Embracing a culture of business agility during COVID-19


BUSINESS environments are increasingly becoming more complex and volatile. At the same time, the availability of technology has resulted in the need for flexibility, agility and mobility among the workforce especially during these times of the pandemic. The need for speed and convenience to work beyond boundaries and locations have become increasingly important elements in any HR or organisational strategy. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a test for businesses to prove their workforce’s mobility and agility.

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. The ongoing COVID-19 socio-economic crisis is forcing business leaders worldwide to take quick actions to respond to the pandemic and its effects on their businesses. Thousands of companies have crafted crisis management plans, with many of them transitioning to a fully-virtual workplace.

What is business agility?

Business agility, also known as organisational agility, is the capability of a business to be adaptive, flexible and creative in a changing environment. It should be taken into consideration that agile businesses respond quickly to opportunities or threats, whether internal or external. It refers to distinct qualities that allow organisations to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum or vision.

Adaptability, flexibility and balance are three qualities essential to long-term business agility.

Why business agility?

Business agility is important for firms looking to survive long-term and which work in quick-paced industries.

Innovation is often the key to maintaining long-term business agility. Companies that do not innovate find themselves falling behind the competition because they cannot adapt quickly enough to shifts in the environment.

How to be agile in business

At the centre of any business agility framework is innovation. People, not processes are what makes change happen. Therefore, you must engage the right people at the right time and in the right way. Give them clear, concise, customer-centric goals and promote self-organised communication and collaboration among your team. 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.

Organisations should spend time analysing their business as well as understand where they are headed. 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. 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.

Building and nurturing an agile workforce

Know your human capital base

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 the 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.

Create a continuous learning workplace

To achieve agility, there is need to 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 those who know what and how

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 and there are costs related to that loss. 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 especially during the COVID-19 pandemic is to capture and retain expertise. Organisations should have systems in place, so that they can train replacements before current workers retire or switch to other organisations.

Remove unnecessary bureaucracies

Teamwork and effective collaboration can magnify the ingenuity of individual employees. 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. 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

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. 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 to ensure these actions are in line with company goals.

In other words, employers should make employees believe that they also can do it.

Continuous upskilling

Constant upskilling is now the norm for anyone hoping to stay relevant in an increasingly mechanised world. Life-long learning and continuous professional development have become more vital than ever as employees must upskill 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 upskilled and that they remain agile, too.

As the coronavirus spreads and much of the world remains under lockdown many companies are being forced into going digital. They are unlikely to go back to the old way of doing things and if they want to stay ahead of the competition they should already be working on agility. Companies that are agile enough to make quick adjustments to the upsurge in digital demands are the ones that will survive and thrive even after the pandemic.

 Emmanuel Zvada is a global award-winning HR practitioner for 2020, HR disrupter and trusted coach. He writes in his personal capacity.


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