Facing the Uncomfortable Truth: Employees Are More Agile Than Their Leaders

Image credit: iStockphoto/Anton Vierietin

It is time for businesses to face an uncomfortable truth: employees are more confident about their ability to adapt than their executive leaders.

Executive respondents to a recent survey said they believed that just 45% of their workforce could adapt to the new world of work. In stark contrast, 78% of employees said they are ready to learn new skills. At the risk of sounding sensational, this gap spells an emergency for organizations.

There’s no doubt in any business leader’s mind that their team will need to adapt in the coming years, whether they oversee 200 employees or 2,000. The question is how. Employees can only answer that question in part — the rest is up to how leaders move away from siloed operations, create pathways for learning by elevating HR’s importance, and develop an optimized ecosystem of learning and talent that supports both their employees and their business goals. That’s where organizational maturity comes in.

If you’re looking for strong business performance, you’ll need a more adaptive HR strategy and a more agile workforce. With this in mind, here is your guide to moving from silos to a truly optimized, people-centric organization.

Understanding the five stages of organizational maturity

SumTotal developed the SumTotal Organisational Maturity Index (OMI) based on input from our 6,700+ customers and 35+ years of experience.

The SumTotal OMI gauges an organization’s current maturity level across nine critical indicators of maturity success and five overarching stages of organizational maturity:

  1. In the first stage, learning and talent are completely siloed in process and philosophy, organizational culture is conventionally hierarchical, and HR is reactive instead of proactive.
  2. Once an organization reaches the second stage, HR begins to create pathways between talent and learning, typically once executives buy into employee engagement. This is also the stage at which HR and learning teams start to collaborate.
  3. The third stage is where true transformation starts to take place as learning and HR abandon stale practices in a push for agility. This is often accompanied by a people-centric philosophy, stronger governance, and modern infrastructure and technology. Together, these efforts should begin to support employee participation and self-direction.
  4. In the fourth stage, learning and talent experiences are cohesive, continuous, and personal. Workforce culture is adaptive, while HR operates in closer coordination with other business units. It’s at this stage that both HR and learning take an elevated role in the wider organization.
  5. In the fifth stage, the organization is self-developing and mature. Learning and talent are fully integrated and empowered to let employees take control of their development and career trajectories. Best yet, HR can tie its efforts to business key performance indicators (KPIs) because of the adaptability offered by new programs and the visibility provided by new technology.

How can companies move quickly up the maturity chain?

The best way to build a future-fit organization is to nurture a learning culture by giving your leaders and learners the tools they need to grow. But how do you get there? If you’re at Stage 1, how do you progress to Stage 5?

As technological progress outpaces organizational productivity, the only way to accelerate growth is to close the gap between technology and productivity with effective talent management and adaptive learning development. In other words, it’s time for more than just Zoom training and informal Slack conversations.

HR functions must be treated as a proactive force driving employee engagement, empowerment, and growth. It is crucial to elevate HR’s role and people strategy and integrate it into all executive decision-making. This will then allow learning, talent, and workforce functions to merge fully, and culture becomes both more people-centric and strategic.

With this in place, governance can come into play. HR teams can begin to implement more controls and tools to gain a stronger handle on decision-making, forward-looking plans, resources, and cost. And with measurement comes optimization; organizations can tweak and adaptively grow their strategies, creating a self-developing, collaborative Learning and Development ecosystem.

The five stages of maturity have not changed over the past six years since the tool was developed, but the outcomes have become far more urgent. Becoming a mature company means placing HR firmly in the C-suite and setting yourself up as an employer of choice that nurtures and develops teams and people from the moment they interview for a role. Without setting yourself on this trajectory, employees will have no hesitation about looking elsewhere.

Rhys Hughes, vice president of APAC at SumTotal Systems, wrote this article.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of DigitalWorkforceTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/Anton Vierietin