Blog Post

How to improve the agility of the people at your organization

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

When we think about agility in the workplace, it can be tempting to picture the doctors on television shows like Grey’s Anatomy that begin their day examining a toenail infection, then doing a major surgery, before delivering a baby in an elevator.

But being an agile worker doesn’t mean you need to be ready to do every task under the sun. Agility means you can change when the needs of your organization or marketplace change.

And making sure your organization is agile doesn’t mean you only hire people who do everything. In many cases, you’ll always need people with specialized skills. An agile organization means that you need to look for people who are willing to learn, change and grow.

Here’s how you can help your people be ready to adapt.

Looking at specialists and generalists

Some jobs require specialists and some jobs require generalists, and in an agile organization, you want both. A family practitioner can likely tell you that you need brain surgery, but they wouldn’t be the person to perform it. You’d need to see a specialist.

Depending on the size, needs or operations of your company, you may want more generalists and fewer specialists, or the other way around.

For instance, in a small company where everyone wears many hats, you often outsource the specialists’ roles. An HR generalist might handle recruiting and employee relations but outsource payroll to a specialist — especially if the organization operates in more than one state.

But remember, no matter the size of your organization, your broadest, most advanced generalist may not necessarily be an agile worker while someone in a hyper-specialized role may be willing to learn and do new things.

Building agility through learning and skills

Let’s say that a new social media platform launches tomorrow, and everyone joins it. You don’t have to run out and hire a specialist for this new marketing role — there are no specialists in this area. You just need your current people to take on the task of learning something new and applying skills they already have toward a related project.

To make sure your people are ready to take on new skills, you need to invest in learning and development. Offering services like rotational programs, job shadowing and growth projects help build agility as well. It gives people the opportunity to see things outside their job descriptions and understand different viewpoints across an organization.

Building agility can also sometimes mean thinking outside the box. Sure, you want to send your engineers to engineering conferences, but what if one of them asks to go to a conference on creativity? Even if it’s not directly related to their current workload, learning how to boost creativity could still help an engineer switch gears or problem solve in the future.

Letting people fail is also an essential aspect of learning agility. If someone is trying out their skills on a new role or project, they might not get it right the first try. If they get yelled at or punished for failing, they will avoid any changes and stick to what they know.

Your company can be agile, and your people can be agile — they have to be because the world isn’t static. Hiring people willing to learn and then supporting those people to learn and apply new skills can make all the difference in the world.

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