A workforce leading to agility

A workforce leading to agility

juli 1st, 2018 Posted by change processes, leadership, management No Comment yet

Countless organisations are now committed to achieving organisational agility. When talking about making an organisation more agile, we mean focusing on integrating processes, changing corporate characteristics – for instance, the decision-making dynamics- and forming new sociotechnical views at all levels of the organisation in order to enhance the organisation’s ability to create a sustainable, innovative and with that competitive strategies that have the ability to transform continuously.

This agile approach obviously differs greatly from our more traditional corporate processes, which are optimised for efficiency, using rigid processes and traditional structures like linear models and top-down controls and have proved to be less effective in today’s society where the competitive advantage is dependent on an entrepreneurial mindset and on high-speed innovation.

Earlier research on the creation of agile organisations focused heavily on the organisational structures and processes – like how to create flexible infrastructure platforms- but paid little attention to the creation of a culture that supports agility or to the needed performance adjustments from an HR perspective. This article will be entirely dedicated to how organisations can prepare their workforce for an agile environment.

Looking at your corporate ecosystem

From the organisational perspective, new information and communications technologies enable the organisation to construct flexible structures that add value to a variety of strategies. That flexibility is crucial as organisational changes are the new constant and the technology should be adjusted to shifts with the organisation’s needs.

However, if we zoom in on the five capabilities of intelligence that are needed to acquire an agile workforce, we can see that applications used for collaborative working are most likely to increase agility and are therefore crucial to the corporate ecosystem.

Your corporate ecosystem is able to mimic societal dynamics and with that use the mediating effects of psychological conditions like meaningfulness, availability and safety to stimulate agility performance. Second, the strength and reach of the social network are also correlated with the loyalty to an organisation and is a measure of employee engagement.

For a system to work, a framework in which it is possible to give and receive immediate/timely feedback is needed and any communication application needs to be highly intuitive by having a well-thought-out EX-design.

Organisations also need a fail-proof process in place for advancing ideas through the organisation via a bottom-up approach in order for ideation within the network to work.

The organisational network analysis will help you understand how relationships drive behaviour. It will serve as a tool to track the level of inclusion within your team and highlight any gaps and vulnerabilities. Using this technique you will identify central nodes (critical conduits for the exchange of ideas and information), see how your workforce is connected and identify critical points in the flow of information and adaption.

Teams within the corporate ecosystem

By creating a network of teams who are empowered to take action and by reducing hierarchical layers, organisations can support the agile approach. For fast-paced innovation to work long term, fluid/dynamic team structures are needed.

The reduction of layers can be realised by redesigning the job architecture and library within the organisation. Publicis Groupe has tackled this opportunity through the creation of Marcel, their AI-powered platform. Another advantage to this overarching framework is that the company now has an enterprise-wide view of talent through this single system. The restructuring will also enable organisations to focus more on what employees bring to the table opposed to where they stand on the organisational chart.

Organisations can initiate ideation teams to create more agile processes when starting their journey towards the agile organisation. Participation in such teams are a development opportunity for high performers and the strongest participants can be found by asking key influencers and managers to nominate talent.

To improve the likelihood of team success, organisations can start transitioning by using dynamic team-building challenges to create a state of “rehearsed spontaneity” within the workforce. It actually means building a team’s capacity to coordinate within the corporate network, to communicate effectively, to collaborate with others and to hone their skills by giving them a wide range of scenarios and conditions to solve through design sprints.

Later in the process, ideation teams can be used to collect ideas from the market and from within the organisation and discuss their potential during meetings before sending it through to management for the next phase. When an idea is rejected, teams can give feedback on the idea so other teams or individuals can reshape and improve their ideas.

This set-up differs from the more traditional models in the sense that leaders now collaborate with their teams to create a shared vision for their team and focus on instilling autonomy and purpose. Today’s leaders focus on positive group dynamics and creating a high level of psychological safety, which affects the team’s results.

In the end, autonomous and successful cross-functional teams have better relationships, more direct connections and more inter-departmental talent mobility.

