Agile Work Fuel50

How to Build an Agile Work Culture in Your Organization

Leave it to the global lockdown to help take agile work from an interesting idea to a rapidly growing business practice that’s being embraced by organizations everywhere.

In other words, it’s the next big thing to help you build a better workforce.

In case you’re late to this, here’s what agile work is: It’s based on the principle that work is an activity we do rather than a place we go. Agile work allows organizations to empower people to work wherever they would like and however they would like. It maximizes flexibility in order to optimize productivity.

According to FM World, agile work is a new paradigm, “a transitional tool” that is the cornerstone of an organization’s productivity and sustainability.

It sounds a lot like flexible work — where people can work anywhere, any time — but according to The Agile Organization, agile work is multidimensional and not limited to “doing the same work the same way at a different time and place. Instead of focusing on when and where people work, agile work focuses on the efficiency of the work.”

But flexibility IS important, too.

Adapting to the changing needs of employees

According to the Rolling Stone Culture Council, “an important part of an agile work culture is increasing flexibility in order to adapt to the changing needs of your employees. As the pandemic and its effect on the workforce have proven, change is inevitable and it’s important now more than ever for companies to adopt more agile practices and policies.”

Agile work is a critical part of a larger concept — internal talent mobility. It is a source of critical talent, a competitive advantage, and a driver of growth. Not only does it engage your staff and help to retain top talent, but internal mobility also allows you to get the best from your organization’s workforce without costly and time-consuming external recruitment.

When you promote internal talent mobility, you encourage cross-team talent sharing and cultivate a culture of learning and development. And employees who have a growth mindset – a passion for continuous learning and an expanding skill set – are better able to embrace change with confidence when their organization embraces and promotes internal talent mobility.

As Larry McAlister, Vice President for Global Talent at NetApp, a California-based cloud data services and data management company, observed, “[Managers] should be a net exporter of talent. That’s a great goal to spread your influence around the organization with people that you have managed who are now in different areas of the business.

That is what internal talent mobility is all about; talent sharing is an essential element to building an agile work culture.

As the Rolling Stone Culture Council noted, “agile work cultures aren’t exclusive to any one industry, and any company at any time can start to build one.” With that in mind, here are three (3) practices you should consider if you want to build a solid, agile work culture:

1. Encourage a strong focus on coaching … and mentoring

Organizations that most effectively adopt a culture of agile work invest in sharpening managers’ coaching skills. For example, SHRM points to how managers at Cigna, a global managed healthcare and insurance company, get “coach” training designed for busy managers, broken into weekly 90-minute videos that can be viewed as people have time.

The supervisors also engage in learning sessions, which, like “learning sprints” in agile project management, “are brief and spread out to allow individuals to reflect and test-drive new skills on the job.”

Peer-to-peer feedback is incorporated in Cigna’s manager training too: Colleagues form learning cohorts to share ideas and tactics. They are having the kinds of conversations companies want supervisors to have with their direct reports, but they feel freer to share mistakes with one another without the fear of an “evaluation” or “performance review” hanging over their heads.

But coaches can also be mentors, and mentoring doesn’t need to be the sole province of managers. Sometimes, a workplace peer can bring a distinct perspective and style to a mentoring relationship. That’s because, in traditional coaching from a manager, the goal is to coach the person and help them to solve their own problem. In a mentoring relationship with a workplace peer, there may be some coaching, but the mentor also offers advice, suggests resources, relates their own experience, and maybe even offers up a model that the mentee might find useful.

Both coaching and mentoring are important, and sometimes a combination of the two is the best approach, but the critical issue is that regular, one-on-one discussion and feedback is needed to help employees learn, grow, and better embrace smart agile work.

Agile Work Fuel50

2. Cultivate talent sharing in managers AND employees

The ability for talent to move to new assignments as needed — to be shared throughout the organization for the good of the organization — is a key element to both internal talent mobility and an agile work culture.

Managers need to cultivate a growth mindset and foster a culture of cross-departmental talent sharing to build a workforce that can constantly evolve as organizational needs change.

When workers see the opportunity to build their career in a company that is ready and willing to move them to new assignments, their engagement with the company grows. They see firsthand that they don’t need to leave and go somewhere else to learn new skills and build their career — because they are highly valued and can grow right where they are.

However, talent sharing won’t take place unless managers and leaders understand that letting good people move to other opportunities within the organization is a win-win for everyone — the employee (who gets to build their career with better opportunities), the company (who sees better retention and engagement as people get to grow within the organization), and managers (as they benefit when an opening in their department gets filled by someone else in the organization).

Remember — internal talent mobility and talent sharing benefits everyone but may require a cultural shift in your organization.

Long-term investments in people are key to building a culture of talent sharing and agile work, but only if everyone is willing to shed the mindset that they must keep their talent for themselves. Doing so not only holds back good people from building their careers but has the potential to push employees to leave the organization when they feel that is the only way they will see personal growth.

Agile Work Fuel50

3. Treat internal job candidates with care and courtesy

When you embrace the concept of internal talent mobility, you also have to step up your interactions and communications with internal job candidates. This is especially true for an agile work culture, and failure to do so could end up causing huge problems for both your organization AND your talent marketplace too.

Proof of this came from a recent analysis of 9,000 employee rejection experiences, over a five-year period, at a Fortune 100 company, by the Harvard Business Review. As HBR described it in Why Rejected Internal Candidates End Up Quitting:

A key insight from our research is that employees do not apply for jobs solely because they want a new job right now; they also apply to learn what opportunities might be available to them in the future. If an employee is rejected today, they are more likely to stick around if they feel they will have a good chance to advance tomorrow. … (and) while rejection is a clear indication that the employee is unable to move into a role now, employees also pay close attention to two aspects of the hiring process to determine whether they are likely to be able to move into a similar role in the future.”

Those two aspects of the hiring process that HBR found critical were: 1) Did they interview with the hiring manager? and 2) Were they rejected for an internal or external candidate?

What the analysis found was that “internal candidates who were rejected after interviewing with the hiring manager were half as likely to exit as those rejected earlier in the process — primarily because ‘getting an interview signals to the candidate that they already possess many of the characteristics needed to move into the job. … (and) an interview provides a forum for hiring managers to give feedback to candidates about any knowledge and skills they may currently lack, as well as how to acquire them if they wish to be hired for a similar job in the future.’”

It also found that, “employees believe that the past predicts the future. When they see their organization favor an external candidate, they assume they will have to face external competition for similar jobs in the future, lowering their own chances of being hired. When employees see a colleague get hired, they assume that internal candidates (like themselves) will be favored in the future. They are therefore less likely to explore external opportunities. Additionally, seeing a colleague get hired initiates a positive, upward social comparison process, wherein rejected employees feel as though they can emulate those employees’ successful mobility attempts in the future.”

The lesson here is clear — if you embrace an agile work culture, internal mobility, and a talent marketplace, you must also take care to treat people who apply internally for jobs with great courtesy and care because the internal candidate judges their future in your employ by how well you handle them in this process.

One last thought…

We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Internal talent mobility is a source of critical talent, a competitive advantage, and a driver of growth.

Not only does it engage your staff and help to retain top talent, but internal mobility also gets the best from an organization’s workforce without costly and time-consuming external recruitment.

An agile work culture is a key part of this because an agile workforce will help prepare your organization to be ready to respond to whatever the future may bring.

Fishawack Health

Talent Engagement

Avalere Health

Avalere Health needed a way to scale skill identification in a highly acquisition-focused environment and understand what skill gaps they will need to close, to be future-ready. As a result, their overarching talent strategy needed to evolve.


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