Workforce Agility: Are You Ready Now?

Paula Jacomo

The way we work is changing rapidly in today’s digital economy. Manual tasks are being automated while creative problem-solving roles are exploding. New generations of workers are bringing new expectations and demands to the workplace—for example, working remotely from anywhere in the world. In addition, customers are interacting with businesses in new ways, demanding joint experiences and deeper relationships. It is easy to see why all those dynamic changes can be a challenge for any company.

Workforce agility refers to businesses’ ability to rapidly change and adapt to changes in the work environment. A business, by definition, is not the facilities, equipment, processes, or technology a company sells. In its essence, a business is the value created for a customer.

In order to keep adding value to its customer base, companies need to continuously focus on their customers’ reality. Companies that have a strong understanding of what their customers value can generate and maintain a sustainable business.

There are two paradigms in business today: the inside-out approach, and the outside-in approach. The inside-out approach is driven by the belief that the inner strengths and capabilities of the organization will produce a sustainable future. In contrast, the outside-in approach is guided by the belief that customer value creation is the path to success.

Organizations become agile when they take an outside-in perspective. They identify their own inside-out behaviors, create solutions, and then refocus on outside-in. Their great challenge is how to develop and maintain a culture that practices outside-in behaviors every day. This cultural shift or transformation takes practice and discipline.

Several areas need to be considered in the agile transformation process. In addition to customer focus, the structure of the workforce and its management are also key.

The structure of work is related to how work gets done. An agile workforce needs to be quickly ready to add value through multiple working models such as home offices, contractors, temporary teams, globalized teams, and so on. Many projects require working with contractors who are not embedded in the company culture and who can bring a fresh perspective and even question the status quo. In other cases, a project might involve keeping costs in check with a workforce that is distributed in different continents and time zones.

The dynamics of an agile workforce and flexible work environment presents some challenges. One is managing a work environment with fewer rules, less command control, and often less complexity. Some managers and leaders might argue that such arrangements can be easily taken advantage of. However, once convinced, managers and leaders can expect greater workforce engagement, more diversity, financial savings, and even environmental benefits.

For individual employees, the ability to adapt is crucial. This involves quickly acquiring new skillsets. For this reason, companies have the responsibility of continuously building the skills of workers, supplying them with the tools to respond better and faster to new business challenges and value creation.

In the new agile workplace, employable individuals must continuously hone their skills, be multi-talented, multitasking, flexible, dynamic, global, and local – all at the same time. In parallel, companies need to be prepared to handle a whole new set of expectations from their workforce. Consider this: If an average mobile phone life cycle is 18 months, why would an employee stay in the same department for nine years? Agile, dynamic companies respond with faster career moves, departmental,and even geographic location changes, temporary career development opportunities, and quick organizational shifts.

Clearly, workforce agility is no longer a “nice-to-have”—it’s a pressing reality that touches companies and workers, and it is here to stay. Are you ready to be agile right now?

Paula Jacomo

About Paula Jacomo

Paula Jacomo is Head of Human Resources - Latin America at SAP.