Seven tips for managing agile workers

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Gone are the days where employees actually have to be physically present in your organization to be working for you.

With the rise in flexible working and rapid increase in globalization, remote working is fast becoming the norm.

And HR teams across the world are starting to face a relatively new challenge around staff – how to manage ‘agile workers’.

Jon Younger and Norm Smallwood, authors of a newly-released book Agile Talent, recently discussed this new type of employee in a column in the Harvard Business Review, offering tips to HR teams about how to manage such staff.

“The globalization of talent and technology frees up companies to experiment with new ways of filling critical skill gaps while staying lean.

“We call this phenomenon agile talent,” the pair said.

Their research, which is the basis for their new book, found that “over half executives report increasing their use of outside expertise and sourcing talent from ‘the cloud’.”

“While cost is clearly a consideration, managers describe the primary benefits of agile talent as increasing flexibility, speed, and innovation. In short: it’s better, not cheaper.”

While the decision to venture away from traditional staffing models and invest in more agile talent rests with senior management, the implementation of such a decision rests with middle management, the pair said.

They identified seven things managers can do to set up their agile talent for success.
  1. Build a talent network. “Smart middle managers tend to their network as a means of ensuring the right agile talent — with the right technical skill and way of working — is hired,” Younger and Smallwood said. “They are attentive to their talent network and invest time and effort in expanding it and keeping it up to date.”
  2. Kickstart the work and relationships. “Good managers know that external hires need an onboarding experience that lets the work start fast and strong: clear goals, well-defined schedules and milestones, agreement on performance expectations, and early investment in agile working relationships with internal colleagues.”
  3. Manage the politics. “Agile talent is a concern for many employees who wonder whether their jobs are now at risk, and a worry for executives who wonder whether their role and influence will be diminished,” the pair said. “Being clear that agile talent is a supplement, not a replacement, for internal staff is critical, as is explaining to others in the organization the strategic benefits of agile talent — such as access to new technology, speed, market discipline, and flexibility — rather than emphasizing any cost savings.”
  4. Think of talent as partners, not clients.  “Good managers understand that outstanding external experts often have their pick of opportunities,” Younger and Smallwood said. “Middle managers need to establish a win/win partnership relationship with agile talent, one where both parties feel a stake in one another’s success.”
  5. Be a talent developer. “Good managers coach their external talent to work effectively within the organization and provide ongoing feedback and respond to calls and emails in a timely manner.”
  6. Ask for feedback from everyone affected by your agile talent decisions. “It’s not enough for your team to hit its marks; it has to be committed to the success of the teams it depends on and those that depend on it. That, in turn, means you have to be attentive and connected to those other teams and invest in building those individual relationships.”
  7. Nudge the system toward better alignment. “We say “nudge” rather than “steer” or “lead” because middle managers don’t have the license or authority to drive big system changes. But they can nudge around the edges of the work system and drive helpful changes that reduce friction.”

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