The AstraZeneca Learning Trial: Key insights

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Written by Brian Murphy and Guy Champniss on 30 April 2021 in Features
Features

On the completion of the AZ Learning Trial the L&D team, led by Brian Murphy,  found four key insights that really stood out.

INSIGHT #1 - Embrace the right behaviours

For the purposes of the Trial, the team identified three of the AstraZeneca corporate behaviours that best supported building a learning habit: curiosity, bravery and collaboration.

As a result of the Trial, they found that it is possible to significantly increase levels of bravery, curiosity and collaboration in approaches to learning.

The results were statistically significant, meaning that the team could be extremely confident that the increases in behaviours within the intervention group were as a direct result of the interventions, and that they’d see the same effects across the rest of the AstraZeneca community.

Here’s a little more detail:

  1. By the end of the Trial, the team had introduced the behavioural primes to all those within the intervention group, 65% of those who’d received the ‘bravery in learning’ prime were scoring above the average bravery scores within the control group. If you were to pick someone from our intervention group at random, then by the end of the Trial, there was a 61% chance that person would show higher levels of bravery in learning, than someone chosen at random from our control group.
  2. It was a similar story for curiosity and collaboration. By the end of the weekly behavioural interventions, 70% of those who’d received the curiosity prime were outperforming the control group average, and there was a 65% that someone picked at random from our intervention group would be doing better than someone picked at random from the control group. For collaboration, it was 64% and 60% respectively.

 

Key Learning: Brian Murphy: “We can be confident hat the increases in behaviours within our intervention group were as a direct result of our interventions, and that we'd see the same effect across the rest of  the AstraZeneca community.”

 

INSIGHT #2 - Seize the learning moments

The AZ team found convincing support within the Trial that increasing levels of bravery, curiosity and collaboration could lead to an increase in the ability to recognise learning moments day to day. Over 50% of the variability in this ability to recognise learning moments could be explained by the AstraZeneca behaviours of bravery, curiosity and collaboration.

By the end of the weekly behavioural interventions, they saw those in our interventiongroup as 64% more likely to be above the average of the control group. There’s a 60% chance that someone picked at random from our intervention group would be better at recognising learning moments than someone chosen at random from the control group.

  • Learning opportunities are all around us, but they can easily pass us by. It’s important to be aware of the variety of potential learning moments so we can recognise them when they appear and seize them to get the benefit.
  • During the Trial, participants also recorded an average of 2.4 learning moments per day.

At the beginning of the Trial, the average learning for the intervention group was 5.35  hours per week. By the close of the trial that had increased to 9.52 hours, a 78% increase.

 

Key Learning: Guy Champniss: “We found convincing support within the Trial that increasing levels of bravery, curiosity and collaboration can lead to an increase in the ability to recognise learning moments day to day”

 

INSIGHT #3 - Reflect and apply to make it real

The team at AstraZeneca believed that learning moments only come to fruition when participants reflect and apply what they learned to their everyday work. By embracing the right behaviours and noticing more learning moments the speed at which you put them into practice increases – this is learning agility.

In terms of a growing willingness to apply learning to our day to day jobs, the team saw that by the end of the Trial, those in the intervention group were significantly more willing than the control group.

70% of those in our intervention group were recording higher levels of willingness to apply than the average in our control group. And there was a 65% chance of someone picked at random from the intervention group showing higher willingness than a person picked at random from the control group.

 

 

Key Learning: Brian Murphy: “By embracing the right behaviours and noticing more learning moments, the willingness to apply learning to participants everyday role increased – this is learning agility”

 

INSIGHT #4 - Be consistent to make your mark

Murphy tells TJ “Learning isn’t an end. It’s a means to an end: and everyday learning can arm our people with the tools to make an even bigger impact at AstraZeneca, and for patients”.

As a result of the Trial, the team saw levels of self-belief to be able to make an impact increase significantly. Whereas self-belief to make an impact remained steady within the control group, for the intervention group, they saw steady rises across the six measures they were using to understand individuals’ self-belief. By the close of the Trial, 64% of the intervention group were above the average of the control group on this measure.

And compared to someone picked at random from our control group, there was a 60% chance that someone picked at random from the intervention group would have stronger self-belief in their potential to make an impact.

They also saw that a sense of personal impact was strongly influenced by an ability to recognise learning moments, and a willingness to apply this learning. 64% of the variability in one’s belief to have a positive impact at AstraZeneca was explained by an ability to find learning moments, and a willingness to apply.

Key Learning: Guy Champniss “As a result of the Trial, we saw levels of ‘self belief to be able to make an impact’ rose significantly amongst the intervention group"

 

Seize the learning moment

There’s an argument that learning and behaviour are intertwined not just in the sense of how one approaches learning, how one behaves to take advantage of moments to learn. Learning isn’t a passive process; it doesn’t happen to you. So, it’s critical to be able to actively seek out learning opportunities. During the Trial the AZ team found that bravery, curiosity and collaboration improved participants ability to find learning opportunities.

Put another way, the behaviours had a major influence on respondents’ ability to recognise learning moments, their willingness to apply learnings, and their personal belief in their ability to make a positive impact.

Key learning: Brian Murphy: “Behaviours explain 51% of the variability in ability to spot learning moments. So, if we can increase levels of the AstraZeneca learning behaviours, we can drive significant increases in this ability to recognise learning moments. We saw this capability grow consistently across the duration. This provides support for the view that a repeating pattern of interventions provides a stable context for the capability to flourish”.

