Is Agility a HR Issue?

A report by the Agile Future Forum highlighted that agility will become a focus for the modern workplace and more flexible forms of work will be required in the future.

Agility goes beyond offering flexible contracts and reward; it’s a mindset developed through leadership and employee empowerment. Agility is the ability to thrive in competitive times and adapt to a change in circumstances. Those that fail to innovate and instead rely on ‘proven’ workplace practices are much more likely to fall behind.

If agility is being defined as an organisational mindset, this then leads employers to questions whether the issue of agility is a HR issue or not? HR is the business backbone, and as employee managers, it’s their responsibility to ensure that the workforce can meet changing demands and support the current and future needs of the business.

A study by Orion Partners found that leadership development, talent management and capability development were the highest priority when assessing the people management practices that have an impact on agility. Flexible work contracts were cited as having the least impact. Proving that HR has a role to play if a business is to improve its agility.

The digital age that we find ourselves in means that now more than ever, businesses are being challenged with agility issues each day – and the need to keep up has never been more clear. Consider the impact that gig economy companies such as Uber and Deliveroo have had. Technological change is one of the biggest threats industries as a whole face, and unless a business is agile, then gaps can begin to show in the way an organisation thinks and is run.

Here’s how HR can support an agile workforce and improve employee agility.

Empower employees

If employees don’t feel empowered to speak up, share their ideas or challenge current processes constructively, then they are unlikely to develop an agile mindset. Empowerment has become a business buzzword which organisations seem to cling to, yet they then implement processes to be followed, which then stifle’s any agility.

While processes should be implemented in order to ensure that employees are all aligned with the vision, be aware that too many policies can add too much bureaucracy to the process. Instead of adding policy after policy, make sure that the policies that you do have in place are designed to add structure and guidance, rather than dictate a process-driven mindset.

If employees do speak-out, then provide feedback. The absence of a response is likely to lead employees to think they were speaking out of turn, so as an employer take the time to provide feedback and the reasons why.

Accountability is key to empowerment; if goals are met then consequences follow, and likewise if goals aren’t met. This will encourage employees to take greater control of their workload and think more strategically and become results-driven in their approach.

A culture of ownership

One of the biggest drivers behind improving organisational agility is a culture of ownership. We’ve discussed how process-driven structures can hinder agility, but if agility isn’t embedded into an organisation’s culture, then it’s unlikely to be adopted by employees. After all, processes can change very little, if there is no buy-in from staff.

Leaders need to be ready to lead the change and reinforce the agility message. If you have a strong hierarchal structure, then you’re unlikely to see employees willing to change their mindset for fear of speaking out. Cultural change begins with removing pre-set barriers, and ensuring that employees are aware they are equals in the organisation.

Improve collaboration

Agility isn’t an autonomous task, and you should seek to encourage collaboration at all times. Some of the most innovative ideas can be found from those who are one-step removed from the issue in questions so provide opportunities for teams to cross-collaborate, to problem solve or address new opportunities.

Whether you have quick ‘stand-ups’ for problems to be troubleshot or encourage collaboration on a less formal basis – a collaborative environment can ensure that agility needs are met.

Provide flexibility

If you want employees to become more agile in their approach to work then, as an employer, changes to working practices also need to be made. Rigorous processes will do little to inspire, so be flexible in your approach to management.

While the move towards a more flexible working future and the hours that employees work is a step towards changing traditional working values and mindset, flexibility should extend beyond this.

For example, consider allowing employees the opportunity to monitor their own development goals and job functions – changing this in order to meet current organisational needs. Remove traditional performance management reviews, and instead implement a continuous feedback system which is individually planned, rather than a set structure.

HR isn’t a function which is about dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, it’s a function which can  inspire and drive organisational change. Agility is a mindset which many organisations could improve upon, so begin by discussing with your HR department or seeking the advice of a HR expert; they are likely to hold the key to change.

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