Tech leaders know they need to hire the best engineers to achieve success – but the ‘best’ talent isn’t always easy to identify.
In the quest to improve the hiring process, organizations employ a series of evaluations – candidates are vetted for hard skills, soft skills, experience, and more. And for engineering teams, learning agility and curiosity are crucial drivers of success.
In this article, we’ll explore the fundamentals of learning agility and how you can assess engineers for relevant traits.
What is Learning Agility?
Learning agility is the ability to learn continuously, in different ways, and to be able to apply skills and experience to novel situations. It is considered a soft skill, closely connected to curiosity — the desire to learn something new.
People with learning agility traits never stop viewing themselves as a learner – they are continually motivated to learn, understanding that skills can be developed through effort and adopting relevant strategies.
People with learning agility are open to new challenges and experiences. They seek out opportunities to learn and refine their skills. Consequently, learning agility helps people thrive in professional environments – talent with learning agility can better adapt to complex tasks and respond to unplanned situations.
Importance of Learning Agility in Engineers
For senior engineers to become effective leaders, they must possess learning agility to organize their teams and lead them towards achieving meaningful outcomes.
To understand better the state of engineering right now, we can consider the results of an investigation of engineers conducted by a talent firm, in collaboration with the Royal Dutch Institute of Engineering. The investigation assessed the learning agility of over 500 engineers.
The results were underwhelming overall – the average score was 5, on a scale of 1-10. However, the talent agency broke learning agility down into its component areas – change agility, mental agility, people agility, result agility, and self-awareness, which provided deeper insights. The group performed exceptionally in mental agility, but lagged behind in result agility.
Thus, the deeper analysis revealed that engineers were more focused on the process, and less so on the final result.
However, senior engineers are expected to lead. And junior and mid-level engineers are expected to eventually assume leadership positions. So result agility is a requirement – your company’s success depends on outcomes and measurable results.
Thus, this analysis helped the talent firm identify where the gap occurred – in leadership. The results also found a distinct difference in performance between men and women – women scored higher overall in all categories.
This led Jan Meijning, the talent group’s senior psychologist, to conclude that women may be better suited as lead engineers. Their strengths in people agility and self-awareness are necessary to build successful project groups.
It’s important to note that this analysis was based on a specific focus group, so the claims cannot be generalized without further research. However, the implications are valuable – the study found that successful engineering teams require talent that possesses all aspects of learning agility.
5 Factors that Comprise Learning Agility
A closer look at all the five factors reveals a deeper understanding of what i learning agility is:
1. Mental Agility
Mental agility reflects the development of a person’s thinking to include higher-order thinking skills, such as analysis, evaluation, and creativity. A person should have the ability to examine a problem, break it up into component parts, and come up with a new, innovative solution. Another important aspect is synthesis – the ability to make connections between different concepts.
2. People Agility
People agility refers to how well someone interacts with a diverse range of people. Can they:
- Communicate and connect with people?
- Express empathy?
- Make others feel comfortable interacting with them?
Moreover, leaders must assess a person’s strengths and weaknesses to understand which responsibilities to delegate, maximizing positive output. Moreover, leaders must then leverage their assessments to create effective teams.. These skills are essential in the workplace, especially as a great deal of engineering work is collaborative..
3. Change Agility
Change in an organization is needed to ensure success; design, procedures, and strategies must be continually assessed and tweaked to optimize output.
With technology advancing rapidly, it’s important for your engineers and top talent to embrace change. For leaders, it is essential to respond to and anticipate. Preparation is crucial to leading your team forward.
4. Results Agility
Organizations rely on results to achieve success, so employees must be able to deliver. Results agility requires talent to be motivated by the need to achieve the best result in their work.
To lead others to success, senior engineers need to be resourceful and they must be able to inspire others. For leaders, results agility also includes an understanding of how to organize teams. Engineers must succeed in creating practical solutions to problems.
The ability to reflect on yourself, identify your own strengths and weaknesses, and plan accordingly, is another essential component of learning agility.
Engineers are asked to produce tangible outputs – to make this happen, they must collaborate and delegate work according to each person’s strengths and weaknesses.
Self-aware leaders are also more receptive to advice and they can offset their own weaknesses through the process of discussion and collaboration, ensuring greater results are achieved organization-wide.
How to Assess Engineers for Learning Agility and Curiosity?
Here are 5 strategies to help you assess engineers for their learning agility and curiosity.
1. Decide on a method for assessing each trait
As discussed in the previous section, learning agility comprises five factors – so if you’re looking to assess engineers for learning agility, it’s crucial to vet them for each trait. The Korn Ferry Institute recently developed a self-assessment method to evaluate learning agility.
Their method incorporates the five aspects of learning agility we have discussed above, and takes about 30 minutes to complete. You can consult Korn Ferry’s assessments and similar tests, using them as a foundation to create a version specific to your needs.
2. Consider multiple assessment methods
To assess applicants’ learning agility, you don’t need to necessarily rely on one test. Different assessment methods can help you vet various traits – for example, interviews can help you vet an engineer’s self-awareness, while a technical skills test can help you evaluate results agility.
At We Create Problems (WeCP), our tech assessment platform evaluate candidates across 12+ performance metrics, which can help recruiters identify vital learning agility traits and take data-driven decision.
3. Get the most out of the interview process
The interview process is an excellent opportunity to vet applicants for their learning agility, because you can ask them different questions and monitor their responses.
You don’t need to limit yourself to their verbal responses, either – their body language and ability to adapt on the spot reveal insights into their people and change ability.
Thus, before interviewing applicants, design a clear process to intentionally assess them for key learning agility traits and curiosity. Curiosity is easier to discern in interviews, too – you can ask candidates about different engineering problems and about their passions.
4. Realize that change is disruptive
In an article about change, Harvard Business Review raised a vital point about hiring CEOs – the publication highlighted that change is disruptive and not necessarily well-received internally.
Change threatens and challenges the status quo. Structures and systems are vetted, and they are not left to be. Talent that possesses learning agility will champion this change, so it’s important for organizations to receive it well.
Your engineers – particularly senior ones that lead teams – must bring change to achieve the best results.
5. The best decisions take time – but don’t wait too long
With just 15% of the global workforce being highly agile, the pool for talent that possesses learning agility is slim – and the number of learning-agile engineers is even less.
Thus, while decision-makers should give ample thought to hiring decisions, it’s important to act reasonably fast when you identify ideal talent. Organizations can’t afford to lose top performers by failing to make offers on time.
Learning agility is an essential component for companies and individuals to gain success
In their report Learning Agility from the Inside Out, the Korn Ferry Institute
discussed their research findings and wrote the following:
“Learning agility should be considered the single best predictor of an executive leader’s success, ranking it above intelligence and education”
They also noted that there was a 25% higher profit margin for companies whose executives displayed qualities associated with learning agility. You can also learn more about how to discern which hires can positively impact your company, in our blog post.
Thus, when hiring engineers and building engineering teams, it’s crucial to prioritize talent that possesses learning agility and a passion for their work. Senior engineers must champion change and lead their teams to achieve business goals.
Moreover, mid-level and junior-level engineers with learning agility can be nurtured to eventually assume leadership positions.
Great organizations are built by the best talent. And learning agility is common among the best.
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