in a future that values soft skills


Why learning agility will hold value longer than hard skills

While employers have often prioritized technical skills in the past, automation and the future of work will demand drastically different skills. Rapid technological advancements will quickly make many hard skills obsolete, necessitating continuous learning and adaptation.

“Fostering learning agility means providing opportunities for your employees to learn as part of their job description,” says Taylor. “These learning opportunities should be woven into the work they do.”

Nearly 40% of HR professionals identified problem-solving, critical thinking, innovation, and creativity as the top missing skills when hiring new candidates, with 32% saying the ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity is another critical gap when hiring for an automated world, according to McKinsey.

AI, automation, and the future of work underscore the need for flexible, soft skills that machines cannot easily replicate, such as creative thinking and emotional intelligence.


How to prioritize soft skills as you develop, hire, and promote staff

As organizations build their workforce, focusing on interpersonal and team skills can help balance a skills inventory that may have historically focused on hard skills. 

After all, starting strong with hard skills can be valuable for a time, but sustaining performance will be challenging without more nuanced soft skills. From your most recent hire to leadership, the ability to be vulnerable and learn new things will help everyone move forward.

“COOs are in the perfect position to lead with vulnerability in learning,” says Taylor. “In doing so, you create space for others to feel safe doing the same.”

When evaluating applicants and existing staff for soft skills, identify the behaviors that indicate someone is demonstrating strength in a soft skill. This approach may mean witnessing soft skills in action or creating a scenario where candidates can talk through a soft-skill interaction. 

Ideally, assessing soft skills in people means looking for ways they have put these skills into action. For example, knowing if someone is able to lead change may mean asking the people around them to validate whether they do it well. Leaders will need a solid understanding of how these skills show up at work to know if someone exhibits them consistently. 

“It’s going to take time for people to remap their association and understanding of soft skills,” says Taylor. “For example, it’s much harder to give people critical feedback on soft skills if you associate them with being a part of their personality.”

Frank dialogue from leadership can also help change the conversation around soft skills. A C-level executive can assess their own soft skills and speak openly about how they are working to improve them. 

This type of transparency can go a long way to help others recognize that soft skills can be developed or acquired and that learning is a critical part of the solution.


A key sign there could be an imbalance in your skills currency

Organizational culture benefits from a balanced skillset, fostering communication and reducing misunderstandings between team members. A proactive approach to building your team with diverse skills can help ensure stronger growth and resilience as your company faces change.

However, imbalances between hard and soft skills can happen, leading to inefficiencies and reduced workplace harmony. 

“One of the most common signs that there is a skill imbalance in your workplace is having too many meetings,” says Taylor. “Even if you’re on target for your goals or close to achieving them, a work week full of back-to-back meetings can indicate misalignment.”

It could mean there’s something missing in someone’s ability to manage time or produce at the required level, and meetings are being used to compensate for a lack of action somewhere else. 

Finally, a high volume of meetings could flag a skill gap or challenge in analyzing data and presenting it in another format. It could be a communication, analytical, or data processing gap. The bottom line? If your team seems overwhelmed by meetings, explore why. 


Recruitment and retention in a future that values soft skills

Consider soft skills as important as hard skills when building teams. A focus on human skills should be carried through to your recruitment and development initiatives to ensure you attract applicants who will balance your existing team. 

“A focus on soft skills can impact recruitment in positive ways,” says Taylor. “You’ll get better hires who can ramp up faster and make a bigger impact and form better relationships in the organization.”

The benefits flow both ways. A team full of people with well-developed human skills will be able to recruit and retain employees more effectively than in the past. New hires with these interpersonal and team skills can help prevent communication breakdowns, build a more cohesive team environment, and strengthen your organizational culture. 

Soft skills like resilience and flexibility are crucial for long-term career development and success. A workforce full of people who can collaborate, lead, adapt, solve problems, and learn new things can create a resilient future for your organization.

Fostering learning agility within your team is an excellent way to build your adaptability and resilience. Schedule a demo of the SkillCycle platform to find out how we can help. 


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