People and Agility: Creating an Agile Workforce

Change is invariable and undeniable. Product lifecycles have shortened. Geographical boundaries are diminishing. Technology advances in the blink of an eye. Time to market has reduced. Delivery time has compressed. Innovation is faster and more frequent. Conformity is dying. Future is already here.

How to deal with this?                                                                            

This is the question that’s been on the minds of most business leaders across the globe. How to sustain amidst non-stop changes? How to react – and react effectively – in less than the blink of an eye time? How to master the art of operating in the moment?

To react speedily and effectively, they have placed the brightest minds in the right positions at the right time. But all in vain! It’s barely anything that is bringing concrete results.

This is when agility comes to their minds. Experts say, placing the right people at the right places and at the right time is not sufficient, especially in today’s volatile business environment. This is because skills become obsolete in just two years time. In fact, they need to hire people for their DNA, flexibility and agile mindset.

Yes, an organization is agile only when its workforce is agile. Not only leaders and top managers need to exhibit agility but also the employees at all levels of hierarchy. And this is possible only when people feel empowered; develop multiple skill-sets; show willingness to take challenges; and experiment and innovate. In short, they need to be agile.

How to Create an Agile Workforce ?

Agility, in the simplest term, is the ability to adapt to change or respond to an outer stimulus in a speedy yet effective manner. It’s the strength, coordination and balance of all the inner elements to react efficiently to something which is new, external and unprecedented.

It’s a mindset, a behavior – an iterative one. Now the question arises – how to help employees develop such mindset? How to help them become agile? How to ensure that they will be able to handle a situation, on their own, in the face of emergency? Here’s how:

  1. Retain Expertise

Typically, when a person of high expertise leaves your organization, you feel a skill gap. You are completely dependent on them till the time they stay with you. And their absence creates frenzy within the organization. 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. You can seek help from most experienced and highly expert people of your organization. Have a system in place, so that they can train their replacement before retiring or switching to another organization. You can record chat sessions or their experiences and use them for training people. This will be a favorable step for the person who’s replacing your team member. He/she will be mentally prepared and equipped to step in the shoes of their senior.

  1. Empower People

If you just sit down and think for a moment, you will recall many instances when you delegated a task to your team members. Instead of feeling happy, they were scared to know that they would need to do it all alone, without your guidance. Do you want it to happen more frequently? No. Then what’s the way out?

Empower people to take challenges. Make them believe that they also can do it. It’s important to break from the usual and bring them out of their comfort zones. Cultivate the habit of taking risks by:

  1. Delegating them different tasks
  2. Rotating their roles
  3. Giving them the autonomy to perform a task on their own
  4. Pushing them to behave like team leader
  5. Creating room for independent decision-making
  6. Motivating them to experiment without the fear of failure
  7. Give More Weight to Human Aspect

Remember, you can’t just rely on processes and technology to run your business. Human intellect and psychology have more importance than other thing in the world. Therefore, give more weight to human element. Escalate conversations when required. Ask them to work in teams. This is how they learn to respect and collaborate with each other. Ditch classroom learning. Rather associating learning in day-to-day operations is a better idea.

Also, help them understand that not everyone can be expert in everything. Even human mind has certain limitations. One doesn’t have to an expert. Rather being a jack of all trades helps them sustain the emergencies and unprecedented changes.

  1. Promote Experimentation

Experiment to innovate. Innovate to drive change. Most moderate to highly agile organizations work on this principle. Given the market’s appetite for newness and change, it’s not only become important to respond to change but also to drive the change. If you have been relying on few surefire ways to adapt to change, you won’t go long. But if you have the ability to propel change, you will remain at the forefront of competition.

So, how do you innovate and drive change? By asking top management to innovate! No. If only few people are innovating and the rest are just following, it’s not good for the health of your organization. It has to be an organization-wide scenario.

Most contemporary and reputed organizations allow their employees to work on their alternative musings for about 10% of the paid time. They motivate them to experiment – fail fast – move on to the next musing. And this is how they keep coming with the new ideas all the time. How do you do it in your organization? By:

  1. Scheduling brainstorming sessions
  2. Discussing alternative interests of your team members
  3. Motivating them to work on ideas that are close to their heart
  4. Offering personal support and help when required
  5. Eliminating constraints when and where possible
  6. Increase Collaboration

When you work in a bureaucratic hierarchy, even a project that’s need to be done on an ad hoc basis gets delayed. It is also frustrating for employees at the bottom level. The more agile approach is to establish a horizontal communication channel. It increases collaboration and reduces delay.

Another way to increase collaboration is to allow your team to work on its own. Invite one of the members to become the team leader. Attach a timeline and tangible objectives with the project and ask them to perform. Creating self-managing team is one of the surefire ways to drive collaboration within the team and enhance learning.

These practices are becoming more widespread among organizations that are struggling to acquire agility. They have come to understand that making the shift is not only about responding to changes. It’s also about driving the changes.

Organizations also understand that it’s their employees who can help them achieve agility. Therefore, they are making every possible effort to help their talent develop an agile mindset.

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