Organizational Agility: Preparing Your Workforce for Change

Among the findings to emerge from our global survey of 998 business leaders is the importance of understanding the skills across their workforce, and ensuring their people develop the right skills for the future.

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Established organizations are at a crossroads: Acquire the skills needed to compete and win or someone else will. The speed and dynamism of the global market, together with the emergence of machine learning and other data-driven technologies, puts the onus on businesses to ensure they remain nimble.

What’s more, some companies have a hard time understanding what skills their employees already do have—let alone understanding what skills they will need in the near future. And then, even once companies have cataloged skills and identified skills gaps, chief learning officers and chief human resources officers are often at a loss to make sure that the learning their employees need is delivered in a way that allows them to track completion rates or measure the business impact of this learning content.

Now is the time for organizations to rethink their approach to their most valuable asset—their people—not just so they understand where their skills strengths and gaps lie, but also to promote development and learning opportunities that are critical to employee engagement.

Skilled, Augmented, Dynamic

Our global survey of 998 business leaders, “Organizational Agility at Scale: The Key to Driving Digital Growth,” uncovered five key capabilities essential to agile organizations. Of those core capabilities, our study finds businesses are most proactive when it comes to building and skilling the future workforce.

Our research finds that more than half of organizations plan to reskill at least 50 percent of their workforce between now and 2024 to contend with the changing world of work. Those that are leading the way recognize that employee engagement is critical to shifting from siloed, individualized modes of working to cross-functional, future-ready teams. 

Despite this, progress towards identifying skills gaps isn’t as robust as the recognition that upskilling is required. In the following sections, we take a look at why it pays to build—and keep—an agile workforce, and which skills will be critical to tomorrow’s winners. 

More than half of organizations plan to reskill at least 50 percent of their workforce by 2024 to contend with the changing world of work. 

Why Build the Future Workforce?

Change is the constant that tomorrow’s businesses must prepare for, and the skills and jobs that are valuable today may not be the same in a few years’ time. Crucially, our research finds that investing in a future-ready workforce enables leading organizations to reap the benefits of increased digital revenue growth that come with being agile. 

“It will be HR’s responsibility to provide the leadership necessary to ensure workers have the new skills required for our organizations to remain agile, efficient, and prepared for whatever disruptions the future brings.”

Ashley Goldsmith chief people officer, Workday

In this context, the ability to reskill is crucial. Those organizations that have adopted agility at scale realize this and are significantly more likely to have plans in place to upskill their workforce to contend with the evolving nature of work. 

The leading organizations in our study are nearly three times more likely than others to upskill more than three-quarters of their workforce by 2024 (30 percent compared to just 13 percent overall). 

Despite this optimism, organizations must overcome roadblocks to ensure they are capable of building a future-ready workforce. Key among these is employee engagement. According to the “2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report,” the “inability to learn and grow” is the number one reason people leave their jobs.  

But the importance of employee engagement extends beyond retention, as engaged employees are more likely to exercise discretionary effort and find innovative ways to help customers succeed. While our experience shows us that many understand the importance of this, our research finds that more can be done. 

Most notably, only one-quarter of organizations strongly agree they have specific initiatives in place to drive employee engagement. 

Organizations that have made a commitment to engaging their people are breaking down silos and hierarchies. As a result, these organizations are twice as likely as others to strongly encourage their people to grow by learning new skills rather than being promoted (55 percent compared to 23 percent overall). 

The CHRO: Keeping Employees Engaged

Of the C-suite, CHROs have perhaps the most pragmatic view of the importance of employee engagement—they are most likely to hold the firm belief that organizational success is closely tied to keeping their employees engaged (44 percent compared to 28 percent among the rest of the C-suite). 

While HR leaders are most likely to strongly agree their organization has initiatives in place to drive employee engagement, they are least likely to admit their business offers growth through upskilling rather than being promoted. 

Critically though, CHROs understand the world in which they’re now operating. They rank competence using new tools and technology, and cognitive ability to cope with constant change, as the skills of most benefit to their function in the next five years. 

What Are the Skills of Tomorrow’s Workers?

“Advances in technology will continue to change the way we view talent and organize our workforces,” says Ashley Goldsmith, chief people officer at Workday. “In the face of this, it will be HR’s responsibility to provide the leadership necessary to ensure workers have the new skills required for our organizations to remain agile, efficient, and prepared for whatever disruptions the future brings.” 

Such a workforce requires the right mix of hard and soft skills, as well as a nuanced understanding of how and when to deploy them. Of the skills needed in the next five years, our research finds overall consensus that advanced analytics and data visualization, and competence using new tools and technologies, will be key. 

While skills requirements will continue to change as businesses evolve, soft skills—such as the ability to deal with constant change—are becoming more critical to future success. 

By function, our research reveals additional skills perceived to be of most value:  

  • CEO and C-suite: Cognitive ability to contend with constant change and communication skills. 
  • IT and operations: Data engineering and data warehousing, and an entrepreneurial mindset to enable new revenue models.  
  • Finance and HR: Ability to identify, anticipate, and manage risk, and the mental ability to contend with constant change. 

In embracing agility at scale, organizations must not only consider the skills they’ll need tomorrow, but also ensure they understand the skills and gaps they have today, so they can hire or reskill to meet business needs as they arise. 

Get an overview of “Organizational Agility at Scale: The Key to Driving Digital Growth” findings or download the full report.

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