The Guy Who Could Not Learn
Many years ago, I hired a guy who had more than 10 years of working experience and all the relevant technical qualifications and certifications. He did well in the interviews but there was one particular area that I completely overlooked — he worked almost exclusively by himself for most of his career. He was an independent contributor and was not required to work with anyone else as a team in all of his previous jobs.
I hired him anyway. But it wasn’t long before I realized it was one of my biggest mistakes.
Within 6 months, it was obvious that he wasn’t able to relate to and work with the team. He was always going off on a tangent all on his own. He wanted to do things his way. He did not care much about sharing knowledge. His opinions were always right. And he thought everyone else was a moron. The team was almost derailed by his refusal to unlearn his past and to learn how to work with the other members on the team. Being independent is good, but being arrogant is not.
His inability to unlearn his past and to learn how to work within a team and as a group was testament to the fact that he had LOW APTITUDE. It doesn’t matter if he had all the work experiences and all the certifications in the world, but if he isn’t able to learn how to interact and work with others on the same team, then he is essentially of no value to the team.
So what in the world is APTITUDE?
Simply put, Aptitude is the innate ability or capacity to do something. In the context of our discussion, Aptitude refers to the ability and the capacity to unlearn and learn at the same time — to unlearn what we already know and learn what is needed to for us to be successful in a constantly changing business landscape.
The aptitude to learn is not restricted to just learning new technical skills or gaining new knowledge. In fact, with the correct attitude and aptitude, one can acquire new technical skills and knowledge fairly quickly and easily. The aptitude to learn includes the ability to establish strong relationships with co-workers based on trust and respect. This is something that many people, especially technical people, have difficulty with.
The aptitude to learn is important because it will define how your team and the members of your team respond to changes and challenges around them and also to the changes within the team.
Within the team, the innate learning capacity of each of your team members will determine how quickly your team members are able to adjust and accommodate each other as the team develops and matures. This in turn will drive members to develop complimentary and interchangeable skills and hence achieve greater flexibility within the team. This is also known as building a team’s “shared knowledge???.
Research has shown that team members who know what each other knows collectively and individually are better able to perform inter-dependent tasks.
It is critical to understand at this point that ultimately the aptitude to learn within a team is not what each individual learns. The aptitude to learn refers to the ability of each individual team member to learn as a team. The reason why this is important is because in today’s organizational context, most important decisions are team-based decisions, not individual decisions.
So why is Aptitude important? It is important because people with the correct aptitude adapt and learn faster. And because they adapt and learn faster, they tend to take more initiative and have a deeper and broader sense of responsibility and accountability towards their work and their team members. They are also usually much more committed, both to their work and also towards their team as a whole.
It is critical to keep in mind that the aptitude to learn is not confined to just learning new skills or knowledge. It includes the ability to connect with people; to establish strong relationships with co-workers and peers; and the ability to learn and function as a team.
“It is critical to keep in mind that the aptitude to learn is not confined to just learning new skills or knowledge. It includes the ability to connect with people; to establish strong relationships with co-workers and peers; and the ability to learn and function as a team”
The Link Between Aptitude & Profitability
Incidentally, Korn Ferry (a leading executive search firm) did a recent study and found that companies that have highly agile executives and leadership have 25% higher profit margins. Korn Ferry defines “highly agile learners” as those who learn from past experiences and then apply those learnings to new situations, continually acquire new skills, face new challenges, and perform well under changing conditions and ambiguity.
“Companies that have highly agile executives and leadership have 25% higher profit margins”
Vicki Swisher, Korn Ferry senior director of Intellectual Property Development and author of Becoming an Agile Leader, says “People who are learning agile more readily absorb new skills, behaviors, and insights — and then carry those forward to perform successfully, especially in unfamiliar situations. The agile learner enjoys and deals well with ambiguity and complexity and doesn’t accept the status quo. These are attributes needed in virtually every 21st century organization.???
Here’s the Bottom-line
People with great Aptitude are not only adaptable, they are also flexible. They are able to unlearn what is no longer needed or outdated, and learn what is needed to be successful for tomorrow.
So, to those who advocate hiring for Attitude but not Aptitude, you might wish to seriously re-consider your position.
In my next article, we will examine the fourth attribute: PERSONALITY.
So stay tuned.
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