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HR in the Digital Economy: Are You Ready Now?

January 10, 2017 by Paula Jacomo

The way we work is rapidly changing in the digital economy. We can see that manual tasks are being automated, while creative problem solving roles are exploding. Different generations are bringing new expectations and demands to the workplace, including working remotely from anywhere in the world.

In addition, customers are interacting with businesses in new ways, demanding joint experiences and deeper relationships. It is easy to see why all those dynamic changes can be a challenge for any company.

Workforce agility is that special capability businesses must have to rapidly change and adapt in response to changes in the work environment. A business, by definition, is not the facilities, the company’s equipment, processes or the technology that the company sells. In its essence, a business is the value created for a customer.

In order to keep adding value to its customer base, companies need to continuously focus on their customers’ reality. Companies that have a strong understanding of what their customers value can generate and maintain a sustainable business.

There are two paradigms in business today: the inside-out approach and the outside-in approach. The inside-out approach is driven by the belief that the inner strengths and capabilities of the organization will produce a sustainable future. In contrast, the outside-in approach is guided by the belief that customer value creation is the path to success.

Organizations become agile when they take on an outside-in perspective. They create solutions and identify their own inside-out behaviors and then refocus on outside-in. Their great challenge is how to develop and maintain a culture that practices outside-in behaviors every day. This cultural shift or transformation takes practice and discipline.

Several areas need to be considered in the agile transformation process. In addition to customer focus, the structure of the workforce and its management are also key.

The structure of work is related to how work gets done. An agile workforce needs to be quickly ready to add value through multiple working models such as home office, contractors, temporary teams, globalized teams and so on. Often a project requires working with contractors who are not embedded in the company culture, and who can bring a fresh perspective and even question the status quo. In other cases, it might involve keeping costs in check with a workforce that is distributed in different continents and time zones.

The dynamics of an agile workforce and flexible work environment presents some challenges. One of them is managing a work environment with less rules, less command control and many times, less complexity. Some people managers and leaders might argue that this arrangement can be easily taken advantage of. However, once convinced, managers and leaders can expect greater workforce engagement, with more diversity, in addition to financial savings and even environmental benefits.

From the perspective of the individual worker, having the ability to adapt is crucial. This involves quickly acquiring new skillsets. For this reason, companies have the responsibility of continuously building the skills of workers, supplying them with the tools to respond better and faster to new business challenges and value creation.

In this new agile workplace, employable individuals need to continuously hone their skills, be multi-talented, multi-tasking, flexible, dynamic, global and local – all at the same time. In parallel, companies have to be prepared to handle a whole new set of expectations from their workforce. Consider this:  If an average mobile phone life cycle is 18 months, why would an average individual stay nine years at the same department? Agile, dynamic companies respond with faster career moves, department and even geographic location changes, temporary career development opportunities and quick organizational shifts.

It’s clear that workforce agility is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a pressing reality that touches companies and workers, and it is here to stay. Are you ready to be agile, right now?

Paula Jacomo is head of HR, Latin America, SAP

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