How to become an agile workforce: 3 Key steps

Why transitioning to more dynamic ways of working is crucial


By Nicole Schreiber-Shearer, Future of Work Specialist at Gloat

April 14, 2022

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COVID-19 turned agility into the ultimate competitive advantage. During the height of the pandemic, every business needed to embrace more agile ways of working to respond to ongoing change and unprecedented disruption.

Rather than a momentary fad, agility will continue to be critical in the new world of work. In fact, it’s going to be even more important as unfamiliar challenges emerge. From supply chain issues to record-breaking resignations, leaders are encountering new disruptions that require rapid innovation and even faster response times.

Although most organizations have been striving to become more dynamic for several years now, very few can truly be considered agile workforces. Fortunately, there are several best practices that can help every enterprise turn agility into its next competitive advantage.

What does it mean to be an agile workforce?

Organizations can only be considered agile when their entire workforce has embraced more dynamic and fluid ways of working. Leaders must empower their people to develop multiple skillsets, take on new challenges, and continuously experiment and innovate.

To achieve workforce agility, employees must be able to move freely into new positions as challenges emerge and priorities change. This kind of free-flowing exchange of talent requires workforce planning, as leaders must anticipate future skill needs and lay the groundwork for ongoing upskilling and reskilling.

Why is workforce agility so important right now?

A decade ago, workforce agility wasn’t on most leaders’ radars. Enterprises were vying for stability and competing on the basis of scalable efficiency. The working world was much more predictable, so being able to respond to disruption was an afterthought, not a priority.

COVID-19 changed all of that. At the pandemic’s onset, leaders needed to make tough choices. Businesses radically shifted their operating models to maintain continuity while keeping employees safe. Some companies even pivoted their focus in response to changes in consumer demand. With each of these disruptions, employees had to step up, learn new skills, and cover for colleagues.

The need for agility is only going to continue in the new world of work because the pace of change will keep accelerating. Ongoing volatility and a lack of predictability mean agility is the best strategy to survive and thrive in our next chapter.

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What benefits do agile workforces reap?

Businesses that go the extra mile and transform into agile workforces benefit from a few decisive advantages, including

Faster response times
Agile workforces minimize organizational silos and rigid hierarchies, the top two culprits for delayed response times. Instead, full skills visibility and networked teams make it easy to efficiently redeploy talent as new priorities emerge. As a result, it’s easy to shift resources and adapt strategies, allowing businesses to respond on the fly.

Improved engagement and retention
Internal mobility is a common denominator amongst agile workforces. Employees are empowered to take on new projects and pitch in when business needs change. In addition to accelerating response times, internal mobility also keeps employees engaged. Our own research shows that two in three workers want to be considered for new opportunities within their organization, which means that internal mobility needs to be a priority to keep engagement and morale high.

Greater innovation
Agile workforces empower employees to share their ideas, build new skills, and tackle projects. These organizations minimize hierarchies and move away from top-down cultures, in turn encouraging people from across the organization to voice new suggestions and bring ideas to bear faster.

3 Steps to become a more agile workforce

If you’re looking to reap the benefits that only agile workforces can tap into, here are a few steps your business can take to embrace more dynamic ways of working:

#1. Embrace a culture of talent sharing
In agile workforces, talent flows freely. This can only happen when your workplace culture values talent sharing, rather than talent hoarding. Making the shift to talent sharing can be scary, especially for managers who might fear that they’re losing the all-star employees they rely on. That’s why emerging tools like talent marketplaces are such a game-changer. The two-sided platforms match employees to projects, gigs, and full-time roles across the organization, ensuring managers always have talent pools to tap into.

This is about speed and agility. And tapping into skills you don't know about. This tool screams the opportunity to be agile and to achieve speed.

Laurel Catlett-King, VP Talent, Nestlé

#2. Democratize access to career development opportunities
All employees need access to the same breadth of skill-building activities and developmental opportunities. Unfortunately, traditional workplaces rarely create a level playing field for all of their employees, since access to opportunities is typically influenced by who employees know and their networks. Yet, talent marketplaces can take bias out of the equation, providing full visibility so that everyone in your organization gets a fair shot at learning experiences like projects, gigs, and mentorships.

We're moving into more flexible, dynamic, agile ways of working. We see Gloat as an opportunity to accelerate that.

Watson Stewart, Head of Talent Solutions, Standard Chartered Bank

#3. Prioritize skills-based strategies
Skills are fuel for agile workforces. Skills-based organizations are inherently agile because these businesses break down work into tasks, rather than jobs, enabling talent to flow freely across the enterprise.

To become a skills-based organization, leaders need full visibility into their workforce’s capabilities and knowledge base. Advanced talent marketplace offerings like Organizational Agility take visibility to the next level by providing leaders with a Skills Management Console, which allows them to create, view, and manage skills information from any data source, internal or external, in one centralized location.

Agile ways of working are allowing us to redeploy both temporary and permanent resources to support our strategic priorities. Our Internal Talent Marketplace has helped us to re-prioritize 500,000 worker hours towards more than 3,000 business-critical projects.

Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever

There’s no doubt that every leading enterprise in the new world of work will be powered by an agile workforce. If you’re looking to learn more about how talent marketplaces can maximize workforce agility, check out our guide, How leading companies boost productivity and reduce costs.

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