Managing Disruption - Employer Steps to Building a Resilient and Agile Workforce

December 8, 2020 John McLaughlin

First published on HRReview


Can your workforce thrive during disruption?

Take a look at your organisation. Now look beyond; market, competition, customers, technology all offer disruption – in spades. But what does it take to handle disruption in our uncertain world?
With Covid-19 a case in point, we cannot predict the origin, scale and impact that disruption can bring, but contingency planning helps. But this sort of planning can only go so far. What can organisations do to provide a buffer to constant change?

The answer lies with our people and building a strategy that enables talent to adeptly handle change.

Looking beyond your immediate needs

Organisations have always needed to consider future needs when building their talent strategy, but there have been some fundamental changes. Now, workforce agility and resilience override specific skills, so we need to foster talent that looks at change confidently.

At its core, an agile and resilient workforce allows businesses to react at speed to changing circumstances. This type of workforce has a broad skillset and uses a lean decision-making structure to respond swiftly. It also has the ability to identify and manage risk, and a capacity to absorb change and uncertainty without impacting productivity.

Rethink workplace, skills and benefits

Several core elements reduce the turbulence caused by disruption and create a more agile and resilient workforce; virtual working, reskilling, and reshaping benefits to align with changing employee wants. Here are some examples of how this is happening now.

A financial services client took the chance to rethink where its work is done. Working from home had not been a major priority – as in many firms – and had sat on the ‘too difficult’ list for a while. But the past few months proved that remote working works. Digging deeper, the firm worked out that 75 per cent of its roles can be delivered flexibly – and the real estate savings from reduced office space could be around £105m. They are not alone. Seventy seven per cent of organisations are actively identifying functions and roles that can best operate remotely to determine who can work virtually.

A client in the engineering and manufacturing sector – is reskilling its people at scale. It identified that 30 per cent of its workforce were at risk of their skillset becoming obsolete. By matching people to the right re- and up-skilling programmes, it estimates a saving of £3.16m. Our research shows that 58 per cent of organisations expect an accelerated focus on workforce agility and internal mobility as a result of COVID-19.

A client in the defence sector invested in redesigning its benefits package to maximise engagement across the 5 pillars of health and wellbeing: financial, social, emotional, physical and professional. The result has been a 96 per cent take up of the flexible scheme.

4 steps to an agile and resilient organisation

Looking at where and how we work – and how we are rewarded – builds workplace resilience. But there is no one size fits all approach. Each person will have individual needs, motivations and preferences – and organisations need to reflect this in their people strategies, not least talent management.

1. The fundamental attributes people need for resilience
We know that current talent can only take us so far. Organisations may be tempted to buy in the new digital skills they think they need, but it’s important to remember that skills can be taught. The more fundamental attributes to hire for focus on competency and behaviour.
Workforce resilience is built when individuals adapt confidently to adverse situations, manage stress and retain their motivation. Our research shows very specific competencies are needed for the future – all of which can be measured objectively and reliably. Individuals need to be agile to embrace change, curious to move forward and be able to learn new ways of working.

2. Leaders’ roles
At the core of a resilient organisation is clear, compassionate and visible leadership, and an empathetic dialogue between employer and employee. People need a sense of security, a strong sense of belonging and the adaptability and motivation to reach their potential.

3. Developing resilience through health and wellbeing
Having a broad programme of benefits on offer – and, crucially having employees who know what is on offer – is critical to building an agile and resilient workforce.

Mark Witte, Head of Propositions & Consulting for Aon’s Health Solutions, Aon, explained:

Investment in wellbeing is linked to greater levels of resilience. In our Rising Resilient study, 45 per cent of employees in companies with broad health and wellbeing initiatives in place are ‘resilient’ but, where there are no such initiatives, only 15 per cent are ‘resilient’. Those who are resilient have a higher perceived health status, want to remain with their employer, perceive the organisation to be modern and are highly motivated.

Such programmes provide the foundations on which employees can thrive and develop, but there is no standard and uniform approach. Organisations must learn to design and develop more flexible benefit solutions.

4. Building employee choice
In summary, a ‘one size fits all’ approach no longer serves talent management well as there is a shift towards employee choice – and ownership – of careers, how people work and where, how they are rewarded, and how their wellbeing is supported.

The success of a more employee-centric approach only works when organisations have the right structures in place – and communicate these effectively. Too many firms have internal talent marketplaces or wellbeing initiatives that are poorly communicated and consequently do not achieve results or impact.

Whatever the change or disruption organisations encounter, an agile and resilient workforce will be better placed to meet any challenge and thrive. Is your organisation future-ready?


To learn more about building a more agile and resilient workforce, read our guidebook.

About the Author

John McLaughlin

John has worked for Aon’s Assessment Solutions for 10 years in a variety of roles and geographies across Europe, South America, and North America. This in-market experience combined with his current role as the global commercial director for the group leads to an in-depth knowledge of global trends impacting talent strategies across all organizations.

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