6 Common Barriers to Workforce Agility


The word agility conjures an image of a lithe gymnast contorting their body into numerous seemingly impossible positions. They are able to achieve with grace and poise movements which to the untrained amateur would be jerky and uncomfortable. It’s all down to flexibility.

Agility as a concept is growing in importance for businesses. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development identified agility as one of it’s eight themes important to long term performance, and 90% of organisations believe agility is critical to business success (Economist Intelligence Unit).

The origins of agility as an organisational term lie in the development of software to deal with extreme complexity. And isn’t complex the perfect word to sum up the modern working environment of highly competitive and rapidly changing markets where change is routine and perpetual. The agile organisations are poised ready for these changes and are able to easily adapt to meet new customer demands.

A recent article on Twitter called on HR to basically get out of the way and stop holding organisations back with regards to agility. To me this is more than a little misguided. It’s no use blaming a lack of agility on HR. We are here to fully support and enable agility, but the driver is the plans and direction of the organisation as a whole. This got me thinking about the key organisational barriers to agility and how an empowered HR can help in removing these.

The key driver of agility is intelligence. If you have no idea what is on the horizon there is no way you can prepare for it. People can get scared off or turned off by nonsense terms like “big data”. Employ some data nerds to gather and synthesize. Exploit new technology. Ensure the knowledge is used by those who can identify potential.

How HR can help: communication initiatives, learning and development, knowledge management

Slow decision making is the antithesis of agility. It tends to follow that the more hoops that need to be jumped through, the more drag is created. Therefore agility doesn’t mix well with a command and control hierarchy. Autonomy and trust are key enablers whatever the structure.

How HR can help: restructuring, change management, leadership development

Suffer silos and you can forget about agility. While one department is building a tower, another will be secretly knocking it down. Collaboration is key to developing integrated planning and execution, and takes innovation up to the next level.

How HR can help: employee engagement, team building, communication initiatives

Risk Averse 
You need to kiss a few frogs before you find a prince, and needless to say some of the avenues taken in the name of agility will fail. After all, it’s impossible to predict the future, but in order to be agile you need to use everything in your power to attempt just that. Take calculated risks and reward employees for doing so. Give feedback and always take a constructive approach to learning from mistakes.

How HR can help: coaching, leadership development, reward and recognition

Resource Hungry
If budgets are all tied up and costs aren’t being driven down, capital to plough into new initiatives will be hard to come by. For the whole to be agile so must each part, including the finances.

How HR can help: flexibility in staffing budgets

Seats Taken
My hackles immediately go up when I hear someone droning on about the requirement for HR to “earn it’s seat” at the executive table. If you don’t believe your people are a key asset warranting representation then you either need to change your attitude, or your HR team, probably both.

How HR can help: take that seat!

Effective Human Resources teams support and help to drive agility. They certainly don’t hold it back. So next time I read an article, or hear someone mention, that Human Resources needs to be agile, I might do a cartwheel, just to prove a point.

Image credit: unknown

One thought on “6 Common Barriers to Workforce Agility

  1. Pingback: Has Agility Got a Bad Name Already? | HR Potential

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s