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Want an agile enterprise? Focus on employee skills!

Apr 23, 2021


  • EDITORIAL TEAM Talent Management Institute
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Want an agile enterprise? Focus on employee skills!

Does agility matter for companies? McKinsey research suggested so – 70 percent of agile companies were also in the top 25 percent of companies ranked on organizational health.

But why the renewed focus on agility? The answer: COVID-19. Given how it has affected all aspects of business, it has meant businesses need to respond quickly and flexibly to changing circumstances i.e. they need to be agile.

There is an HR dimension to these changed circumstances.

The pandemic changed the direction of thinking for the world of business. It firmly disrupted the year-ago narrative on the future of work and how automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) would affect it. Organizations of course needed to pivot their approach to business, and two top concerns came up:

  • The spotlight falling firmly on organizational culture amid the mass move to work from home
  • The criticality of leadership skills such as empathy and resilience

Imagine the plight of an HR leader, already figuring out how the strategic priorities of the organization will affect HR plans. Digital transformation is afoot and needs support, cybersecurity requires attention, the many benefits of predictive analytics make a must-have – these and several other requirements mean a struggle to match the available talent with strategic goals.

Skills are in the spotlight at organizational crossroads.

“Virtually all CEOs (90 percent) believe their company is facing disruptive change driven by digital technologies, and 70 percent say their organization does not have the skills to adapt.”
(Source: Deloitte Human Capital Trends report )

Digital Technologies

What can an organization do? Either bring in the skills required to fend off and flourish amid competition, or lose to it. Global markets are highly dynamic and change fast, and with data-driven technologies such as machine learning (ML) gaining prominence, business need to be nimble if they are to not just survive but thrive.

Companies often have trouble understanding the current skill sets of their employees, let alone projecting their future skill requirements. Even after skill gaps have been identified, CHROs and chief learning officers find it hard to ensure the learning is developed suitably and its completion or business impact can be tracked and measured.

This is why organizations must rethink their people approach – they need to understand where skill strengths and gaps are, and promote learning and development (L&D) opportunities critical for engaging employees. Consider the following:

  • Automation has changed what skills are required for some roles, and putting in place the required reskilling is a key focus area for organizations
  • Mindsets and skills must change for agility, driven in particular by strong leadership skills and culture when in a crisis
  • Transparency on career options and skill requirements caters to employee desires for career growth

How important is agility?

“You can't build an adaptable organization without adaptable people.” – Gary Hamel

Agility in employees is the force that drives organizations toward success in the market and a thriving work culture. Here is what you see in an agile employee:

Essential Capabilities for Agile Organizations

As against this, non-agile employees lose their balance and find it hard to embrace change. This brings about stress for them as well as their colleagues. They are unable to show agility in critical thinking, work styles, decision-making, or problem-solving – all essentials for the organization to stay competitive and future-ready.

An organization faces constant change, from within and outside. Factors such as technological changes, leadership turnover, differing generational preferences, or any other mean the organization must adapt and fluctuate as per the circumstances. The key capabilities such an organization requires are illustrated below:

Essential Capability for Agile organization

It is time to bring in agility!

Agility must become part of the organizational mindset, and simple training will not do the trick. Autonomy- and trust-based modern training methods are of the essence, as they embed learning into day-to-day practice. Up-to-date micro learning, a content library available on demand, and other modern online learning solutions can be incredibly useful here.

By 2024, more than half of organizations plan to reskill at least 50 percent of their workforces.

So how can managers manifest organizational agility at the workplace? By doing an honest assessment, as a start. It is important to know why the required skills are not present. Next is to try a different approach, something unlike the repeated approach followed thus far. Also, bring in equity in work relationships, so that there is common ground for help to be provided.

Keeping skills as the base, here are the key people processes to realign in pursuit of agility:

Key People Processes to Realign

  • Strategic workforce planning: Consider business strategy, the required talent mix, and the demand for and supply of talent. Understand the interrelation of behavioral and technical skills required, and define job roles accordingly.
  • Skill-based vs tenure-based career planning and progression: Create a transparent skill-based career architecture, with a separate mid-year performance discussion focusing on employee career interests and giving pointed feedback on those skills.
  • Internal talent mobility: Use talent reviews to create internal talent moves that put high-potential talent into critical roles such that the organization earns a talent advantage.

Leverage flexible talent if you want to be agile.

Clearly, success in the future of work requires agility. Organizations must therefore bring in best practices to access and leverage their flexible talent. The following approach brings great results:

  • Identify skill gaps: In-house skills may be insufficient to meet business goals, and the right scanning and analysis can point to internal skill reserves or the right external specialists.
  • Focus on tasks: Eschew job descriptions and look and the functions and tasks within them, accordingly figuring out the right mix of technology and human skill required.
  • Pick the right option: One size does not fit all, so do not rush to a big, expensive consulting firm when a smaller, boutique setup or independent experts could serve the purpose better.
  • Get buy-ins from stakeholders: Share best practices related to your talent ecosystem and get an organization-wide buy-in from stakeholders.
  • Roll out in phases: Pilot with one team, and basis the learnings, widen the approach to other teams.

The way ahead…

There is no one success mantra for all organizations who want to become agile basis their skill sets. The right skills framework underlying the functioning of the organization exerts great power in shaping the future of the latter. Defining these to the right detail and planning across people processes brings the bests results!

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