10 Steps to Boost Workforce Agility

By working as a strategic partner to the C-suite, and taking actions internally and externally to boost agility, HR leaders can fuel an organization’s competitiveness for years to come.

By Jim McCoy, Vice President and RPO Practice Lead, ManpowerGroup Solutions

With 39 percent of U.S. employers experiencing difficulties finding people with the right skills, the struggle to fill vacancies threatens to negatively affect business performance. This is not just a U.S. issue—globally, the number of employers that believetalent shortages will negatively affect their business has increased by nearly a third to 35 percent.

With today’s rapid demographic, technological, political, economic, and social shifts, talent shortages are widespread as compression of business cycles affects skills cycles. Employers are waking up to the fact that talent shortages limit their ability to compete, yet they are frustrated by the lack of a simple solution. Now more than ever, companies require an agile workforce whose skills can adapt to meet evolving needs, and to ensure maximum productivity in an unpredictable business environment.

By working as a strategic partner to the C-suite, and taking actions internally and externally to boost agility, HR leaders can fuel an organization’s competitiveness for years to come.

Inside: Creating a Culture of Talent Development

Investing in the development of existing talent is a cornerstone of a successful business. Enabling on-the-job training that is aligned to business needs, and ensuring commitment to coaching from all levels of the organization will create a culture that nurtures high-potential, agile talent.

Organizations can enhance innovation and creativity by encouraging cross-disciplinary working, and encouraging and rewarding internal role changes. People who thrive in such an environment are those who,collectively, create an adaptable and agile business that is able to respond to certain uncertainty. And, don’t forget, you’ll need to teach people how to teach and mentor—this doesn’t come naturally to most managers.

Outside: Driving Agility

In addition to establishing and nurturing a culture of talent development, HR leaders need to collaborate with academic institutions and training providers to ensure their organizations have a sustainable pipeline of agile talent that meets fluctuating workforce needs. HR leaders have a vested interest in ensuring curricula are properly aligned to workforce needs, and the tools and experience to recognize where systemic changes are required to evolve workforce development.

In addition looking to the outside to identify and nurture emerging talent pools, HR leaders—who are increasingly stretched—may turn to external workforce solutions providers to help identify, attract, and retain critical talent. In an environment where each single hire is carefully considered, and every individual worker counts, partnering with an expert RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) provider can take the pressure off an organization’s internal resources while putting the recruitment process in the hands of an expert who can help employers develop an agile workforce to be “dialed up” or “dialed down” to respond to current business needs. A good provider also should be able to help extend your training reach. At a minimum, it can train managers to make smarter hiring decisions to reinforce your development objectives.

Boosting agility requires HR leaders to think smart and long term; however, there are quick and simple, yet high-impact changes you can make to drive change now.

10 Steps to Boost Agility

  1. Be nimble. Don’t expand or contract workforces in response to every data point. Think customizable workforce solutions to account for continued changes in economic conditions.
  2. Engage. Listen to your employees to learn how to retain the best and brightest. What they want (e.g., flexible schemes) may even save money.
  3. Nurture. Often the most loyal and best company ambassadors are those who have developed through the ranks. Invest in these “high potentials.”
  4. Be flexible. Contract, intern, part-time, and virtual workers are increasingly the norm. Being open to non-traditional workforce models makes you more flexible.
  5. Establish preferred suppliers. Establish close relationships with talent providers that understand your industry, offering, culture, and company brand.
  6. Invest in employer brand. Give in-demand talent a reason to work for you over your competitors.
  7. Be social. For the youngest worker segment, social commitment can determine the employer of choice. Same goes for the shareholders.
  8. Partner with schools. Offer paid or course credit internships. For skilled technical talent, partner up to offer custom training.
  9. Out-of-office? OK! Attract the army of talented workers who aren’t keen to be office bound. Save money while you’re at it.
  10. Create a culture of teachable fit. Emotional intelligence + transferable skills = potential talent shortage solution. Don’t be limited to a checklist of non-negotiable attributes and skills.

In this ever-evolving economic and business landscape, successful organizations are characterized by their ability to adapt to the latest trends in technology, innovation, and shifting consumer demands. An adaptable business requires an agile workforce, with the soft and hard skills to reflect the changing needs of employers.

When looking to the future, the only certainty is uncertainty, and as HR leaders, it is our responsibility to develop a workforce that can not only survive in this environment, but flourish.


Jim McCoy is vice president and RPO practice lead at ManpowerGroup Solutions. For more information, visit http://www.manpowergroup.com.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.