With a constantly evolving business climate, encountering change is the new normal. As change permeates organizations, it challenges companies’ operational dexterity. Paramount to being prepared to effectively and efficiently adapt in times of change for maximum business impact is having an agile workforce. Organizations that embrace and practice agility are proven to be more effective in dealing with change. But what does the term “agile” mean? Fundamentally, an agile business “can move quickly, decisively and effectively in anticipating, initiating and taking advantage of change.”
The companies that embrace agility have a survivability edge that allows them to observe, react and factor market changes into an embedded discipline of continual cost and growth refinement. To be truly successful in creating and sustaining an agile business, leaders must encourage the culture of agility to permeate the entire organization.
Executives need to manage change in alignment with strategic goals; create environments that encourage learning, innovation, collaboration and problem solving; recognize and reward high performance; ensure effective and efficient communication; and minimize barriers to change. Executives who understand, cultivate and infuse these traits throughout the organization create a workplace of high performers.
While the need for and the path to agility might be obvious, its pursuit can be riddled with obstructions that impede it.
Challenges that restrain agility
- Lack of necessary management skills
- Display of management styles that produce opposite effects
- Rhetoric / lack of communication
- No attention to employees’ feedback and their problems
Senior management needs to lead the way to an agile organization through examples of honest and frequent communications and by creating a safe haven of trust and relationship building. Relationships need to expand beyond peer-to-peer to an interconnection of the entire work force. This connectivity is the underpinning of a culture that fosters agility.
Culture is not the only area in which leaders need to set the tone. The trends suggest that there is also a need for workforce planning to focus on satisfying the knowledge gap with the approaching mass withdrawal of an unevenly aging workforce.
The role of technology in achieving agility
Impediments to work force agility can also be generated by what is frequently thought of as a means of revolutionizing businesses. Increasingly, technology is becoming more complex with a myriad of system platforms that inevitably need to integrate with one another. The fast-paced change taking place in the technology sector can slow down an organization’s ability to keep pace, as well as introduce risk to existing processes.
While at one point service-oriented architectures promised to be the solution to achieving technological gains and improving agility, focus is now spent on cloud computing solutions, where an organization can pass to a superior form – the virtual organization.
As many of the top competing firms have similar IT capabilities, the competitive differentiator lies in the company’s way of managing its IT activities. For a firm to be agile, workers need to be trained in order to use the technology to keep up with the dynamic environment. If those managing IT in an organization can reinvent themselves from focusing on reducing costs to supporting a workplace that enables high performers to work with technology, the full potential of both entities can be realized.
The critical role of information
Whether it’s a distributed work force or employees in a corporate facility, the constant shifting of business requires a critical component that crosses all business units and functional roles. The work force must be able to access information that will provide knowledge for needed skills, to stimulate thinking, and for serving as catalyst to innovative ideas. With the speed of change, information is proliferating at such a disturbing rate that, in many cases, it has overloaded our ability to gather, process, and comprehend it.
However, when vetted correctly, profits can be realized from the abundance of information available:
- Hidden opportunities can be uncovered when data is not merely collected, but connected to internal and external stakeholders meaningfully
- Data can be translated into proactive action when it’s accessible to the right people at the right time;
- The sharing of pertinent and valid information can build trust in the organization and prepare the work force for a quicker response to opportunities and threats
Learning as a strategic lever to agility
Change in a business environment often leads to skill gaps. Rapid change proliferates those gaps. To fill in the gaps, accelerate employee performance, fuel adaptability and innovation, and increase engagement and retention, organizations need to focus their culture on learning and development. Not only does a high-impact learning culture lead to better business outcomes; best practices of a learning culture have strong ties to the same behaviours necessary to increase agility.
With a targeted learning and development function, organizations are more likely to cultivate high performing workplaces. Among agile organizations, it has been found that these companies view themselves as resilient, see change as an opportunity, possess better change capacities at the individual, team, and organization levels, and engage in strategies to improve change management.