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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters



Employment Today Magazine

Champions of agility

The contemporary approach to talent management, designed for a time when predictability was expected, has reached its limits, says Simon Woolley. It’s time for HR to become agile talent strategists and champions of an agile workforce.

In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world, having the right people in the right places to meet tomorrow’s business challenges is critical for success. However, selecting, developing and planning a career path for the talent that will drive your organisation’s future has never been more complex.

In the new world of digital disruption, technology is influencing and changing job requirements and demands from individual contributors to top executives. At the same time, organisations are having to evolve as competition both locally and globally increases and nimble, digital native companies disrupt traditional business models. As a result, organisations are responding by becoming leaner in structure so they can be more agile. They are also coming to the realisation that the contemporary approach to talent management has reached its limits, having been designed for a time when stability and predictability were expected.

THE ROAD TO BUSINESS AGILITY STARTS WITH AGILE TALENT STRATEGISTS

Shaping the workforce in a way that makes it agile can be an organisation’s greatest differentiator. Human resources has a key role to play in this as organisations look to build a future workforce that can adjust itself to impulses from the market, organisation, teams and individuals. In a world that constantly changes, with ever-increasing speed, it is also crucial that human resources changes too if it is to effectively manage talent.

To remain relevant and respected when decisions about an organisation and its future are made, human resources will need to approach their work as agile talent strategists if they are to succeed as champions of an agile workforce. This means they will need to:

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    Deliver a talent strategy that aligns with and powers the business strategy;
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    Select and develop leaders who fit multidimensional success profiles that will support the organisation’s future needs;
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    Understand and demonstrate one of the most critical requirements for leaders of the future—learning agility—and develop resources to identify, assess and nurture this trait;
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    Adjust and revise success profiles for current and new roles alongside the organisation’s planning cycle and modify development, succession planning, hiring, onboarding and other key talent processes as needed.

Agility in talent management is an absolute necessity for those in human resources. A critical component of being agile is being able to plan the workforce in a way that it delivers talent for tomorrow. If human resources can learn this, then it will establish itself as a valuable partner in mapping an organisation’s future success.

Unfortunately, examples of good organisational alignment of human resources activities with the future needs of an organisation are difficult to find. Usually selection, development and succession decisions are based on past or current needs rather than the demands of the future and the organisation’s business strategy. Furthermore, employees are often disconnected from the business strategy with little if any understanding of their part in it.

In an agile organisation a talent strategy must be focused on supporting all aspects of the constantly changing business strategy and actively connect with those employees executing it. As such, a well-aligned talent strategy needs to rapidly and nimbly meet the changing needs of the talent marketplace and address:

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    The talent required to achieve the business strategy;
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    Where that talent exists now and where it is missing;
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    Who can be developed and who needs to be brought in;
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    Which talent processes need to be put in place now to support the selection, onboarding, development, engagement and mobility of the future workforce.

While speed is a vital element of agility, scalability and the flexibility it demands will be equally valuable. As such, talent management leaders will need to plan for higher and lower volumes of work and have the ability to shift cost structures up and down to meet every “new normal”.

HOW TO HELP YOUR EMPLOYEES ADAPT TO THE NEW BUSINESS ORDER

With agility comes a need to liberate organisations and people from the structures and processes that have largely been in place since the beginning of the industrial age. The environments in which we work will be increasingly dynamic. Ideas, people and work will no longer be siloed, instead they will be freely exchangeable. Rather than jobs and roles, work will be thought of in terms of projects, with teams assembled from the most suitable talent to execute them.

Agility demands a new generation of worker who is just as likely to be a freelancer or a permanent employee. Organisations will increasingly source freelancers to work on projects and support the business. As a result, freelancers will become a larger portion of the working population. These freelancers are more likely to work at a strategic level as opposed to an administrative or operational level. Individual employees will therefore have to rely more on their professional reputation and visibility across their internal and external networks. For many employees this will be a difficult step.

Both the existing and new generation of workers will need to shift and adapt quickly as the environment in which they operate changes rapidly. These people will need to be resourceful, thrive on change, easily make sense out of uncertainty, and perform regardless of circumstances. These abilities form the basis of learning agility.

