What's 'agile working' and why does it matter?
The term ‘agile workforce’ has been cited as a key HR and management objective for a number of years but few HR leaders would claim to have achieved genuine transformation in the make-up or structure of their workforce to date.
We’re all aware of the need to change the way we recruit, retain and utilise skills to keep pace with technological advancement and new customer behaviours, but often we’re not really sure how this change should manifest itself.
In fact, part of the challenge with this shift to a more ‘agile’ workforce is that the term has come to mean different things to different people.
At Capita Resourcing, we define an agile workforce as ‘a highly-skilled, highly flexible workforce that can work across the organisation and swiftly adapt to the changing needs of customers, employees and the marketplace’. Workforce agility should not be confused with flexible working, where individual employees are permitted by management to work in a more flexible way, with more choice over hours and location of work.
An agile workforce has a far broader definition, encompassing the structure, processes, culture and skills within an organisation. And it matters, a lot. An agile workforce enables an organisation to future-proof itself by having fast and reliable access to the skills it needs to prosper, to deploy these skills in a fluid way to meet commercial needs, and to manage and motivate people in an effective and sustainable way. Ultimately, it means being able to respond first to new opportunities and generate game-changing competitive advantage.
An agile timebomb
We recently carried out research amongst HR leaders to explore their attitudes to workforce agility and to understand the challenges they’re facing in delivering a future-fit workforce. The research showed that agility is the most pressing workforce priority for HR today, ahead of both innovation and productivity. In fact, 86%of HR leaders report they need a fully agile workforce within the next two years to stay competitive in the market.
Our white paper, The Race to an Agile Workforce reveals a range of factors that are necessitating this shift towards greater agility, but above all else, it is skills shortages and difficulties recruiting permanent staff that make it such an urgent priority. Without access to a fluid, scalable and easy-to-deploy pool of talent, organisations simply won’t survive.
Less haste, more agile
Workforce agility represents a hugely complex change programme – it touches upon every process, structure and customer interaction, and every employee is impacted. Understandably, many HR leaders struggle to know where to start.
"In my experience, the danger is that in their haste to ‘become agile’, organisations start off on a number of well-intentioned tactical initiatives to tackle the problem" explains Geoff Smith, Executive Director at Capita Resourcing. "This could be new flexible working policies, investments in HR technologies or organisational re-structures. Whilst each of these measures has an important part to play, their impact will be limited unless they form part of a wider, clearly-defined agile workforce strategy.
HR leaders and leadership teams need to start by developing a clear vision of the workforce that best meets the needs of the organisation now and in the future, and then create a robust plan to achieve it, with clear milestones and targets. This will involve bold thinking, innovative approaches, close collaboration with stakeholders, and the ability to inspire both leadership and the wider workforce along the way."
The stakes are high but, as our white paper shows, only by adopting a strategic approach can HR leaders drive through the cultural, operational and structural changes required to deliver workforce agility over the next two years.