Other parts of this series:
- Talking Agility: episode one
- Talking Agility: Vision and Leadership
- Talking Agility: Rewiring for Agility
- Talking Agility: the paradox of true agility with Michael Bazigos
- Talking Agility, Episode Five: The journey from agile in IT to enterprise agility
- Talking Agility, Episode 6: The path to the customer
- Talking Agility, Episode 7: Developing mental agility
- Talking Agility, Episode 8: Agility for new entrants with Starling Bank
- Talking Agility, Episode 9: Building an adaptive, reskilled workforce with Nicholas Whittall & Andrew Woolf
- Talking Agility, Episode 10: Agility at scale with ING’s Subhash Chandra Jose
Without a doubt, one the most important aspects of an agile enterprise is an agile workforce. It is a key component for successfully navigating change, yet very few organizations have fully invested to keep their workforce agile. As the world moves forward with more integration of digital and AI on the one hand, and people on the other, the question of agility deepens. What will the future of work look like? And how does leadership play a role in shaping an agile culture at work?
In episode nine of Talking Agility I was joined by Accenture Talent and Organization Managing Directors Nicholas Whittall and Andrew Woolf, to discuss exactly that. Our conversation covered the shifting dynamic in the workforce—and how the perception of AI is changing from one of a potential threat, to a potential benefit to workers.
We also talked about why, despite executives and employees both reporting that they believe in the importance of taking meaningful steps toward agility, only a few are actually acting on it. Andrew Woolf believes that failure to act is ‘the million dollar question’.
“I think organizations are a little bit paralyzed,” Woolf explained. “They’ve seen the research, but they’re not quite sure how to start.”
But they need to do something. According to Woolf, the first step is moving beyond the idea of perfection—the notion that everything needs to be 100% right. This is something that has come up a lot in the course of the podcast series: the idea that you need to empower people to take chances and experiment. It’s a cultural shift that requires leadership to accept a certain level of imperfection—and to support new strategies, even if they’ve never been tried before.
Another interesting aspect of the apparent hesitation to actively pursue strategies for change is a misunderstanding of likelihood of future developments. Nicholas Whittall has a really great analogy that helps explain why some organizations might be more active than others.
“I used to live in San Francisco where they experience a number of smaller earth tremors every day in the Bay Area,” Whittall said during our conversation. “And one of the comments that people make is that the Bay Area doesn’t experience enough big earthquakes to be prepared for the really big one. You can contrast that with a country like Japan, where they are hyper-alert to big earthquakes because they’ve had some significant ones over the last decade or so. I think a similar sort of analogy plays out in the corporate arena as far as preparing the workforce for the future of work.”
The fact that a lot of organizations are only experiencing minor challenges as they navigate disruption means they can be in danger of becoming inadvertently complacent—but there is ample research forecasting an increase in disruption in the financial services industry.
Woolf added that he believes there will be a bit of a snowball effect because of this, one in which organizations that don’t act will suffer as the shifts—or tremors—increase. Enterprises which haven’t properly invested in their agility will lose talent to those that have, potentially creating a crisis that amplifies with time.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many organizations are acting and moving toward agility, working to stay ahead of the curve. “I think we’re going to find that organizations will come up with really well-crafted strategies,” says Whittall.
Woolf adds, “In order to drive that flexibility or agility in the organization, it also requires leaders to take a fundamental leap of faith.”
It was a fascinating conversation with two of the leading thinkers in enterprise agility and the workforce—and I definitely recommend listening to the entire conversation on Talking Agility. To find it, or to connect with either Andrew Woolf, Nicholas Whittall, or me, please visit the Talking Agility website. Happy listening!
As a reminder, there is a new episode every two weeks—you can subscribe here, or on iTunes, Soundcloud or Spotify to revisit our previous episodes and be updated when there is a new one live. You can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or through the website. I’d love to hear from you—please get in touch!
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