Learning agility is not simply about being able to learn at a faster pace. It rather encapsulates an individual’s curiosity and ability to study a new problem, find information about it, and understand different approaches that will lead to a resolution of the problem. Agile learners have an open and receptive mindset and often excel at being able to study, analyse, and understand new situations and new business problems.

Korn Ferry estimates that around 25 percent of Fortune 100 companies use learning agility to assess the leadership potential of internal and external candidates, but unfortunately few people are truly strong, agile learners—only 15 percent carry this trait. Therefore, it is essential that organisations develop the resources to identify and recruit them.

Korn Ferry has identified five factors of learning agility:

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    Mental agility: how comfortable is the individual in dealing with complexity?
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    People agility: is she or he a skilled communicator who can work with diverse people?
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    Change agility: does the individual like to experiment? Is she or he afraid to be on the forefront of change?
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    Results agility: can the individual deliver results in first-time situations?
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    Self-awareness: does the individual recognise his or her own strengths and weaknesses?

People with learning agility are the antithesis of status quo people—those who rely on old ways of doing things, who see no reason to acquire new skills or adapt, and who withdraw or dig in their heels when circumstances require change.

Human resources professionals are critical to the process of helping an organisation unleash its learning agility. By identifying and developing those leaders who possess it, human resources will not only help the organisation become more agile today, but they will also determine the best way for an organisation to optimise their talent pipeline and succession plans.

Human resources departments should also become subject matter experts and build awareness of the competitive edge that increased learning agility offers, so organisational leaders understand the need for developing this skill in their workforces. And let’s not forget that agile learners must be part of the human resources team too. Organisations will need human resources ability to examine problems, manage diversity and inclusion, experiment and deliver results critical to talent strategy success.

THE EVOLVING TALENT STRATEGY

Creating a talent strategy cannot be a one-time activity. The talent strategy must evolve with the business strategy. This includes updating success profiles for current and new positions in tandem with the business planning cycle and adjusting development, succession planning, selection, and other key talent processes accordingly. In an agile organisation, there needs to be a relentless focus on re-examining the talent strategy to ensure its continuous alignment with the business strategy. As a result, human resources must review its organisational structure considering:

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    A comprehensive assessment of the key drivers for aligned action;
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    A team plan for converting the strategy into action;
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    Identification of processes that will open succession pathways and ignite talent;
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    A framework for building a culture of strategic engagement;
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    The technology and resources needed to support alignment and talent strategy activation.

While alignment of the business and talent strategies is essential if an agile organisation is to succeed, there are other areas that such an organisation needs to get correctly aligned as well:

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    Performance—whether permanent or acting as a freelancer, it is important that employees have clear objectives, well-defined metrics and regular feedback on their performance, both technical and social;
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    Relationships—just as we onboard full-time employees, it is essential that freelancers are also part of this process. They need to understand the organisation, its values and culture as quickly as possible if they are to make a difference. In addition, they need to quickly become part of the team and therefore relationship building becomes an essential part of the process;
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    Managerial—the skills and experience of the manager become increasingly important in an agile organisation, as does their philosophical perspective;
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    Administrative—in an agile organisation policies and procedures need to be clear, concise and well communicated to avoid any misunderstandings and avoid time wastage.

If an organisation can get these areas aligned correctly, it will achieve greater value from its employees and build an environment in which people will wish to work and do their best.

In a world of rapid, continuous change, talent management and workforce planning are becoming increasingly difficult to do. Rather than reduce your planning efforts, now is the time to focus on agility and understand that means you cannot reply on a rigid talent plan to see you through an entire year. Organisations are looking for greater flexibility in response to strategic challenges. Speed and innovation are as or more important that cost per se. As such, talent strategies and plans need to be developed with agility, flexibility and the capability of handling a wide range of upcoming talent management problems and opportunities built into them. Remember that a strategy is only as strong as its execution. Make sure your team is structured and equipped to carry out an agile talent strategy and deliver successes that clearly drive the business strategy.

SIMON WOOLLEY is the Country Manager—Products for Korn Ferry Hay Group.

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