How to Build an Agile Workforce

Laura Goodrich Posted by Laura Goodrich.

Laura is cofounder of On Impact, an integrated content company that specializes in creating and producing videos, television, and multimedia content delivered over time to create sustained change and adoption of important leadership concepts.

How to Build an Agile Workforce

Nowadays most of the companies realize talent management to be as important as other organizational functions to sustain and grow a business. But many of them still need to realize that they need talented flexible people with agile mindset and responsive behavior.

Companies are facing unexpected challenges at every turn. This has got leaders thinking. How they can successfully adapt and react to unprecedented changes? How do they practice mastering the moment?

In the business world today, the companies need to build a workforce that is agile in it’s thinking and approach. Not only leaders are expected to exhibit this trait but the entire workforce needs to be quick to react and respond to change.

With short product life cycles, increased economic chaos, prompt service offerings and compressed delivery time, businesses require people who can act at the speed of thought.

Workforce needs to be agile because companies need to apply a range of different responses rather than going the conventional way.

How to Build an Agile Workforce?

Now that organizations know that they need to proactively prepare their workforce to be agile, the question arises “How can they do it”. Well, the ones that do this iterate certain behaviors. Take a look:

Empower People

Imagine a situation. You delegate a task to one of your employees, giving him enough room for creativity, flexibility and decision making. Rather than feeling excited, scared he comes back to you with a long list of questions and ifs and buts, trying to convince you to either pin down what exactly needs to be done or how it is to be done. You lose your control, wondering how he got hired at the first place.

Sounds usual? This is a clear indication that your people are still stuck in boss-subordinate mindset and are in a habit of being guided in whatever they do. An organization with such a mindset can never be agile. It’s important to break out from it, establish trust and empower people to push their boundaries and overcome their limits.

Agile organizations encourage their people to do things their way, without caring about the end results. They cultivate the habit of taking risks and accepting challenges. You can empower your people by:

  • Presenting new challenges and opportunities
  • Working on identifying and developing their unique interests and abilities
  • Inviting them to lead a certain task
  • Encouraging in-moment feedback, so that they can quickly move on to the next step
  • Pushing them to think like a leader
  • Creating room for independent work and decision-making

Develop Alternative Competence

I am sure you have experienced times when an employee became unproductive when you delegated a task that she was not used to or put her in some other job that was out of her area of specialization.

The definition of talent management has fundamentally changed. It’s not only restricted to utilizing the competence of people. Now it also about developing alternative competence. The focus is on developing serial competence instead of a deep proficiency in a particular area. The idea is to encourage employees to move out of their comfort zone and learn what they are not strong at. This helps them to broaden their horizons and also helps the organization.

In today’s scenario when budgets are low, resources are scarce and time is less, the best you can do is make the most of what you already have. You can’t change your entire workforce but you can always develop it. You may not have access to the best of the industry talent but you can train your existing employees. You can help employees develop transferable skills by:

  • Delegating different tasks each time, with increasing level of difficulty
  • Identifying their alternative interests and encouraging them to pursue those interests
  • Rotating their jobs whenever possible
  • Changing their projects and teams

Drive Employee Collaboration

Agile organizations understand that it is necessary to drive employee collaboration a workplace that is made up of multiple generations, cultures and proficiencies. It is a surefire way to combine modernity with convention, strength with wisdom, randomness with firmness, force with experience and freshness with maturity.

Companies understand that it is important to abandon isolated actions and drive collaboration to quickly respond to change. Times have changed. Gen Y will soon become the largest constituent of the workforce but Gen X and Boomers are still a significant part of the workforce and will continue to be so for several years to come.

The customer base is also multi-generational. In such a scenario, it’s not possible to rely on the competencies of only one generation. To lead through unexpected shifts, it’s critical to build high quality partnerships and develop a work environment driven by collaboration, networking, cooperation and alliance.

Wondering how to drive collaboration?

  • Encourage employees to work in teams
  • Use gamification to encourage healthy competition
  • Escalate conversations whenever required
  • Establish an environment of trust and respect
  • Engage employees in different discussions
  • Encourage diversity

Promote Experimentation and Innovation

Organizations that promote innovation, prepare their workforces to respond to change and also to drive the change. Given the changing market scenario, it’s important for companies to come up with new ideas, products and services in short time spans.

Consumer appetite for newness is increasing with each passing day. You can’t afford to repackage the old thing and sell it. If you have been relying on a bunch of people for new ideas, you won’t go long. The only way out is to promote innovation throughout the organization at all levels.

Traditionally, the workplace wasn’t known for creativity and experimentation. But organizations like Google, Apple, Intel and Facebook are making it a part of their routine. Results are already in front of us – evident by massive brand value and growth of these companies .

These organizations allow their people to think beyond their primary job responsibilities and encourage them to spend time doing what they love to do. They help them with the resources to pursue alternate musings. This is how these companies keep coming up with new ideas and products in short time durations. Innovation is now ingrained in their cultures.

You can also promote innovation in your organization by:

  • Setting your employees free of bureaucratic policies and fixed procedures
  • Allowing space to think as individuals
  • Scheduling regular brainstorming sessions
  • Challenging the way they work
  • Soliciting ideas from employees whenever an initiative is being taken
  • Acting on good ideas of your employees
  • Eliminating constraints and offering resources whenever required
  • Encouraging them to fail fast

To be truly agile, your workforce needs to be agile. When your employees are no longer afraid of change, your company is already equipped to drive the change. It is an acquired attitude and your leadership also needs to be agile to promote agility and make it a part of your company’s culture.

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