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Learning Agility Is a Marketing Leadership Must-Have

More than ever, marketing leaders today must broaden their expertise, in particular to demonstrate that they possess the coveted technology and social media skills that translate into greater digital connectivity and enhanced customer engagement. They must draw upon their past experiences to tackle emerging challenges in a marketplace that has been forever changed by globalization and access to Big Data. In short, their success is tied to learning agility—a trait so important that we at Korn/Ferry consider it to be the number one predictor of success.

We define learning agility as the ability and willingness to learn from previous experiences and then to apply that learning to new and first-time situations. Research into executive performance, across multiple industries, shows that a leader’s success depends largely on his interest in seeking out new, diverse, and challenging experiences from which to learn.

Among best-in-class senior marketing leaders, learning agility enables them to combine creativity and decisiveness in their decision-making and problem-solving. Executives with this trait have a greater tendency to look at issues from multiple angles and perspectives, and can navigate complexity and ambiguity with confidence, according to the Korn/Ferry Institute report “Learning Agility: Where does Learning Agility come from?” (The good news is a disproportionate number of senior marketing executives tend to possess learning agility compared to their colleagues in other senior positions.)

Admittedly, learning agility can be difficult to measure (although Korn/Ferry does have tools to assess and develop it). Nonetheless, evidence of this ability can typically be found in the résumés of senior marketing executives who are in demand, those best-in-class professionals who have a mosaic background; for example, having moved across categories and  industries. Drawing from such diverse backgrounds, learning-agile marketing executives are able to extract best practices from their experiences and adapt them as they create unique and impactful consumer experiences in new and different channels and venues.

  Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.

– Anthony J. D’Angelo


Learning agility and best-in-class leaders

Another benefit of learning agility is that it can enhance and facilitate the ability to leverage the three core competencies of best-in-class marketing leaders. As discussed in my previous Spotlight columns, these competencies are: creating the new and different, focusing on actions and outcomes, and inspiring others.

In addition, learning agility helps best-in-class marketing executives strike the right balance between honoring prior experiences and moving beyond the tried-and-true. They understand that what is comfortable or what has worked in the past may not be the right solution to achieve the desired outcomes—particularly in today’s globalized and technology-intense world.

In direct marketing specifically, learning agility is crucial to success. No longer is direct marketing a niche within a particular industry or simply a channel or small facet of a marketing strategy. It has become embedded in every marketer’s job to communicate with consumers directly and in meaningful ways; influenced by the insights derived from Big Data. Learning agility helps executives respond to greater demands for customization and tailoring customer experiences.

Overall, across all marketing endeavors, learning agility promotes flexibility and innovation, helping executives to adapt to the new—and even to be the catalyst for change in the rapidly evolving world of marketing.

Looking ahead, the bar will continue to be raised for connecting with and engaging consumers through a variety of traditional and new marketing channels, both offline and online, through social media and gaming and via other yet to be invented ways to integrate with consumers’ lives. Best-in-class professionals who find themselves in demand will be those who have diverse backgrounds that provide varied experiences from which to draw and who also demonstrate learning agility—the true differentiator among marketing leaders today.

  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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