Learning is dynamic and adaptive

 At first, the team saw a fairly balanced distribution of the 3Es as participants recognise their learning moments. Then as the Trial progressed, they saw informal learning (Experience and Exposure) become more prominent. They also saw a shift in the types of learning, showing an increase in participants’ awareness of informal learning. In week one (figure 8), formal Education made up 35% of learning moments along with 31% Experience and 34% Exposure. But in week four (figure 9) this decreased to 28%, giving a bigger proportion to informal learning moments: 37% Experience and 35% Exposure.

“Participants awareness of informal learning increased throughout the Trial. This is important to take note of; it means we can adopt a more regular learning habit and learning can make an impact without relying on formal Education” - Brian Murphy

While researchers did not see a material increase in learning moments in general (2.3 learning moments per participant on average), they did see a shift in reports from the intervention group, who perceived more time spent learning during the normal working week.

 

 

Learning approaches may be a product of personal evolution

Learning is personal. We know that no behaviour occurs in a vacuum; our behaviours are influenced by our experiences and situation.

From our Trial data, the AZ researchers saw a higher prevalence of learning from Exposure and Experience in participants who have been with AstraZeneca for longer. This may not come as a surprise, but the pattern in the data is still important to confirm assumptions and spur discussion.

Interestingly, both tenure and age seem to influence learning preferences (figure 10). Here’s what they found:

  • Experience-based learning is dramatically more prevalent among those who have been with AstraZeneca 6-10yrs
  • Exposure-based learning is most prevalent among those with 10+ years’ tenure
  • Education is more prevalent among those earlier in their AstraZeneca career (0-5yrs)
  • Exposure far more prevalent as learning context for those aged 45+yrs

This tells us a lot about the 3E combinations that different demographics prefer, and how this changes throughout careers

 

 

Reflect and apply to make it real

Alongside a significant increase in capability to notice learning moments within the intervention group as a result of the behaviours, researchers also recorded similar increases in motivation to apply learning to one’s day to day work. Alongside capability, motivation is a key pillar of behaviour. If we look at any of the leading behaviour change models (for example, the COM-B model), we see that Capability and Motivation (along with Opportunity) are the vital ingredients to create a habit.

In order to benefit from learning in your everyday role you must reflect and be motivated to apply that learning to make it real.

The AZ researchers asked all participants to journal their daily learning by reporting learning moments (and labelling them using the 3Es). Overall, our 113 participants within the intervention group recorded an incredible 5,849 learning moments across the four week period.

 

 

The behaviours that drive learning agility

Willingness to reflect and apply learning is essential if you want to improve your learning agility and work performance. So how does behaviour play into this? The AstraZeneca Trial shows the importance of the AstraZeneca behaviours to building a lasting willingness to apply what we’ve learned to our day to day tasks.

73% of the variability in our willingness to apply learning is explained by the AstraZeneca learning behaviours of bravery, curiosity and collaboration.

This means if we can increase bravery, curiosity and collaboration in our approach to learning, we can drive meaningful improvements in our willingness to reflect and apply learning to our day to day roles.

Combined with increases in an ability to identify learning moments, and the opportunity to learn (using the 3Es to expand perceptions of what a learning moment can be) this offers up a compelling way to set yourself up to learn more, and learn for life.

Be consistent to make your mark

“We believe strongly that learning isn’t an end in itself, but a means to an end. We believe learning will help our people make a greater difference to the organisation and, ultimately, patients’ lives. In short, we believe learning is the basis for impact in people’s Roles within AstraZeneca.”  And the results from this Trial offer compelling support for this view (figure 12). By the end of the Trial, researchers could clearly see that

1) the importance of the ability to find learning opportunities, and

2) the willingness to apply that learning to one’s work, drive the potential for a sense of personal impact.

The team found that 64% of the variability in one’s belief they can make an impact could be explained by the ability to find and the willingness to apply learning. In other words, people’s belief in themselves to make a positive impact at AstraZeneca was a clear product of the ability to identify learning moments, and the willingness of participants to apply that learning to their work.

And this ability and willingness is in turn a product of the AstraZeneca behaviours of bravery, curiosity and collaboration. Together, these present what may be the most important learning from the Trial; that the people at AstraZenca’s belief  in their ability to make a difference – to the business and to patients – starts with recognising their potential to enhance how they approach learning within the organisation.

So, can you really create a learning habit?

Habits are behaviours. And all behaviours start with a desire to achieve something – a goal. But alongside this motivation to achieve something, there also needs to be an ability to do it, and an opportunity to do it. Together, these components create the behaviour.

In this Trial, the team at AstraZeneca have shown that we can swiftly build both that ability to identify learning opportunities, and the motivation to apply learning. Add to this an increasingly clear view of the different learning opportunities (3Es), and they’ve then discovered the third component – the opportunity.

But we need more than this to build a habit. A habit is distinct from other behaviours because it relies less on meeting goals, and more on triggers in our environment (think about how you used to always buy a coffee from that particular coffee shop on the way to work – was it that you wanted the coffee, or was it because the shop was always there?).

A key step to embedding those environmental triggers is routine. If we routinely do something, then that action stands a better chance of becoming a habit. Through the introduction of regular daily moments of reflection and introspection, we’ve also started to build that routine, patterned behaviour around learning; around what it means to learn more effectively.

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