The Leader's Role in Workforce Agility Part I: Building Your Muscle for Change

An agile workforce considers people as the differentiator, not technology. When you hear a term like “agile” tossed around so often, it starts to become an abstract concept that is hard to wrap your brain around. In our quest to define terms like agile, we overcomplicate the essence of what it really means. I like to make the complicated, simple. Agile means to be able to adapt and change. How’s that for simplicity? Okay, so maybe workforce agility is a little more complex than just adapting and changing.

Here’s Concerning Learning’s definition of workforce agility…

“Workforce agility occurs when business leaders implement a people-focused culture while using technology to enable its employee to rapidly change and adapt to changes in the work environment.”

This definition implies that today’s work environment changes regularly, therefore, Federal Government leaders need to be agile in their leadership practices in order to be effective. They need to be able to leverage technology while keeping a keen eye on their people. When leaders are inflexible in how they manage employees, it is nearly impossible to be effective in creating an agile workforce within the government. Let’s face it, you have to “practice what you preach.” I know it is cliché, but some sayings never outrun their course.

Your Role in Leading the Evolving Organization

The first thing you must do is to check your mindset. As a government leader, you should never attempt to make any organizational changes without first looking at where you are in terms of your thoughts and actions. Just like the flight attendants proclaim to the passengers before every flight can take off – same theory applies here; put your oxygen mask on before you try to help others.

Next, assess your role in the government organization. Notice I didn’t say assess your position, because organizations have leaders at all levels—regardless of their official position.

  • Are your thoughts focused on the employees and their well-being?
  • Are your actions employee-centered?

We work in complex organizations, and effective leaders always view their jobs through the lens of how decisions impact their employees, how well their teams work together, and the overall organizational culture. This is how you should begin to lead workforce agility initiatives. Actually, adopting servant/leader mindset will help you with any organizational change effort.

Strengthen Your Resilience

Once you’ve checked your mindset, you need to look at your resilience.

  • How well do you bounce back from setbacks?
  • Are you great at making adjustments to your own behavior based on the needs and interactions with others?
  • Do you use setbacks and failures as teachable moments?

Being resilient equips you, as a leader, to guide your organization in receiving the benefits of building an agile workforce. Some of those benefits are listed below. Agile workforces:

  • Stay competitive because they are always focused on the people—leadership effectiveness and employee development as well as internal and external customer engagement;
  • Achieve higher levels of employee engagement, are more productive, experience less turnover, and sustain higher levels of customer satisfaction; and
  • Thrive because their employees are better able to leverage technology which leads to better results.

Channel Your Inner-Strategist

Building an agile workforce in government requires strategic thinking. This goes well beyond how the agency will achieve its goals in the next five years. It’s more specific than traditional strategic thinking…because your strategy needs to start with an inward focus!

What’s your plan for developing your agility skills in order to lead your organization to become an agile workforce? You need to approach your own leadership development as part of the complex organizational system.

Think of channeling your inner-strategist using a systems-thinking approach with you at the center, then work your way outward. Remember, your mindset is employee-centered…so consider what you have to do strategically, to be a better agile leader. Start with how you will develop your strategic thinking skills before you outline the strategy your team needs to develop theirs.

Enhance Your Leadership Presence Through Communication

Once you’ve built your strategy, you need to be able to articulate it effectively. It should include plans to sharpen your oral, written, and interpersonal communication skills. This step is the key to moving your strategy from paper to implementation and sustainability.

  • How will you develop your leadership language?
  • What do you need to convey a powerful leadership presence?

Communication is essential for all professionals, however, there is a difference between everyday communication and communication for leading change. How you communicate must speak volumes to your credibility and authenticity if you expect others to follow you through a change initiative. This communication is all about trust.

Your messages—verbal, nonverbal, and actions need to all say the same thing. For example, no one will believe that you’re a champion for an agile workforce if you’re rigid and inflexible with how you operationalize your organization’s telework policy. You can’t say that you fully support and encourage telework if you require your employees to email you at the beginning of the day to say what they plan to work on and at the end of the day, a follow-up email telling you what they accomplished. This management practice screams, “I don’t trust you!” although you say you do.

Enhancing your leadership presence is a great way to model workforce agility by developing communication skills demonstrative of one who is leading change within their organization.

Ignite Your Creativity and Innovation

One of the primary characteristics of an effective leader is they are great at inspiring others to take action. Here again, you need to work on yourself first before successfully leading your organization. Instead of thinking outside the box, create a new, perforated box! Many of us don’t have complete autonomy to think completely outside the box, because being a part of an organization means that you will always have boundaries or “boxes” that you have to stay within. It’s just the nature of working in an organizational structure. This organizational structure usually has holes or perforations that you can use to spark and ignite creativity and innovation.

As you move forward to create a more agile workforce, seek out those holes while staying within the organizational boundaries. Here’s a quick story about how I found a way to ignite creativity and innovation while staying within the box…

I was asked to create a mentoring program for a government agency. The challenge was that I didn’t have a budget, nor did I have a staff. Lack of resources is a common box that leaders must operate within. Now, I could’ve stayed within the box, complained, and not push through the challenge to produce a high-quality mentoring program. Instead, I used the box as an opportunity for me to be creative and learn new skills. The result was that I designed, developed, and implemented a successful mentoring program with over 200 employees participating. I had to use a little ingenuity to pair mentors and mentees because, in the past, this was done by a contractor using technology. (Remember, I didn’t have a budget.) This led me to utilize speed-mentoring to facilitate the connections. As a result, we had a 99% success rate with matching mentors and mentees. Mentees were paired with their first or second choice using speed-mentoring to solve a challenge with a little creativity and innovation.

I didn’t share this to toot my own horn, but instead, to demonstrate how leaders need to model creativity for their team as a way to solve real-world challenges.

The skills that I’ve shared in this blog post are intended to get you going on your leadership journey to create an agile workforce. Management Concepts Leadership & Management curriculum addresses each of the skills needed to help leaders in the Federal Government to spearhead change for their respective agencies. The purpose of sharing a few ways to build your muscle for change is to get you inspired about the opportunities that await you! You should be passionate about learning and growing—as leaders can’t afford to stop developing themselves. The minute that they stop, they stop being effective and run the risk of becoming obsolete. Now that you have some tools in your belt about agile leadership, you’ve got what’s needed to ensure your oxygen mask is in place. You can now look to assist others! Stay tuned for my next blog in this series, How to Shape an Agile Workforce in the Federal Government.

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