The Leader's Role in Workforce Agility Part II: How to Shape an Agile Workforce in the Federal Government

In my last blog post Building Your Muscle for Change, I discussed how you need to develop and model resiliency, strategy, and communication skills before implementing an organizational workforce agility initiative, if you’re to be a successful Federal leader. By being more adept in your own managerial and leadership practices, you will be better prepared to shape an agile workforce.

After you’ve built your muscles for change, it’s time to put those new muscles to work!

Choose Your Model

There are many change models that will help you shape an agile workforce and talent management organization. It’s important to choose and stick to a change model because it will ensure that you don’t leave out a crucial step once you start your change efforts.

I often use the CHANGE Model from Elaine Beich’s book, Thriving through Change, when I’m helping Federal leaders with their organizational workforce agility initiatives. It’s a simple and practical way to guide organizations to master change, not to mention that I’m a fan of Elaine Beich’s other valuable work in the human capital and HR learning and development field Management Concepts supports.

The CHANGE Model is based on six steps:

  1. Challenge the current state
  2. Harmonize and align leadership
  3. Activate commitment
  4. Nurture and formalize a design
  5. Guide implementation
  6. Evaluate and institutionalize the change

Whichever change model you choose, e.g., Lewin’s Model, Kotter’s Eight-Step Model, Ulrich’s Seven-Step Model, or Evans and Schaefer’s 10 Tasks, find one that works best with your leadership style and organization’s culture.

No matter which change model you land on, there are three essentials during the shaping process that cannot be overlooked:

  • Assessment
  • Planning
  • People

How Are We Doing Now?

Assess your organization’s readiness for change. This is the way to gauge the current state of your workforce agility. You have to know where you are before you can plan your route to get to where you want to be. Asking questions of your C-suite leaders is a great place to start to get a high-level view and better understanding of the layers of your organization’s culture and workforce talent. Although you’re starting with the C-suite, it’s extremely important to scan all levels of the organization to get a comprehensive picture of it as a system.

During this phase, you’ll put those newly-strengthened communication skills to work. Using open-ended questioning techniques and active listening skills, keep your questions targeted on these areas:

  • What are the real problems that could be addressed with workforce and HR agility solutions?
  • How does your organization view and treat its people?
  • How does your organization leverage technology?
  • How does your organization adapt to and deliver human capital change management?
  • What is the organization’s level of trust in its leadership?

Other sources of data should come from your agency’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results,, and previously-performed culture, employee engagement, and workplace climate surveys that your organization has administered. Too often, organizations hire external or request internal consultants to conduct these types of assessments, and neither share the results with employees nor use the results to inform new initiatives. Take advantage of existing data and add it to new data to get your Federal talent management planning and agility initiative off to a great start!

What’s Your Game Plan?

Now that you have this valuable data, you have to develop your plan. Although we all know that most initiatives don’t happen precisely according to the plan, the purpose of creating a comprehensive plan at this stage is to think through how you will navigate the change. At this point, you’ll need to use your strategic skillset to create a HR and workforce planning game plan, which should include sections that answer key questions such as:

  • How are you going to communicate with all levels of the organization before, during, and after the talent management and workforce planning change initiative?
  • What ongoing data collection methods will need to be used?
  • How will those impacted by the change be educated?
  • How will those leading the change be enabled to implement and manage it effectively?
  • How will you address those who resist HR and workforce agility principles?
  • How will you monitor and evaluate progress?
  • How will you reward and encourage new behavior and attitudes?
  • How will you address non-people barriers to change, e.g. budget, technology, etc.?

It’s ALWAYS About the People

Keep in mind that shaping and enabling workforce agility is not a one-person game—it is definitely a team sport! One of the most important questions during the planning stage is determining the best players for your team.

Remember Concerning Learning’s definition of workforce agility from Part I. It emphasized a people-focused culture. It’s essential that your team composition be created with this in mind. Everything you do must be people-focused, including continuing to strengthen your own leadership, management, and people skills.

Choose team members who have great connections with people throughout the organization. They may not even have an official leadership role or title but have demonstrated tremendous influence with leaders and employees. Many agencies take a wrong turn when it comes to including employees in change initiatives. If you want sustainable and impactful change that doesn’t “hurt” so much, you have to involve those impacted by the change from the beginning. People have to feel that they are a part of the change versus the change being forced upon them.

Another thing to remember is that you’ll have little success in shaping an agile workforce and supporting human capital management initiatives in the Federal Government without being authentic and creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. If everyone agrees with everything you’re doing during this initiative, you should reexamine your team composition. Diversity and inclusion go beyond race and ethnic backgrounds, but also include respecting and inviting different perspectives as well as ways of thinking and values. Forbes contributor, Lars Schmidt does an amazing job explaining how to choose the right team for a people-focused culture in The End of Culture Fit.

After you’ve chosen your team, it’s time to fully-develop and execute your comprehensive plan. This is the fun part — where the rubber meets the road!

Enjoy the journey and review further insights about shaping workforce, talent management, and HR agility. Yes, it’s a journey, but a worthwhile one that leads to a better workplace where people perform at their best.

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