Agility: HR’s role in flattening the organization

Organizational agility improves both company performance and employee satisfaction. HR can be instrumental in shifting an organization from a traditional hierarchy to a marketplace that provides talent and resources to a collection of empowered small teams, helping them to achieve their missions and acting as a common guiding star.

Adopt new organizational models

For instance, as a part of a multiyear agile transformation, a large European bank worked to establish an in-house agile academy led jointly by coaches and the HR function to drive capability building for the transformation.

To be successful, a transformation should touch every facet of an organization—people, process, strategy, structure, and technology. HR can help create an iterative approach by developing core elements of the people-management process, including new career paths for agile teams, revamped performance management, and capability building. It should lead by example as well, by shifting to agile “flow to work” pools in which individuals are staffed to prioritized tasks.

Create a flexible—and magnetic—workforce

Because many roles are becoming disaggregated and fluid, work will increasingly be defined in terms of skills. The accelerating pace of technological change is widening skill gaps, making them more common and more quick to develop. To survive and deliver on their strategic objectives, all organizations will need to reskill and upskill significant portions of their workforce over the next ten years.

According to a 2018 McKinsey survey, 66 percent of executives said that “addressing potential skills gaps related to automation/digitization” within their workforces was at least a “top ten priority.” HR should help prioritize these talent shifts.

In a more recent survey McKinsey conducted with global executives about the postpandemic workforce, more than a third of respondents said that their organizations were unprepared to address the skill gaps exacerbated by automation and digitization. The shift to digitization has accelerated during the pandemic: 85 percent of companies have picked up the pace of their digitization (including a 48 percent rise in the digitization of customer channels). In light of these trends and the need to shift skills, there is a clear business rationale behind workforce strategy and planning.

HR should be a strategic partner for the business in this regard, by ensuring that the right talent is in place to deliver on core company objectives. HR can also drive workforce planning by reviewing how disruptive trends affect employees, identifying future core capabilities, and assessing how supply and demand apply to future skills gaps.

Moving to a skills focus also requires innovative sourcing to meet specific work-activity needs (for example, the gig economy and automation), and changing which roles companies need to source with traditional full-time-equivalent positions and which can be done by temporary workers or contractors. In the survey with global executives, about 70 percent said that two years from now they expect to use more temporary workers and contractors than they did before the COVID-19 crisis.

During the pandemic, we’ve seen how organizations have come together to utilize talent with transferable skills. For instance, McKinsey has supported Talent Exchange, a platform that uses artificial intelligence to help workers displaced by the crisis.

Make better decisions—faster

Companies that make decisions at the right organizational level and that have fewer reporting layers are more likely to deliver consistently on quality, velocity, and performance outcomes and thus outperform their industry peers. The pandemic has trained the spotlight on the power of fast decision making, as many organizations have had to move dramatically more quickly than they had originally envisioned. For example, one retailer had a plan for curbside delivery that would take 18 months to roll out; once the COVID-19 crisis hit, the plan went operational in just two days.

HR can help with strong decision making by empowering employees to take risks in a culture that rewards them for doing so. McKinsey research revealed that employees who are empowered to make decisions and who receive sufficient coaching from leaders were three times more likely to say that their companies’ delegated decisions were both high quality and speedy.

Introduce next-generation performance management

Companies are experimenting with a wide variety of approaches to improve how they manage performance. According to a McKinsey Global Survey, half of respondents said that performance management had not had a positive effect on employee or organizational performance. Two-thirds reported the implementation of at least one meaningful modification to their performance-management systems.

We identified three practices—managers’ coaching, linking employee goals to business priorities, and differentiated compensation—that increase the chances that a performance-management system will positively affect employee performance. HR plays an important role in embedding these practices in performance management by supporting the goal-setting process, decoupling the compensation and development discussion, investing in manager’s capability building, and embedding technology and analytics to simplify the performance-management process.

To strengthen an organization’s agility, HR should ask the following questions:

  • Can we enable more effective decision making by pushing decisions to the edges of the organization, creating psychological safety that empowers people, and building capabilities?
  • How do we accelerate the shift to a more diverse and deeply motivated talent base, one that is supported through a human-centric culture that enables outperformance and superior experience?
  • Which organizational areas or end-to-end value-creation streams would most benefit from a shift to new ways of working and organizing?

Source: McKinsey.