Part three: the nine skills future-ready HR leaders should have to harness organisational agility

Natalie Sheils uses the third instalment of her series to explore the importance of agile HR in the future of work

Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

In my series on future-ready HR so far, I have explored the key competencies needed in the changing landscape, such as cultivating a strategic and commercial mindset, data literacy, proficiency in utilising AI and other technologies, foresight and more. I then highlighted HR's pivotal role in cultivating an environment of innovation by promoting intrapreneurship, experimental behaviours, design thinking, creativity, and a culture of continuous learning.

I now turn my attention to a characteristic that has become indispensable in today's organisations: agility. In a world of unceasing change and flux, harnessing organisational agility is absolutely essential for survival, competitiveness, and resilience – so it is a no-brainer that the future-ready HR professional gets on board now.

The compelling need for agility

The business environment is more volatile and unpredictable than ever. Organisations are confronted with an array of challenges: new technologies continuously disrupting business models; economic fluctuations leading to shifts in consumer demand; competitors rapidly launching innovative products and services; and customer expectations are constantly evolving.

In this landscape of turbulence, merely reacting to changes will not suffice. Organisations need the capacity to predict and quickly adapt ahead of external disruptions. They must spot industry trends early, initiate transformations proactively, and capitalise on emerging opportunities with speed.

Enter organisational agility – the ability to rapidly interpret market signals, realign strategies and structures, and rally people and resources towards new directions at pace. Agility has become a prerequisite for organisational survival, competitiveness, and resilience.

Constructing an agile organisation

Transitioning to a truly agile organisation requires paradigm shifts across culture, processes, and talent practices. This includes:

  • Growth mindset culture: A culture of experimentation and learning is at the heart of agility. Essentially, agility starts with instilling an experimental, learning mindset across the company. Failure must be tolerated and viewed as a pathway or stepping-stones to innovation.

  • Cross-functional collaboration: Silos inhibit rapid response. Leaders need to break silos and actively facilitate collaboration through shared goals, incentives, job rotations, and fostering networks.

  • Agile HR practices: Are our talent processes agile enough? Can we swiftly reconfigure organisations and redeploy or reassign people? All HR systems should serve as enablers of agility to enhance organisational responsiveness.

  • Persistent learning is paramount to adaptability. Tailored, curated microlearning helps employees consistently augment and upgrade their skills. A readiness to learn must be cultivated. 

  • New ways of working: Remote and hybrid models, AI and automation, gig economy, real-time data – these are the future. HR needs to quickly integrate flexible workflows. 

  • Empowered teams: Agile organisations decentralise, entrust and distribute decision making to capable and empowered teams closest to the work, supported by centralised data. 

  • Fluid structures: Rigid hierarchies give way to fluid, cross-functional networks that quickly form teams to capitalise on opportunities. 

  • Data-driven decisions: Real-time data and analytics enable leaders to quickly sense changes in the environment. Decisions are guided by these insights.

As HR professionals, we are central to this agility transformation in our organisations. How can we drive change as strategic partners and culture stewards? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Assume the role of chief agility officers: Act as trusted advisors on agility, understand agile methodologies, and identify and quantify gaps in organisational agility.

  2. Champion agility values: Advocate for values such as experimentation, decisiveness, collaboration, and growth mindset. Challenge behaviours that stifle agility.

  3. Culture diagnosis: Assess the current culture using agility metrics and pinpoint areas of resistance. Address these through targeted interventions. 

  4. Build critical skills: Build the necessary skills for agility such as design thinking, data fluency, and change leadership. Upskill employees through both formal training and microlearning programs. 

  5. Encourage new behaviours: Institute rewards, training, and leadership messaging to promote cross-functional work, transparency, smart risk-taking, and decisiveness.

  6. Streamline HR: Take an agile approach to our own HR processes and structures. By eliminating complexity and bureaucracy we can focus on enabling organisational agility. 

  7. Lead change: Actively manage and lead the human aspect of agile transformations using change management best practices to encourage and drive adoption. 

  8. Enhance talent mobility: Make it easy to move people across projects and departments. Build talent pools, expand gig work, and support internal mobility.

  9. Communicate powerfully and effectively: Provide transparent, inspiring communication from leadership around the agility journey. This will help to ensure understanding and belief at all levels.

Mastering organisational agility is indeed a journey rather than a destination. It demands vision, commitment, and alignment across the entire enterprise. As HR leaders, we hold a pivotal role in this transformative journey. Our strategic guidance, talent development initiatives, culture shaping endeavours, and change leadership strategies serve as the compass, navigating our organisations through the turbulence of change.

This is the third article in a series looking at HR’s role in the future of work. It is authored by Natalie Sheils, chief people officer at Mosaic Group. Read the first and second articles and keep an eye on the People Management website for the next instalment