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3 Ways to Build an Agile Workforce


Federal employees are facing unprecedented changes at every turn. This has leaders asking: “How can I equip my teams to adapt quickly and successfully to change?” Or, more simply: “How do I build a more agile workforce?”

Agility is a word we hear frequently in conversations with federal leaders, and it’s a good thing. In fact, CEB research shows that organizations that empower employees to seek opportunities to learn and adapt to changes increase performance by up to 17 percent. Many federal leaders, however, don’t understand what an agile organization looks like or what they can do to improve the agility of their workforce.

Agile organizations are those that effectively manage change—proactively preparing their workforce to flex when needed. The ones that do this well embrace change by integrating three positive behaviors:

1.      Promoting Innovation

Federal employees receive mixed messages on the value of innovation and risk tolerance. Only 36 percent of respondents in the 2013 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey believe they are rewarded for being innovative, which leaves agencies a lot of room for improvement. Given the changing conditions of the federal space, agencies have a huge opportunity to rethink how work is done and proactively enable innovation.

Organizations that promote innovation create an environment in which change is not only encouraged, but expected and celebrated.

2.      Empowering Employees

Empowerment should happen at every level—organizations that empower employees have engagement scores that are 9 percent higher than average. But less than 50 percent of respondents in the FedView survey believe they can make changes to their work processes to become more efficient and effective. That signals managers are often focused on continuing the status quo rather than encouraging innovation.

In a budget environment where resources are scarce, mission success is only possible through continuous advancements. Agencies should empower their employees to not only react to change but also to drive it to create improvements. This is not to say all change should be a grassroots effort. Organizations need to define where empowerment can and should occur, encouraging managers to have the right conversations with their employees at the right times and allowing employees to make decisions about their work.

3.      Driving Collaboration

In this new work environment, employees need to proactively collaborate. Mission success is no longer predicted by individual tasks, contributions and skills, but is increasingly dependent on knowing when to collaborate and with whom to get the job done. Successful agencies help employees navigate complexities in their work environment and identify essential points of collaboration and networking.

With 65 percent of respondents in the FedView survey reporting they are encouraged to collaborate with others, the government does a relatively good job of driving collaboration across teams. But given the widespread changes happening across government, those relationships will change. To effectively lead through these shifts, managers need to provide the support and guidance employees need to build high-quality partnerships that will improve performance.   

In an agile workforce, employees are the center of change instead of the subject of change. Simpy put, agile organizations are better prepared to adapt to change because they embrace it.

Kris van Riper is a managing director and Elisabeth Joyce is a director at CEB, a member-based advisory company.

(Image via Jirsak/

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