It is difficult to conceive of an agile business without an agile workforce.
An agile business can react quickly to change, even anticipate some of it. It can bend to customer’s needs and provide better service and it can absorb changes in its environment. Some of this is achievable through systems and processes, but most of this ability is going to come from people and the culture they create within the business.
The culture of an open mind, shared values and goals, an ethos that permeates the whole organisation and rises above the purely functional.
So, what is an agile workforce?
- they will have specific and probably quite specialised skills relevant to the business
- there will be a balance of core and periphery people that share the load
- they will create and share work practices that do not tie them unnecessarily to set times, places and methods
- they will be measured by their output
Skill sets for agility
Organisations need skills that are relevant in general terms, but also developed to be specific to the needs of the business and won through experience as well creative endeavour. So problem solving, balancing teamwork with independent thought and leadership, marketing know-how, negotiation, etc will all be important, but not more so than detailed industry knowledge and how that works within the specific business.
It is likely we will all become more specialised within our fields at the same time as needing to be better at working with others and understanding how the different skills fit together to make a valuable whole. Many companies are working with people who come and go around specific projects and whose roles change depending on that project, providing flexibility and the ability to focus specific skills where they are needed most.
This is one of the main ways the workforce might change in the future. A core team of employees may well be augmented by freelancers, contractors, etc. with perhaps even more specialist knowledge or to fill existing gaps that are not constantly required.
This keeps employment costs down and provides a variety of work models to suit different personalities and situations.
Everyone is different, so giving more choice about how, when and where people work provides greater opportunity for the happiness and well-being of more of those people. There are roles for those that need consistency and regularity, those that need complete freedom and the many in between.
This may well result in extended business hours, better and quicker responses to client needs and greater resilience against disruption. Combined, these features create a very agile workforce.
Output, not input
However people work, when they are measured on output (what they have achieved) rather than input (the time spent at a desk), there are significant improvements. Trust is built, people are happier, less stressed, feel more valued and in control and are generally more productive.
Happy, healthy, engaged people give more, more freely and help the organisation to look out for and react better to change. For many organisations, this represents a major cultural change, but to not meet the challenges agility presents is to jeopardise the sustainability of your business; the agility of your workforce is the agility of your business.