The Agile Workforce, Part 2: How Organizations Can Be Successful in the Future of Work

By Greg Kihlström

This article was originally posted on The Agile World blog

Part 2: How organizations can be successful in the future of work

In this part of the series, I’m going to talk about how organizations themselves can best prepare, adapt, and improve in the era of the agile workforce. Understanding how to do this is mission-critical as the world of work continues to evolve and adapt to both immediate conditions and longer-term trends. While we’ve seen a recent massive shift towards remote work, some of this may return to pre-pandemic levels, while others will remain. Agile organizations will be able to measure and adapt to their unique workers, industries, and organizational objectives.

Understand where you want to go

We will start with the fundamentals. In order to be successful in the future of work, you and your organization have to understand where you are now, and where you want to be. While staying true to your mission and values, you must embrace change and adapt to the changing workforce, economy, and shifting needs of your customers.

This means you need to embrace both the big “I” innovations that may be game-changers for your organization and your industry, as well as the small “i” innovations that bring continuous improvements in efficiency, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement and retention.

When you are able to define this, you need to find ways to both clearly articulate this and build a company culture around it, as well as to measure it and track your progress. 

Understand where your customers (and your industry) are heading

It’s not enough to only know where your organization is headed, or where it wants to go. You must also have a good understanding of what your current and future customers will need, as well as where your industry in general is heading. While some of this may seem self-explanatory, companies have too often been disrupted and overtaken by smaller upstarts that had a better handle on customer needs and how their preferences would evolve over time. Never take your eyes off of your customers. 

Create a customer-centric culture, with employees at the heart of everything. If you want a better understanding of what that means, I invite you to read my book, The Center of Experience, where I outline how to create a center of excellence that ties the customer experience and employee experience disciplines together within an organization.

Also, if the expectation from your customers and industry is an increase in automation of front-line positions, this is something you need to deal with 

Start small with incremental improvements

While most organizations have lofty goals, as the saying goes, “slow and steady wins the race.” Some unicorn startups might disagree, but conventional wisdom says that when it comes to making big changes in a large or established company, it is best to start small and make incremental changes so that you can measure and test the effects that these changes have.

This is a key part of the agile methodology and one that I embrace whenever possible. Some individuals and companies may have their own measurement and definition of “incremental” but the idea of starting brand new initiatives with pilot projects or working groups, and growing them based on initial success is tried and true. We’ll get to the long term component of incremental improvements in the next section.

Measure and continuously improve

Last but not least, we come to one of the most “agile” parts of the agile workforce. As an organization, you can not afford to be satisfied with a single set of results. Instead, your workforce planning, and the way you approach utilizing your team members much follow a system of continuous improvement. 

There are several different philosophies and methodologies out there, from lean to agile to Six Sigma, and others (as well as combinations like Lean Six Sigma), but whatever approach you and your company use is often less consequential than the fact that it is applied consistently and that there is buy-in both from leadership as well as the rest of the organization.

When applied well, a system of continuous improvement helps workforces adapt to different work styles and locations, increasing automation, and threats from disruptive technologies, along with a host of other things.

Most importantly, embracing continuous improvement means that there is a focus on achieving both big and small goals. We still need innovation within existing industries and sectors. This is how industries such as manufacturing will still remain competitive in companies like the United States. We call this little “i” innovation, but it is no less important.

There are many companies that have fended off disruption because they were able to keep innovating and focusing on their customers’ needs first. Processes that encourage customer-centric culture and continuous improvement can greatly help here.

As you can see from all of these examples, organizations that intentionally embrace the agile workforce will be well-positioned to adapt and compete in the economy of the future, whatever it may bring. Agility in the workforce provides agility to adapt and change as unforeseen challenge and opportunities arise.

While we focused our efforts on how an organization can be successful in this article, the next and final part in this series on the agile workforce will focus on how to make your hybrid teams perform at their best as you embrace the future of work.

You can read more about all of these topics and more in my book, The Agile Workforce, available in print and digital versions.