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Unlocking agility and unleashing talent in a digital world

In the second of our series of Expert Insights we asked Dr Kiran Chitta, business psychologist and author of Strive, to explain the concept of agility and it’s benefits for us and our organisations.

When I entered the workforce, organisations wanted conformity, uniformity, and conscientiousness. What’s changed for the better since my early career is that people can, to a much greater extent, come to work as themselves. This shift has its roots in both digital transformation and improved organisational agility; two dynamics that continue to shape the way we work.

Digital is here and for most businesses it’s no longer a disruptive force at the vanguard of organisational change. It is however, creating a pace of change in the economy that is much faster than the speed at which organisations can move. One of the ways to close the gap between the pace of technological and organisational change is improved agility.

Agility in our context means dealing with disruption or uncertainty constructively and cultivating a capacity for constant change and innovation. This type of agility has always been mission-critical and now it’s digitally driven.

Agility is part of the changing nature of work and organisations

Adopting agility into leadership, culture, careers and across whole businesses enables organisations to thrive in a digital world:

  • For individuals, new ways of working mean we’re being required to make use of ourselves in a more holistic rather than a mechanistic way. It helps if we show up as whole human beings. For knowledge workers operating within informal networks rather than explicit structures, relationships across organisational boundaries count. Being agile requires us to be more authentic and more self-aware than the old world of work in which political savviness could take you places in traditional bureaucracies. A new set of agile competencies has emerged.
  • At the team level, digitalisation means more people are working within virtual talent pools and in far less predictable ways than ever before. Teams exist within fluid communities of practice and increasingly working on creative tasks that require deep collaboration and that are project orientated, global and cross-functional.
  • Organisations are more like natural ecosystems than highly engineered machines. As such, leaders need to be adventurous, to demonstrate both courage and humility in the way they lead collectively. At the cutting edge of agile working, leadership teams are creating more open, responsive, and progressive working environments. Corporate HQ’s are starting to feel less like white-collar factories. This is reflected in the design of workplaces.

How can we measure for agility?

Assessment technology means we can now accurately and quickly predict how individuals and teams can adapt to agile ways of working. In terms of what that looks like, it’s different for every role but there are some characteristics that we can use here as examples to demonstrate agility.

Agility means we need to be very comfortable with ambiguity. We need an ability to network and make connections. We need confidence, the ability to win hearts and minds, the ability to influence, sell our ideas, and work with people as if they are our clients not only our colleagues.

We need the capacity to be non-judgmental, to connect emotionally, and be able to support and challenge. In some respects, line managers increasingly need to demonstrate a therapeutic attitude to their reports. This means coaching with greater presence and compassion, drawing on both push and pull styles of communication, rather than just being performance and task masters.

Agility isn’t needed for every situation or team though, so it’s important to be able to accurately measure and understand both the requirement and the potential for agility across teams and your whole organisation.

Using assessment technology to support agility

In a modern, agile working environment, talent management needs to be underpinned by science. Using robust assessment technology is completely aligned with the spirit of agility as it promotes fairness, diversity, inclusion and transparency.

Assessment tech has the potential to reveal new talent pools that will support agility. Progression in a digital economy is not always about age, experience, tenure and the gradual development of seniority. Agility allows organisations to access new talent by moving away from traditional assumptions about careers.

If it is used well, digital assessment technology has the scalability and the precision, to help us find and nurture those who might typically be overlooked, due to several sources of human bias.

A creative reimagining of talent management

Agility is a human-centred and holistic concept that starts with every individual and is also a collective capability that supports performance and change. If it is adopted with compassion, and a strong sense of purpose, agility will help us to develop the kind of adaptive, self-organising qualities needed within the complex human systems that we all inhabit.

Dr Kiran Chitta is a leading international organisational psychologist, specializing in global leadership and organization development. He is the author of Change Agility: Leadership, Transformation and the Pursuit of Purpose, and Strive: Unlocking agility and unleashing talent in a digital world.’

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