The Importance of Accelerating Workforce Agility – How to Do It

Published: October 2020


It is not surprising that, during these uncharted and disruptive times, 84% of HR leaders and professionals taking part in the latest Aon pulse survey of HR professionals, view workforce agility as either very or extremely important in organizations. And yet, just 39% view their current workforces as very or extremely agile.

If we define ‘workforce agility’ as the ability to quickly move employees into new roles or areas of the organization in order to support changing business needs, its relevance today – and in the future – cannot be underestimated.

Pete Bentley, chief commercial officer for Aon’s Human Capital business comments: “This workforce agility gap - between what employees and teams can handle today versus what will be required of them in the near future - is significant. It represents a major challenge for companies looking to reshape their business and human capital strategies and the gap is remarkably consistent across regions and industries.”

With such a chasm between the recognized importance and the reality, what can be done to increase workforce agility?

Diversity and Inclusion are Key to Improving Workforce Agility

The study asked about the key factors needed to build and maintain an agile workforce. Near the top of the list was the ability to attract and retain diverse employees and create an inclusive culture. Globally, 86% of respondents said this was an extremely or very important factor. This is not surprising given that breadth of experience, perspective and working style creates a more varied talent pool to explore when making changes.

Attracting and retaining a diverse workforce rated higher than other factors as important to improving workforce agility. Identifying key digital skills, introducing new career paths and developing flexible compensation programs were all rated lower in the study.

Improving Remote Working

Only two other factors rated higher than diversity and inclusion for improving workforce agility. These are the tools and infrastructure in technology and communication that are needed to support the shift witnessed recently to remote, flexible and different ways of working. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of respondents (71%) said that they are actively investing in the tools and technologies to support collaborative working.

Without such technologies and frameworks in place, employees cannot respond and work nimbly. Also important is the individual’s capability to be agile, curious and embrace learning of the new; the three core future readiness competencies defined in our Digital Readiness Model.

The Need to Assess Employee Adaptability

85% of respondents said that the ability to assess employees for adaptability, collaboration and communications skills is an essential component to building the agile workforce.

We have been supporting clients to achieve this. Our range of talent assessments helps identify these core behaviors - both during the candidate-hiring process and when looking at the current employee talent pool and which competencies may need developing.

Cautious Outlook for Hiring

Only 23% reported that they are hiring as normal. Over half (57%) describe their hiring outlook as cautious or selective, focusing on either key roles or replacement roles. 10% have frozen hiring. That said, 6% have accelerated their hiring to meet surging demands.

For 44% of study participants, moving hiring processes to a virtual environment has been a challenge over the past six months. Making hiring decisions without an in-person meeting is said to have been a challenge for 42%. Although the biggest challenge for 39% of the respondents has been to find candidates willing to change jobs in such uncertain economic conditions.

Our clients have been embracing the shift to virtual assessment from initial online testing, video interview assessment and a virtual assessment center to replace the typical in-person event. We have helped clients work through the challenges, introduced new functionality to our platforms and have also helped them get up and running at such a resource-stretched time.

About the Study

Aon conducted the study, titled ‘Accelerating Workforce Agility and Resilience’, from August 17 to August 25, 2020. A total of 2,004 human resource leaders and professionals responded globally. Complete study results are available here

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