Agility: The Missing Link in Employee Development

Agile. Nimble. Resilient. If organizations want to keep up with an ever-evolving world of work, these are the types of people they need to hire, retain, and, most importantly, develop. For too long, employee development has been pushed to the backburner, despite research showing employees at all levels consider it to be an important job benefit. In fact, according to a Gallup report, 59% of Millennials say “opportunities to learn and grow” are extremely important to them in a job. And 44% of Gen Xers and 41% of Baby Boomers surveyed agree with them.

Now, as organizations grapple with a tight labor market and increasing competition for top talent, employee development finally is getting the attention it deserves. But how can organizations continue to support their employees’ growth and success in a rapidly changing workplace? The key is agile employee development.

It Starts at the Top: Why Leaders and Organizations Need to Develop Agility

Being flexible and responding quickly and fluidly to new and changing work dynamics are crucial skills for employees and leaders alike. Experts predict 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 have not even been invented yet (Institute for the Future (IFTF), 2017). To keep up with these changes, managers need to have an agile mindset so they can be aware of the latest develop opportunities and help employees navigate their constantly shifting career paths.

Still, developing agility isn’t just the individual responsibility of employees or leaders. Change needs to happen at the organizational level, which means existing systems and processes need to be evaluated and likely overhauled.

We Know What We Need, Now How Can We Get There?

Agile development planning is not a simple undertaking. But the end result creates a living, breathing tool that guides employees toward making development a daily part of their work experience. This approach also provides leaders with the tools and information they need to offer regular support, guidance, feedback, reinforcement, and recognition.

If you’re looking to introduce agile development planning into your organization, here are the five steps you need to follow:

1. Identify multiple development goals

A linear career path simply isn’t realistic anymore. Organizations need to identify multiple goals for their employees and help them pivot, shift, and adjust as necessary. Furthermore, these goals should focus less on what people might want to “be” and more on what they want to “do.”

Given the fickle nature of jobs themselves, focusing on the latter gives employees the opportunity to build competencies they can apply to different roles.

2. Generate possible actions for each development goal

Agile development is all about flexibility and the ability to quickly pivot to take advantage of changing conditions. So just as you need to identify multiple goals for your employees, you also need to generate multiple courses of action to help them achieve these goals.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Formal training, workshops, and webinars are great, but there are learning opportunities everywhere. For instance, activities such as job shadowing, coaching, mentoring, public speaking opportunities, and experience-based learning can be just as effective and easily implemented into learning and training programs as more traditional methods.

Also, remember that balance is key. For instance, you should come up with a mix of:

  • Team-based and solo learning opportunities
  • Longer projects and quick-hit assignments
  • Stretch assignments and activities that leverage strengths and build confidence

3. Synergize across development goals and actions

Creating an agile development plan is only half the battle. Now you have to put it into action. To maximize efficiency, after you’ve identified your goals and actions, take another look to see if there are any overlaps.

For example, could one development strategy advance multiple goals? Can similar actions be combined or duplicated? Make sure you highlight these as high-impact focus areas to be further explored and optimized.

4. Prioritize high-impact actions

Remember: The key to agile development is to be as flexible and adaptable as possible, so your final plan doesn’t need to be a comprehensive, year-long commitment. Instead, identify a few high-impact priorities to advance and be prepared to review and recalibrate your plan on a regular basis.

As you do, consider the following questions:

  • Have you accurately assessed the time, priorities, and energy required for career development?
  • Are the necessary resources available? (i.e., courses, mentors, experiences)
  • What’s in the leader’s and employee’s sphere of influence? What can they make happen independent of others?
  • What’s most interesting and exciting to your employees? What will add energy and satisfaction to their life?

Once you’ve determined your priorities, document the actions, details, timelines, and support required to optimize your plan.

5. Get ready to change

Don’t get too attached to an agile development plan because it will change. A lot. This approach is not a “one and done” event. It’s an ongoing process of reflection and refinement that leaders and employees engage in over time.

You need to routinely reflect on how your organization is doing, revisit the plan and its assumptions, and revise it based upon changing conditions, interests, and opportunities. This is the essence of agile planning, but fostering a change-ready culture in your organization can, ironically enough, take some getting used to. It can be tiring to keep going back to the drawing board, so be sure to build in some time to adapt to this new mindset and way of working.

Moving the Needle Forward: Adopt an Agile Career Development Mindset

The old saying, “When one door closes another one opens,” could not be more applicable to the modern business landscape. Every day, we see long-established jobs becoming obsolete and new industries creating roles we couldn’t have even imagined a decade ago. To set employees up for success, career development needs to be as dynamic as the workplaces within which we operate.

So how can HR and learning leaders cultivate employees’ career acrobatic skills to be more versatile, flexible, and able to rapidly adapt to workplace change? The key to charting professional success in today’s evolving business landscape is to adopt an agile career development mindset. Download our new guide to find out why career agility is the new competitive advantage—and how your people can become career acrobats to propel their career to new heights.

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