Organizational agility is pivotal for companies that thrive in the current market.
The reality of work today is that professionals are constantly subject to a range of challenges, demanding them to react, respond and resolve at nearly real-time basis.
In this context, what does this imply for a changing HR organization?
It has taken the form of continuous performance management, re-skilling, workforce analytics. In reality, agility in HR is much more than that. It is about applying the knowledge of business and people to help make complex decisions faster.
The question to ask on HR agility is, “How can HR professionals build organizational capability as they build talent, on a daily basis?” This encompasses setting up a highly structured backend, clear communication and an empowered workforce.
Overcoming challenges towards agile working
Building a successfully agile workforce is not easy. We today see new formats of business spring up, wherein even employees are facing customers. For example, in healthcare, one of the key divisions caters to providing high-end healthcare services to patients at home i.e. last stage medical service. Often, employees need to take calls on the spot to answer a patient call, that too within the boundaries of what is acceptable to the organization and not acceptable. This calls for a series of HR interventions:
- Imbibing values: “How do we as HR make sure that in a large workforce, everybody understands the boundaries and values in exactly the same terms to make decisions such that the organization is confident about those decisions?” Bringing the values to life on a daily basis at work requires immense time and effort in engaging deeply with each and every human being and having real conversations about what the values mean to each of them.
- Structure-and-control versus flexibility: Perhaps the single biggest obstacle is in the way HR is perceived and how this affects the agility journey. The right thing for HR to do is to make sure they hire the right people with the right intent and orient them to the values and basic principles of the organization. Then let them go so that they can unleash their capability and talent. Yet, this poses the challenge of perception. If HR is not governing, what is HR doing? The starting point is to put in place reliable talent processes which help identify enablers to agility. The more agile organizations want to be, the more structured they must become.
- Impetus to agile behaviours: Another imperative is to reward and recognize those who not only fuel agility in themselves, but fuel agility in others as well. However, there is no concrete definition for agility. This is a challenge in itself, because, HR is asking people to be agile and assessing them on agility. In reality, the fundamental need to drive agility in the workplace means a lasting change in processes and mindset, based on a bedrock of favourable behaviours. HR leaders must be ready to accept, that they might go wrong in 20% of the cases, but if they are fundamentally right in 80% of the cases as measured by the outcomes, then agility is achieved.
Agility from within:
Building agile capabilities within HR is the starting point. And agile teams do not thrive on siloed approach. Gone are the days when professionals could wait, consult other experts and then respond. Much of the agile-friendly approach begins with learning agile-friendly behaviours at an individual level.
Inculcating agility in daily behaviours
Agility is all about orientation i.e. “Is your orientation solution or problem?” Ask yourself, “When faced with a problem, what kicks in? Do a long list of problems emerge, or do you start thinking about the things that need to be “fixed” internally and workarounds within the ethical boundaries of the org, in order to solve the problem?” One must find ways to imbibe the following behaviours:
- An open mind: You must be able to walk into a conversation knowing that you have tried and yet failed. An urge to constantly learn and experiment with an open mind is the baseline for agile working.
- Solution mindset: Building a mindset of “How do I fix this?” is essential to agile success. Agile thinking is all about looking at an idea and thinking what to do to enable a favourable final outcome. A solution-mindset will always have plausible answers.
- Comfort with change: We live in an age where relevance is short lived. You may break down everything that you built yesterday, because it is no longer relevant. That is the most difficult thing for most professionals, because people pour a lot of love and affection in things they do. Yet, the ability to destroy what you created and keep experimenting with new things to start anew is critical to agility.
- Collaboration mindset: Agility is never driven by a structured approach of one person’s specific contributions. For example, what makes start-ups successful is everybody’s efforts, with people chipping in as and when required. Agility thrives on the paradigm of doing together, believing together, and driving together.
These behaviours are the cornerstones to drive agility. The future path for agility thus demands new ways of people management- workforce tracking, fluid and flexi careers, and future-proofing skillsets. The role of HR will thus change from making policies and enforcing them i.e. “a must do this” attitude to asking employees “What does this mean for you and how are you going to make it come alive” and making them intrinsically accountable. Such high level of employee involvement and flexibility, within the cultural framework, is the basis for agile working.