Workforce agility: The answer to navigating uncertainty & driving growth

Workforce agility: The answer to navigating uncertainty & driving growth

Attaining business agility has been at the forefront of most business leaders' agendas. But as uncertainty becomes the new "new" normal, the need to become more agile has added urgency to organizations as they look for ways to better navigate tomorrow's disruptions today. 

Yet attaining business agility is more than just adopting new technologies. To truly be agile, you need to start with your workforce. A more agile workforce enables you to better address challenges such as inflation, supply chain disruptions, and broader economic uncertainty with ease. 

But before we dig into why an agile workforce is necessary to operate today and beyond, let's first define what we mean by workforce agility. 

What Is Workforce Agility?

At the most basic level, agility is “the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly.” When looked at through the context of the workforce, workforce agility refers to the ability of business leaders to proactively deploy their workforce as business and customer needs evolve. 

One way to think about it is to view your workforce through the lens of supply and demand. If there is an area of your business that is experiencing increased demand, then you deploy talent (supply) from business areas with lower demand to tackle the issues head-on. 

Ultimately, the move towards workforce agility requires business leaders to rethink how they approach work. Instead of viewing it as static, they can adopt agile principles and build teams of highly skilled professionals to tackle issues head-on via projects. We cover this topic more in-depth in this article

Building agile teams enables companies to drive innovation faster, improve business performance in the short term, and pivot easily. In this model, business leaders can move with the swiftness of a small startup while having the resources of a larger organization. 

So now to the pressing question, how does an agile workforce enable you to better navigate an uncertain market environment like the one we find ourselves in today? 

Why Workforce Agility Is More Important Today than Ever Before

Before COVID-19, workforce models were static and predictable. That all changed with the pandemic and the rise of the Great Resignation. As companies scrambled to shift and adapt to the new economic reality, those who had already adopted the agile methodology could outperform those that hadn’t — carving out a competitive advantage compared to their peers. 

Common factors that enabled those companies with workforce agility to pivot with ease during the pandemic were having a clear look at the skills sets they currently had, shifting team members to where they need them most, and finally, the use of on-demand talent acquisition platforms to make their workforce more flexible. 

By tapping into independent talent, these organizations were making their teams more resilient — giving them a more liquid workforce that enabled them to adapt and react with speed. These are all hallmarks of an agile organization. 

And just as having a more agile workforce helped organizations come out of the pandemic stronger, so will it enable these companies to easily navigate the incoming headwinds. Here's why. 

When a potential recession seems imminent, implementing hiring freezes or worse are viable options to consider. There’s just one problem? Work still needs to get done. 

Having an agile workforce strategy in place can help, as mentioned above. Even more so if you build a hybrid workforce of both full-time and independent experts — and more and more organizations are taking this approach. 

Not only does an agile approach enable you to retain current employees by giving them the opportunity to uplevel their skill sets via project-based work, but you can also ensure you’re maintaining work/life balance by leveraging independent talent where it makes sense the most. 

Furthermore, adding independent talent to your workforce also enables you to:

  • Onboard leading expertise quickly (typically within 13.5 days through on-demand talent acquisition platforms) 
  • Keep talent acquisition costs low. That’s because you get the flexibility to pay only for the work delivered without long term commitments on your operational expenses and you no longer have to factor in costs traditionally associated with full-time hires, such as benefits, payroll taxes, equipment, and more. 

Top 4 Benefits of an Agile Workforce 

We’ve covered how an agile workforce can help you navigate uncertain times. But the benefits of an agile workforce extend beyond that. Some of the top benefits of having an agile workforce include: 

  1. A better way to balance risk. Running a business is inherently risky, especially during uncertain times. However, agile companies can identify where their industries are heading and pivot by. shifting resources more efficiently. 
  1. A better way to fill critical talent gaps. Agile organizations understand that filling talent gaps can be done in many ways. From hiring independent experts to using automation, these organizations understand that solutions come in all shapes and sizes. Agile organizations can support their teams quickly and effectively.
  1. A better way to reduce hiring and onboarding costs. When you focus on agility, there are several ways to reduce hiring costs. For example, you might hire team members with many helpful skills you can cross-train, or you might work with independent experts to fill talent needs. These strategies help your company reduce hiring and onboarding spend by investing in the right talent.
  1. A better way to drive innovation and capture future value today. Because agile organizations tend to view work via a project lens, staffing small but mighty teams of highly qualified professionals to solve mission-critical projects, it leads to faster innovation times. Likewise, the ability to go to market with new solutions is accelerated as a result.

5 Tips for Creating a More Agile Workforce

Now that you understand what agility is and why companies value it, it’s important to know how to create this experience in your organization. Agility is a strategy that can touch multiple areas of your organization.

To create an agile workforce, you need to define what that means for your team. How will each department live out the idea of agility? How will the company work to solidify this experience? The best organizations define agility at the organizational level so resources can be spent wisely.

1. Focus on jobs-to-be-done

One of the most common ways organizations think about agility is through the lens of Jobs-to-be-Done. Tony Ulwick framed this theory. Ulwick comments that "a job-to-be-done could be a task that people are trying to accomplish, a goal or objective they are trying to achieve, a problem they are trying to resolve, something they are trying to avoid."

While this theory is used to market and innovate, it can be a great way to think about how you create an agile workforce.

  • What are the jobs to be done in your workplace?
  • Is someone currently doing that job?
  • Are they doing it well?
  • Could extra resources help make that job easier?

These are the questions companies should ask as they determine where to allot limited team resources.

2. Consider the independent workforce

Often companies lean on full-time employees when they want to hire, but is that always the best use of company time and attention? Hiring a full-time employee can take an average of 41 days (after the job has been posted?) because the hiring process takes so long. When a hire is made, market conditions could change and create irrelevant positions.

On the other hand, leveraging on-demand talent onboarding independent experts will make your organization agile. 

Instead of hiring for a specific position, companies can engage Graphite experts to complete projects that are closely aligned with the company's current needs.

3. Help your team prioritize their workday

Another way that agility can show up at work is through prioritization. When several tasks can be done, workers need to have focus. So what are the functions that will bring the most value to the business?

To make this work, start by defining business priorities and goals. Every employee needs to know those goals and how their role can impact progress. Once this happens, prioritizing the work day to focus on tasks that will bring results makes sense.

4. Focus on time-to-value when hiring a new team member

Sometimes, bringing on a full-time hire makes more sense than an independent expert. When bringing on a new employee, it’s important to focus on more than just the time required to hire them. How long until they know their job and can provide value to the business? Employees who can get ramped up quickly will allow your team to be the most agile.

There are a few ways that you can do this:

  1. Hire employees who are already familiar with your business
  2. Onboard team members who have experience in the role you are hiring for
  3. Streamline your company’s onboarding process to deliver information quickly and get team members working on relevant projects

5. Use technology to automate and improve tasks

Another way to create workforce agility is to use technology. Before you purchase another software, think about the tools you already have. Are there ways to further implement these tools into your organization? Do they have any new features you aren’t aware of?

Once you know what all your tools can do, make a list of the automation and task improvements you’d still like to see. From this list, you can go find new software that meets your needs.

Taking the Steps Towards an Agile workforce

As you consider how agility and flexibility will play a role in your decision-making, realize that agility has levels. Agility isn't about ripping up your business plan at the first dip in sales. It's about building a framework that enables your company to easily respond to shifting priorities. Follow your core business beliefs and create a workforce to help you see and navigate future challenges. 

Interested in learning about how to attain workforce agility this upcoming year? Download your copy of Future-Proofing Your Workforce to guide your strategic workforce planning efforts this quarter. 

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