The employee

For individual employees, the ability to adapt is crucial. This involves the ability to quickly acquire new skillsets. Organisations have the responsibility of continuously building the skills of their employees by supplying them with the tools to respond better and faster to new business challenges and value creation. Therefore, processes need to be simplified and experience learning should be promoted.

Interesting enough, this shift aligns seamlessly with the rise of the fluid career and shouldn’t cause any friction on the labour market. That is, as long as organisations can come to the realisation that recruitment isn’t always about a candidate who ticks all the boxes perfectly anymore but is now about a candidate’s willingness to learn and their alignment with a organisation’s value system.

Faster career moves (multi-dimensional), departmental, and even geographic location changes, temporary career development opportunities, career autonomy, and quick organisational shifts are all accepted and embraced within the agile organisation.

In short: employee investment needs to be a continuous process.

Employees can learn to adapt to the new ecosystem. To help them feel more comfortable with the new approaches, use strategies that will teach them the habit of observing, orientating, deciding and acting in the workplace. Employees will then habitually scan all incoming stimuli (visual data, auditory data etc) and filter out the white noise -information that isn’t aligned with the organisations’ purpose, corporate values et cetera and are therefore not relevant.

On a leadership level

Agility is an overarching principle that guides all activities, regardless of whether they are strategic, tactical or operational and leaders should lead by example. Naturally, like in any other environments, the agile work environment will present its challenges and it will require a different management approach. Especially for leaders who tend to micro-manage, these shifts will be quite arduous.

Nevertheless, in order to enhance performance and strengthen your leadership skills, now is the easiest time to learn and adapt to this new way of working or to decide to take your career in a different direction.

If you do decide to become tomorrow’s leader, your flexibility will be tested as you are managing an environment with fewer rules and less control. Employees will look at you to provide them with space, permission and resources to innovate. Your role will lean towards that of a coach, where you encourage experimenting, trying new things, speaking your minds, being creative, learning, rapidly iterating and help them to adjust their ideas and start again (thus creating a high level of psychological safety).

Instead of leading the way by telling your team what to so, you will give them a purpose and give them a sense of direction instead of simply state numbers and clear-cut goals.

The upside is that -when agility is truly incorporated- both the need to play the political game and the corporate complexity will be reduced. Second, by creating a strong sense of psychological safety, you will create a culture that leads to breakthroughs. Moreover, you will see greater engagement within your workforce and a growth in diversity.

Final thoughts for HR

In order to sustain an agile workforce, HR needs to have access to both credible and reliable data that can be used to support other leaders from within the organisation -with solving issues and the creation of effective strategies-. This can’t be done if organisations hold on to data- islands that exist within. Ideally, HR should be able to track all data real-time, in order to assess performances and analyse potential career advancements. Simply put, organisations need to clean-up before moving on.

When that is done, organisations can invest in open-learning systems, feedback mechanisms and engagement tools at all levels within the system. By strengthening the social network, the organisation bottom-line will be strengthened too.

For example, AI will enable us to promote young talent from within and cross-train them based on the analysis of their interests and potential. Empowering them to maximise their learning curve and adjust their career pace to their personal situation while at the same time reducing the flight risk for the organisation itself.

Transformational changes are necessary but organisations should be aware of the disruption of change. During these transformations, it is important to prioritize projects and executive everything in due time. Taking on a wide variety of projects at the same time will inevitably lead to change saturation and trigger the brain’s fear responses. If your workforce reaches that state of mind, their performance will be greatly diminished. So always measure internal saturation levels as you go.

In summary, the road to agility is challenging and exciting at the same time. Organisations will have to work hard to create and sustain high levels of psychological safety within their workforce. You can’t change without your employees. They should be top of mind, always.

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Marketing and Communication Specialist at TAS - Tells a Story
Maike van Oyen is a mother, friend, sister, daughter and dedicated communications and marketing specialist on the side. She has written many articles for several websites in both Dutch and English about Corporate Communications, Marketing, Change Management and HR.

Maike loves to sink her teeth into complex projects of change and has a good knowledge of communication on a strategical, tactical and an operational level. She is trained to work in hectic environments (she manages to write blogs while also doing the housework, watching 4 misguided missiles and working for TAS at the same time). And is used to finding creative solutions for every challenge.