Engaging the Learning Agile Marketing Team

It stands to reason that what’s good for the leader is also good for the team—especially when it comes to the number one proven differentiator of success: learning agility. As noted in my previous column, learning agility is the ability to learn from past experiences and apply those lessons to first-time situations and challenges.

With learning agility, CMOs and other senior marketing leaders and their teams are better able to respond to today’s challenges, such as reaching and engaging consumers via multiple channels. Learning agility among team members also helps overcome the bifurcation of talent that often exists between generalists and specialists. Let’s take these factors one at a time.

A quorum of learning agility

Great demands are being placed on marketing departments these days to drive transformation within the organization, particularly to help execute the business strategy. To reach customers and win their loyalty, marketing teams need learning agility to move beyond what has worked in the past and embrace opportunities to try something new—even when that means traversing unfamiliar territory.

Customer engagement via social media and other means remains a big challenge for many companies. Tackling these issues is a perfect example of how up-and-coming marketing executives can demonstrate the willingness to expand their skill set while helping to drive a change agenda.

Overcoming the bifurcated team

Learning agility can also help bridge the gaps that may exist even within successful marketing teams. Often, there is a bifurcation of talent between the specialists with deep knowledge in a particular niche or function and the generalists who are strong integrators, can bring together the specialists, and align efforts with the overarching mission and business objectives. Neither is more important than the other, but they are different.

Focusing on learning agility can open up new pathways of career development. For example, specialists who are identified as being learning agile can be put into a variety of roles and groomed to become generalists—with the added “firepower” of having a depth of expertise in a certain area that goes beyond the typical generalist.

It’s important to note that not every person on the marketing team needs to have a high level of learning agility. For some, it is more important to have specific traits, such as being process oriented or digitally savvy. What’s needed, however, is a “quorum of learning agility,” which increases the overall adaptability and flexibility of the team.

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

— Jack Welch

Finding learning agile team members

Given the importance of learning agility within the marketing team, it begs the question: How does one evaluate people for this trait? In addition to formal assessments, there are other ways to identify people who likely have a high degree of learning agility. Here are a few of the positive signs:

  • Intellectual curiosity—eagerness to pursue new opportunities
  • Willingness to engage in the new—for example, volunteering for cross-functional task forces
  • Seeking out mentors—especially those who operate beyond one’s functional area
  • Signing up for training and leadership development—particularly outside of regular work hours

For today’s senior marketing leaders, team development needs to be a priority. No matter how talented or learning agile the CMO is, no one can go it alone. Success means identifying those people who can play a larger part on the transformative team to drive real and meaningful change.

  Caren Fleit leads Korn/Ferry International‘s Global Marketing Center of Expertise. She is a Senior Client Partner in the firm’s Consumer/Retail practice, based in New York.
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