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High potential employee learning agility: Individual differences, learning climate and the role of Human Resource Management (HRM) function

Hadiono, Alvin


Alvin Hadiono


This study investigates the construct of learning agility, i.e., “one’s engagement in learning behaviours to enhance the capacity to reconfigure activities quickly to meet the changing demands in the task environment” (Burke, 2018, p. 12). Firstly coined by Eichinger and Lombardo (2000), learning agility is positively related to employees’ performance during changing organisational contexts (Bedford, 2011), the potential for advancement (Miklos et al., 2013), being identified as high potential (Dries et al., 2012) as well as to leadership success (De Meuse, 2017). As a relatively new construct, the practitioner’s interest in learning agility has been growing rapidly in the last decade beyond robust empirical substantiation (De Meuse, 2015). While the organisational implications of learning agility have been looked at in current research, our understanding of ‘who’ demonstrates learning agility and ‘how’ individual differences interact with the environment is still relatively scarce (De Meuse, 2019).

With the question of “What are the dispositional and contextual correlates of high potential employee learning agility in the workplace?” as the primary research question; this study aims to address both the ‘internal’ predisposing factors (i.e., personality, motivation) contributing to one’s learning agility as well as the ‘external’ contextual factors, specifically in the context of high potential employee population. Past research explored those individual differences in isolation; however, less attention has been directed to understanding the organisational climates which might support or impede learning agility (Harvey and De Meuse, 2021). This study examines the motivational climates as the boundary condition within which the impact of those individual differences on learning agility is strengthened or weakened (DeRue et al., 2012). Responding to the call for empirical research on the organisation’s role in developing learning agility (Harvey and De Meuse, 2021), this study would also focus on how the HRM function may ‘orchestrate’ and synergise its practices to establish supportive organisational climates (Marin-Garcia and Tomas, 2016; Trullen et al., 2016; Milani et al., 2021).

The results show that both personality and motivational traits are associated with learning agility in different valence. An examination of the interaction effects shows that the mastery climate facilitated learning agility due to the Honesty-Humility, and Emotionality traits, while the performance climate facilitated learning agility due to the Agreeableness trait. Further discussions using the lens of social adroitness in the context of high-potential employee identification in the workplace (Lee and Ashton, 2007; 2005; Markey and Markey, 2006) are presented. From the perspective of the HRM, this study also clarifies the crucial role that the HRM function plays in establishing conducive organisational climates; as well as its relevant practices. In order to achieve a congruent perception of all organisational constituents, the organisational alignment between the senior management team, the HRM function and the employees, is deemed to be critical. Following the ‘how,’ the ‘which’ question of HR practices contributing to such climates was also explored. The practices deemed to contribute to the HRM functions’ system strength (Bowen and Ostroff, 2004) are ‘criterion-based’ person-organisation fit, ‘democratisation’ of knowledge, and low-status differentials HR practices.

Intended for both academics and practitioners alike, the value of this study is two-fold. It contributes to the learning agility body of knowledge by investigating the underlying factors within the nexus of high-potential management practice and organisational climate. It expands the current nomological network of learning agility (Harvey and De Meuse, 2021) by considering the importance of the intricate context surrounding the behaviour as well as the organisational role and practices that ‘shape’ such context. From a practitioner’s point of view, this study clarifies what and how the organisation’s HRM function could do to promote learning agility in their organisations (Milani et al., 2021). The study found that a conducive learning climate could be established through HRM functions' (1) person-organisation fit practices, (2) 'democratisation' of knowledge practices and (3) low-status differential practices. In implementing those practices; the alignments (1) between the HRM function and the senior management team, (2) between HRM sub-functions and (3) between the HRM function and the employees, were deemed important to take place in order to achieve employees’ unified perception and understanding of the learning agility behavioural expectations.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 26, 2024
Public URL
Award Date Sep 1, 2023