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ATD Blog

There Is No Time Like the Present to Embrace Agile

Wednesday, February 10, 2021
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Last year proved to be one unlike any other. Economies shuttered to a halt. Unemployment spiked. Homes that were once safe havens from the nine-to-five workdays turned into classrooms, workspaces, and doctors' offices all at once and overnight. Amid this chaos, innovation and new ways of thinking have been born. The frequently quoted phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention” has been the rally cry for many this year. New industries debuted to solve the challenges of a remote existence. Traditional businesses have had to adapt to flexible work environments that support their employees where they are.

Agile Is the New Smart

The ability to be agile has been the current that has kept the virtual lights on for so many businesses while turning down physical offices. While we recognize it can seem easier to run the same playbook that has gotten you to this point, the inability to be agile and adapt will be a challenge for businesses to sustain positions of value over the long-term.

Cultural characteristics of agile organizations include those that are:

  • Hyperattentive in their anticipation, evaluation, and application of new and emerging trends to product strategy, customer experience, and value creation initiatives
  • Hypercollaborative to make corroborated decisions, break down silos, and drive large-scale change
  • Evidence-based and leverage data to make informed decisions
  • Empowered by diverse teams with multifaceted skill sets and capabilities who address current and future business needs
  • Clear of purpose and change-ready to capitalize on exciting new opportunities and challenges

Leaders who tap into the agile business potential naturally increase their data-driven intelligence while embracing the emotional intelligence needed to recruit, retain, and grow the people that add to the culture of the organization.

Why People, Talent, and Learning Is a Business Imperative, Not Just an HR Initiative

Learning leaders need to make agility a crucial aspect of their people, talent, and

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learning strategies. This starts with asking the question, “What do our customers, people, and teams need to be ready today, three years and five years from now?” With clear direction, leaders can determine how to adapt with speed to ensure you can perform optimally today and as the business grows in size and complexity.

To bring this agility to life, the chapter takes a closer look at how high-growth technology company, Ultimate Software, aligned its business and people, talent, and learning teams on five priorities to ensure the company was ready to execute the strategic growth plan.

Priority 1: Grow Your Agile Team While Protecting the Culture: The challenge every company faces as it expands is how to grow without losing its established culture. Here learning leaders play important roles in ensuring that new hires align to the culture.

Priority 2: Develop Leaders to Run and Grow the Company: Empowerment and accountability are strong elements of an agile culture. Leaders and their people must feel empowered to make strategic and operational decisions within their remit and serve ideas about how they can innovate or improve.

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Priority 3: Empower the Organization to Perform at Its Best, Today and in the Future: By treating learning as something that happens during one-off events, learning leaders fail to meet ever-changing business needs. Instead, an agile culture necessitates the need to drive a culture of continuous learning within and across your stakeholders.

Priority 4: Prepare People to Embrace and Thrive in an Agile Environment: The ability to be agile often depends on how well an organization prepares its staff for change. Learning leaders can serve as champions of change initiatives and guide organizational communications by focusing on the needs of their people, both strategically and tactically.

Priority 5: Leverage Analytics to Understand the Workforce Dynamics
A final component to agile learning culture is data and analytics. If learning leaders tapping into whatever talent and human capital analytics are available to make decisions, they are not preparing the organization to respond to employee feedback.

Read the full chapter from Forward-Focused Learning to learn more about the critical attributes of agile cultures and agile leaders, see an agile organization in action, and learn lessons from consulting with high-growth agile systems, teams, and leaders.

About the Author

Laura Lee Gentry is chief people officer at Applied Systems. She contributed a chapter to Forward-Focused Learning.

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