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Talent Takes Effort

Cate Valentine, Faculty, Center for Creative Leadership

How does your organization currently approach the identification and development of high potential talent?

These days, the widely accepted best practice in learning and development is the framework known as 70:20:101. It advocates learning from experience, particularly challenging experiences that take place on the job, as the most powerful and effective means to developing employees at work.

The theory is popular and based on solid research by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL®). But making it work in practice is proving trickier.

Why? Because, although the value of experience is universal, we are discovering that some people learn more from experience than others. Think of two people working on the same challenging project. One of them emerges with new skills and knowledge, or a change in attitude or behavior. One of them doesn’t. What made the difference? George Hallenbeck, Global Product Development Director at CCL, offers an answer in his recently published Guidebook for Managers entitled ‘Learning Agility’. The clue is in the name.

Learning agility can be defined as: the ability and willingness to learn from experience and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.
- Swisher, Hallenbeck, Orr, Eichinger Lombardo & Capretta (2013)

So, offering employees stretch assignments to develop will work only to the extent that people are willing and able to embrace the challenge and to reflect and learn from it. 

In her bestselling book, Dr. Carol Dweck proposed that people’s ideas about risk and effort stem from their basic mindset. People with a ‘growth mindset’ see effort as the path to mastery. They embrace challenges, are more resilient in the face of setbacks and learn from criticism. They believe if you are not born talented, you can develop it over time through hard work and persistence.

People with a ‘fixed mindset’ believe you either have talent or you don’t. Smart, talented people inherited their gifts and are predisposed to success. Tough luck if you’re not one of them. A fixed mindset will cause people to avoid challenges because they might fail. And give up more easily, because trying too hard must mean you’re not smart. A fixed mindset causes us to feel threatened rather than inspired by the success of others.

These mindsets show up in children from a young age and are reinforced by their parents and teachers. It’s not hard to guess which mindset will produce the more agile learner. And in organizations, learning agility is the primary skill that differentiates high potentials from other talent.

From developing talent to identifying it. We can’t see the mindset, but according to CCL research there are clues to spotting the agile learner in these five facets of behaviour:

  1. Innovating: They are not afraid to challenge the status quo.
  2. Performing: They remain calm in the face of difficulty.
  3. Reflecting: They take time to reflect on their experiences.
  4. Risking: They purposefully put themselves in challenging situations.
  5. Defending: They are open to learning and resist becoming defensive in the face of adversity.

Understanding mindset and learning agility, can help your organization to more accurately identify these traits in your employees and to make better talent decisions. From there, you are better placed to set up the systems and processes to develop them.

If you would like to know more about this, we are offering five Guidebooks from CCL: “Learning Agility: Unlock the Lessons of Experience”.


Conditions: Only 5 copies available. Offer valid until May 12, 2017.

1 70% from challenging assignments, 20% from developmental relationships,10% from coursework and training