Why employers need to foster talent agility

Liam Butler on how to provide staff with genuine career mobility within a company.

Reading time: 5 minutes

The world of work is rapidly evolving – changing job opportunities, employee aspirations and the drive for employment flexibility are rewriting traditional career pathways.

Meanwhile, the rise of automation is creating concern of job losses in some industries, while others struggle with chronic skills shortages.

A younger working generation are looking at their careers more critically and are quite prepared to make changes to meet their goals.

Deloitte’s 2019 Global Millennial Survey, for example, found that 49% of millennials would quit their current job in the next two years if they had the choice. While Deloitte found that pay was the leading factor for millennials looking for a change (43%), it was by no means the only reason.

Lack of advancement (34%) and learning and development opportunities (28%) are also an important part of today’s fluid employment landscape.

This perhaps helps explain why UK millennials are predicted to average more than 12 jobs in their lifetime, which is more than twice the national rate of just six.

It seems certain that employers who fail to respond and not only attract but also retain talent in the emerging workforce face an uncertain future. These two key HR functions need to extend beyond their traditional boundaries to become a major focus for the C-suite.

For their part, organisational leadership must understand that people development is foundational to business strategy and sustainability.

Specifically, this is about building talent agility and creating a workforce that is adaptable, ready to pivot, change direction, and take on new roles or challenges at a moment’s notice.

But it can only be achieved by ensuring employees feel engaged and valued, by supporting them to become multi-skilled and giving them genuine career mobility within a company.

‘Talent agility’ is what every business needs to offer to prepare for the changing world of work. This relies on a group of core capabilities:

1. Set the tone from day one – the importance of onboarding

Onboarding, done well, is a powerful process that speeds the time to productivity for a new hire. At the same time, it introduces new employees to the culture, values and expectations of the organisation.

Getting these pieces right is critical to ensuring a new hire will still be on the team 12 months from now, especially for the millennial generation who are more than willing to make job and career changes.

Key factors for millennials are a focus on work-life balance, a sense of purpose and an eagerness to grow and develop through learning

Onboarding also sets the stage for learning and career growth for each employee. Ideally, it is personalised to provide employees with the mentoring, goal-setting and resources they need to be successful in their day-to-day role.

Organisations that value onboarding are taking it even further by offering continuous support as employees move from one role to the next. The point is, onboarding to a new position should not be offered only to new hires, but instead be part of the total employee lifecycle. Onboarding should be ongoing.

2. Review performance and development more than once a year

Traditional, isolated annual performance reviews are now widely considered a relic of a bygone corporate world, displaying a lack of joined-up HR strategy.

Forward-looking companies are increasing visibility and the frequency of interactions between manager and employees with more consistent reviews, development and goal-setting.

This is because a healthy employee-manager relationship needs regular conversations and timely feedback for greatest effect.

Talent agility should be accompanied by an agile approach to feedback and development – that can’t be achieved with a slow, rigid review system.

3. Learn to love learning

Learning is now a key factor in employee retention. We know that employees who are learning are more engaged, and as a result, less likely to leave. Indeed, Deloitte found that engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave their organisations.

Modern workers want opportunities to grow and develop as individuals and professionals. They’ll seek out employers who help them do so. This is especially true of millennials, who are redefining their careers as a set of experiences, rather than in terms of hierarchical promotion.

Key factors for millennials are a focus on work-life balance, a sense of purpose and an eagerness to grow and develop through learning.

4. Develop digital skills

Digital skills are increasingly in demand, with data scientists, IoT engineers, blockchain engineers, machine learning scientists and more becoming integral to many business functions.

The problem is, with a significant shortage of talent on the job market, businesses don’t always have the luxury of hiring these individuals.



As these roles become more vital, businesses will need to create processes to identify potential digital talent and develop those individuals with proven learning journeys and curricula, all while retaining these same employees in their existing roles.

5. Embrace the brilliance of diversity

An agile, innovative workforce is a diverse workforce. While homogenous teams were once thought to be easier to manage, inherent similarities created biased patterns of problem solving.

A recent study by Harvard Business Review looked at the relationship between differences in respect to sex, career path, gender, nationality and found that more diverse companies were more innovative with newer product strategies, leading to higher revenues.

And, according to McKinsey & Co, “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

6. Take consumer-grade HR technology seriously

HR technology investments are central to building talent agility, and employees expect the technology they see at work to reflect the simplicity they’ve grown accustomed to from today’s app-centric consumer solutions.

As a result, these platforms must be visually appealing and make workflows and collaboration easy to manage for individuals, driving engagement and utilisation.

Employers also stand to gain from consumer-grade HR tech, in that they can offer sophisticated data collection, analytics and various business intelligence system integrations.

These capabilities allow HR leaders to foster workforce agility by improving their grasp on employee engagement, accurately understanding company culture, registering workforce skills and talent, and understanding the true impact of learning on the business.


About the author

Liam Butler is area vice-president at SumTotal




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