How to Identify Agile High-Potentials Around the World

According to the 2011 Korn/Ferry research report “What’s Smarter Than IQ?,” learning agility has emerged as a valid and reliable predictor of high-potential leader success. The attribute is characterized by the ability to learn from experience, then apply lessons to overcome a challenge or capitalize on a business opportunity.

Learning agility is particularly relevant for multinational companies (MNCs). A global organization will have leaders in foreign subsidiaries who either have to assimilate to the local business culture if they are from the parent country, or local leaders will have to assimilate to the organization’s policies, goals and culture. Company or country assimilation can be a challenge, and as developed nations’ growth stagnates and emerging countries’ growth rates slow, leaders’ failure to adapt to challenging times is exacerbated.

The CHRO’s goal at MNCs is to identify leaders from within the parent company and the foreign subsidiary who can operate in highly complex, volatile and deadline-driven situations and drive growth. Learning agility can be measured using diagnostic assessment tools, and individuals who possess this attribute are more likely to solicit direct feedback, be self-reflective, be able to finish projects in a resourceful manner, see unique patterns and make fresh connections that others overlook.

Those who score highest on the indicated combined attributes in Figure 1 are “growth champions” — more likely to outperform in challenging times. By recruiting and developing talent based on this criterion, companies can avoid the trial-by-fire situations leaders often face in the midst of a crisis.

The diagram shows not all leaders are born growth champions. However, talent managers can enhance the pool of smart growth leaders by putting individuals in unique situations to enhance their learning and expose them to different leaders.

Global HR initiatives can develop talent, standardize the process and provide all employees, regardless of location, with an understanding of what it takes to grow in the company. The adage “think global, act local” also has merit. Development initiatives should be customized and supported locally where appropriate to leverage important cultural nuances needed to build relationships and influence, and achieve results. An individual’s agility in these situations along with a company’s support will improve chances for success.?

Kim Shanahan is managing director, human resources center of expertise at executive recruiting company Korn/Ferry International. She can be reached at