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Building, nurturing an agile workforce for the future

Business environments are increasingly becoming more complex and volatile. To react speedily and effectively, organisations are supposed to place the brightest minds in the right positions and at the right time.

Guest Column: Emmanuel Zvada

Business environments are increasingly becoming more complex and volatile. To react speedily and effectively, organisations are supposed to place the brightest minds in the right positions and at the right time. The most productive employees are those who are happy, enjoy their work as well as get the results their employers need. An organisation becomes agile only when its workforce is agile. The adoption of an agile workforce provides a strategic advantage to organisations both in the present and in years to come.

Agility is more about your inner strengths and how you use that to cope with the changes emanating from external factors. Organisations should spend time in analysing their own business as well as understand where it is headed for. In order to realise most of the benefits of an agile workforce, organisations need to think differently about how they do and manage their work, including also how the organisation becomes used to pressures from the external environment.

Not only leaders and top managers need to exhibit agility, but employees at all levels of the hierarchy. And this is possible only when people feel empowered, develop multiple skill-sets, show a willingness to take challenges as well as experiment and innovate in organisations. These practices are becoming more widespread among organisations that are struggling to acquire agility.

They have come to understand that making the shift is not only about responding to changes among top hierarchy level employees, but it’s about everyone in the organisation. Many organisations have also come to understand that it is their employees who can help them achieve agility. Therefore, they are making every possible effort to help their talent develop an agile mindset.

Agile workforce: Who are they?

An agile workforce is defined not only by its unique, modern organisational architecture, but also by its specific make-up. The agile workforce is made up of “knowledge workers”. Knowledge workers, also called knowledge entrepreneurs, free agents, or human capital, constitute the fastest growing sector of the workforce. Mostly, knowledge workers use and apply knowledge in creative and innovative ways. These individuals have a high level of education, experience and the know-how to do their job.

Agility refers to an organisation’s ability to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous and turbulent environment. Agility is simply the ability to adjust to change or respond to an outer stimulus in a prompt, yet effective manner. To some, agility is just an adaptive mindset or a behaviour — an iterative one. Now, the question is how to help employees develop such a mindset, that is, how to help them become agile as well as ensure that they will be able to handle situations on their own.

How organisations can build and nurture an agile workforce

Understand your human capital

It is essential that an organisation knows the capabilities of its employees across the organisation. By understanding and knowing the skills that exist, it can also help highlight the skills your business is lacking so that you invest in developing that. Developing your human capital ensures that your workforce becomes effective and efficient to improve your company’s overall performance. In addition, knowing the capabilities of your current employees can help you identify gaps and develop the skills required to future-proof your organisation.

Be an ‘always-learning’ workplace

No matter which approach an organisation takes to talent agility, there is need invest in upskilling in order to keep skills up-to-date and relevant. Investing in learning and development will not only help businesses stay competitive in their day-to-day operations, but it also incrementally fosters a culture of responsiveness needed in modern workforce. Organisations that invest in learning and development programmes not only serve the needs of an in-house workforce and keep skills topped up as and when required, they also boost the attractiveness of the company to future talent and act as a retention strategy.

Retain expertise

Retaining key employees is critical to the long-term health and success of your business. When a person of high expertise leaves your organisation, you feel a skills gap. Even if you find a replacement, it takes at least a few months to bring things back to normal. The key to avoid such a situation is to capture and retain expertise. Organisations should have a system in place, so that they can train replacements before current workers retire or switch to other organisations. This means as an organisation, you have to identify the key-men and ensure that you retain them.

Promote experimentation

Individuals are at the heart of innovation, and their innovative behaviour is influenced by their ability and willingness to be innovative as well as the ability of the organisation to welcome experimentation from employees. Experimentation is essential for any organisation intending to get better solutions for problems as well as become agile. Employees should experiment to innovate and management should innovate to drive change. Most agile organisations, who are successful, work on this principle. When your workforce knows that you not only approve of experimentation, but also encourage it, this will naturally drive them to challenge their old ways of doing things.

Increase collaboration and remove unnecessary bureaucracies

Collaboration across an organisation can create a culture of sharing and innovation. It is important to have a collaborative mindset that takes account of different ages, cultures, and abilities. This collaboration will help drive engagement among workers. Teamwork and effective collaboration can magnify the ingenuity of individual employees. A group of creative thinkers – with the freedom to think outside the box – can rapidly develop great ideas.

Removing unnecessary bureaucracies will also help create an agile workforce. When you work in a bureaucratic hierarchy, even a job that needs to be done on an ad hoc basis can get delayed.

Empower your employees

Employee empowerment is when workers are given the tools and resources necessary to make decisions in the workplace without supervision. It also means there is trust and understanding in place to ensure these actions are in line with company goals. Empower people to take challenges. In other words, employers should make employees believe that they also can do it. Employees in an agile workplace want more opportunities to learn and grow as well as execute delegated duties. Empowering employees is important for growing a sustainable business as it will help them be agile.

Continuous up-skilling

Constant up-skilling is now the norm for anyone hoping to stay relevant in an increasingly mechanised world. Lifelong learning and continuous professional development have become more vital than ever as employees must up-skill in order to keep pace with the ever-changing requirements of modern business. To ensure your employees are prepared to tackle the roles and responsibilities of the ever-changing and agile business world, you will have to make sure they are constantly up-skilled and that they remain agile, too.

Agility will not happen on its own; it requires that an organisation takes control and nurture its talent while keeping a keen eye on the digital landscape. If organisations want to develop a truly agile workforce to better face external market demands, they should focus on and develop the foundational drivers of agility.

 Emmanuel Zvada is a human capital consultant and an international recruitment expert. He writes in his personal capacity.