Talent agility: The missing piece in the business agility puzzle

Johann van Niekerk, Co-founder and CEO of Outsized, believes business leaders are overlooking a crucial component in their pursuit of agility – talent agility.

In turbulent and unpredictable markets, the ability to adapt swiftly is critical, and van Niekerk argues that talent agility enables businesses to pivot and respond adroitly to changing conditions. Rather than being constrained by rigid organisational structures, an agile talent model allows companies and their workforce to seamlessly realign, upskill, and fill gaps as needed.

“Rigid organisations, with fixed capabilities, find it very difficult to pivot or shift in periods of volatility,” says van Niekerk. “If a large corporation had enjoyed a few years of success in a growth market, it’s likely that they would have made plans to expand over the next three to five years, including hiring more people. But in the face of a sudden change, like a major economic downturn or a shift in the market which forces it to cut costs, redundancies will be almost unavoidable because it’s operating in a fixed-cost, fixed-capability model.”

The Solution: Talent-on-Demand

Van Niekerk advocates for a talent-on-demand strategy coupled with talent agility, which he believes offers clear benefits. “A more flexible organisation is able to break up work into project-based components that it can deliver quickly, while the market is still behaving the way it was when the project started,” he explains.

For instance, a department with a core team of 15 permanently employed individuals could bring in an additional 15 independent professionals during periods of heightened demand or project-based work. “In a variable-cost, flexible-capability model, the business recognises that it doesn’t need 30 people year-round and is able to reap the benefits of being more agile and more resilient to shocks,” van Niekerk notes.

Making It Work

While the concept seems straightforward, van Niekerk acknowledges that successfully implementing a talent agility strategy requires careful consideration of several key aspects:

1. Leadership Alignment: Businesses can approach talent-on-demand from either a business or HR perspective. Van Niekerk advocates for a hybrid approach that combines the speed and practicality of a business-led model with the detail-oriented, compliance-focused approach of an HR-led model.

2. Robust Onboarding: Ensuring a structured and well-designed onboarding process for independent consultants and contractors is critical. Legal, procurement, payroll, and compliance issues must be addressed upfront to mitigate risks and set up independent hires for success.

3. Pilot Testing: No talent model is perfect on paper. Van Niekerk recommends pilot testing on a small scale, learning from real-world experiences, and quickly applying those lessons before scaling up.

As more executives embrace agile talent models, van Niekerk believes businesses that successfully implement talent agility will be well-positioned to transform their growth and profitability trajectories.

Read next: How women could solve the technology industry’s talent drought



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