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Diversity and inclusion key to agility post-pandemic

Businesses are keen to increase their workforce agility in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the majority believe that increasing diversity and creating an inclusive culture is a key way to achieve this, according to new research.

Accelerating Workforce Agility and Resilience, a study by global professional services firm Aon, found that workforce agility, defined as the ability to quickly move employees into new roles or areas of the organisation to support changing business needs, is vital to the future success of organisations.

The majority (83%) of survey respondents in the UK view workforce agility as very important or extremely important to the future success of their organisation following the onset of the pandemic. However, only 40% of respondents said they currently view their workforces as very agile or extremely agile.

“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 and represents a major challenge for companies looking to reshape their business and human capital strategies,” said Pete Bentley, chief commercial officer for Aon’s Human Capital business.

When asked to assess 10 key factors needed to build and maintain an agile workforce, the ability to attract and retain diverse employees and create an inclusive culture was selected as either very important or extremely important by 88% of UK respondents.

The only two factors that ranked higher were technology tools and infrastructure (94%) and communications tools and infrastructure (91%).

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“Diversity helps to drive agility. Many of the leaders I work with value diversity across their organisations because diverse teams share different perspectives,” commented Simon Hayward, CEO of Cirrus and author of The Agile Leader, speaking to HR magazine.

“They look at things from different angles. Together they can form a diverse understanding of the challenges they face, which helps encourage deeper collaboration and richer solutions.”

Hayward said agile organisations are better placed to handle an uncertain future.

“If your business is an agile one, you are better at innovating to create new solutions with focus and speed. You can react and adapt to ever-changing circumstances.

“Many organisations still operate in quite traditional ways, with hierarchical structures and employees operating within clearly defined functions. These things can be barriers to agility. To build a more agile workforce, you need to encourage more cross-functional collaboration and develop more multi-skilled employees.”

A significant investment in L&D and widespread cultural change, Hayward said, are both needed to achieve agility.

He added: “In practice it is best to start by ‘lighting fires’ across your organisation wherever you find real problems that need creative breakthrough. In this way you can generate a bottom-up momentum, a movement from within the organisation, which attracts others so that they want to join in.”

The Aon study was carried out from 17 to 25 August 2020 and received responses from 2,004 HR leaders and professionals globally, including 578 from the UK.