What Is an Agile Workforce? Definition and How To Get Started
Agile workforces help organizations stay ahead of change, and seize new market opportunities as they arise.
Until not too long ago, an agile workforce was nothing but a buzzword. Something only a few companies thought about, with benefits more or less clear for most. In today’s business landscape, there’s only one thing we know for sure. Everything can change from one day to the next. And a flexible, adaptable workforce—an agile workforce—is a must for any company that wants to succeed in this environment.
What is an agile workforce?
An agile workforce refers to an adaptable group of employees within a company. They can respond to any changes quickly, with minimal disruption to the business and the production cycle.
The term comes from the Agile methodology, commonly used in software development. It prioritizes working in smaller sprints, constant communication between programmers and testers, and customer feedback.
Instead of creating the entire plan all at once and working towards one massive goal, the Agile methodology encourages teams to break down the project into smaller goals. This makes it easier to respond in the event of an unforeseen problem.
An agile workforce has several key elements, including:
Flexibility is the number one asset of an agile workforce. It refers to people’s mindset, skills, and abilities that enable them to respond efficiently to unforeseen changes in the work environment.
Resilience refers to a positive attitude toward new concepts and work practices and technologies.
Collaboration in that teams work together in a cross-functional manner, sharing skills and knowledge. This makes it easier for them to achieve goals, be productive, and respond to problems promptly.
Proactivity is the ability of the workforce to anticipate changes and problems and find solutions with ease.
Competence and rapid learning are crucial elements of any agile workforce. Teams that learn and improve quickly are more productive, reach their goals faster, and are more adaptable to change.
What are the benefits of an agile workforce?
An agile workforce is the key to a resilient business that is ready for the future of work. Benefits include:
Adaptability. Companies can respond to any changes in the environment with minimal disruptions.
Increased productivity. Agile teams are more productive because of their focus on collaboration and learning.
Increased customer satisfaction. An agile workforce focuses on customer feedback. It incorporates their input during the production phase, minimizing later disruptions.
Reduced likelihood of burnout. Agile teams, with a focus on feedback and collaboration, have a reduced risk of burnout. They feel seen by the management, have genuine chances to learn new skills, and can focus on the things they excel at.
Improved work-life balance. Collaboration, along with better planning and more effective work, all contribute to a better work-life balance for employees.
Lower voluntary attrition. Employees who are part of agile teams, who have the chance to learn new things, and whose ideas are heard and recognized, are less likely to leave the company.
How do you build an agile workforce?
You can’t avoid change, but you can embrace it, and make the transitions smoother. An agile workforce is key to doing that. But how do you build it? A lot depends on things like the culture the company promotes, and people’s mindsets.
Start by encouraging teamwork. Don’t stop at getting a team to work together on the same project and assigning people specific tasks. Encourage them to collaborate, share skills with one another, and ask for feedback along the way.
Another critical aspect of agility is good communication. Without it, collaboration, adaptability, and flexibility will be scarce. Ensure that teammates communicate with one another openly, but don’t stop there.
Good communication involves all the levels of the company. Your employees should be able to communicate with management and vice versa. Talk about projects, expectations, and difficulties, and give feedback as often as possible.
You’ll also need to create a culture that promotes learning and experimentation. In doing that, you’ll make sure people in the company are more adaptable to unforeseen events. Team members will have more and better skills and will come up with solutions quickly whenever a problem arises.
6 strategies to build an agile workforce
Building an agile workforce won’t happen overnight. If things like learning, experimentation, and collaboration were not part of your strategy until now, you’ll have a lot of work to do.
On the other hand, for companies that already have well-defined learning and development programs, or are actively using the Agile methodology, the transition will be much smoother. Here are 6 strategies to help you get started.
1. Promote a culture of continuous learning
An agile workforce has many components, but a crucial one is learning. Start by fostering a culture of learning, flexibility, and adaptability.
Encourage your employees to learn new skills all the time, to be curious, and to collaborate with others. Words may only take you so far, so be sure to lead by example. Agility is not reserved for certain teams only. Instead, it should start from the management positions.
2. Retain expertise
The solution? Focus on retaining the expertise. Try to make sure there are no skills that only one employee knows. One way to do that is to encourage top talent to train other employees.
In this scenario, if they were to leave the company, others could fill in the gaps until you can hire someone new. It may even enable you to hire internally more than externally, helping you save some costs.
3. Encourage experimentation
The best way to make sure people learn new things and are ready for unforeseen events? Experimentation—the stepping stone of innovation. Experiments allow employees to try new ideas, research, and simply be curious.
Often, experimentation is reserved for management only. That’s a huge mistake. Regardless of their role in the company, every employee should have the chance to test out new ideas. A good way to do this would be periodic brainstorming sessions that allow people to express and try out new ideas.
4. Create cross-functional teams and improve collaboration
Teams that have various skills and expertise are more productive and perform better. They’re quicker to adapt when problems arise and may reach their goals faster.
Collaboration among employees across the entire company leads to quicker problem-solving and fewer hiccups in the production process. Encourage people to share their thoughts and help one another and you’ll be one step closer to a truly agile workforce.
5. Understand your human capital
As the name suggests, an agile workforce has your employees—the human capital—at the center. To understand how to encourage agility, you first need to understand the people that work in the company.
Assess their skills, both the ones they use and the ones they don’t. Employees are more than their job description. So look beyond the skills they need to have to do their job. You may also want to look at various HR metrics.
This will help you understand what drives engagement or which employees are more productive. People analytics can be very helpful at this stage as it will help you gain a general look at your workforce and turn data into valuable insights.
6. Prioritize diversity and inclusion
Collaboration, flexibility, and adaptability–three pillars of an agile workforce–can’t work if people feel left out. Diversity is an essential driver of innovation. Different backgrounds, aptitudes, and skills lead to increased creativity, engagement, and productivity.
Plus, prioritizing DEIB ensures everyone has equal opportunities and nobody will feel stuck under a glass ceiling. This increases job satisfaction, engagement, and indirectly, the willingness to learn, be adaptable, and be flexible.
An agile workforce is crucial in the current fast-paced, ever-changing environment. Pandemics, a recession, technologies that come and go, and people who come and go, all can leave your company very vulnerable. The best solution is a flexible and adaptable workforce, one that can respond to unforeseen events with ease.
On the Outsmart blog, we write about workforce-related topics like what makes a good manager, how to reduce employee turnover, and reskilling employees. We also report on trending topics like ESG and EU CSRD requirements and preparing for a recession, and advise on HR best practices like how to create a strategic compensation strategy, metrics every CHRO should track, and connecting people data to business data. But if you really want to know the bread and butter of Visier, read our post about the benefits of people analytics.