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Five golden rules for implementing agile working

Fiona Cannon on how to shift the perception of agile working from employee benefit to business advantage

One of the golden rules organisations must follow to successfully implement agile working is to ensure that the development is business-led. HR leaders and business leaders should collaborate to create agile working practices that address not only employee needs but those of the business and its customers.

But how do HR leaders, many of whom have long been promoting the benefits of flexible working, secure the buy-in of other business leaders?

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Demonstrating the positive impact that agile working can have on the bottom line is key.

My book The Agility Mindset is the result of four years of research and testing new models of work by the Agile Future Forum (AFF), an alliance of leading UK companies including Lloyds Banking Group, BT, Cisco, ITV, John Lewis, KPMG, Willis Towers Watson and Ford of Britain.

The AFF’s unique research demonstrates that in the areas reviewed, agile working practices saved 3% to 13% of workforce costs, with the opportunity to increase that by 3% to 7% if agile working practices were implemented more extensively. In a case study produced for the AFF, Black Horse Finance saw the productivity of its new business and fleet operations department increase by 10% after introducing agile working practices. Colleague engagement also rose by 7%.

This result is particularly relevant when you consider recent research by AFF member McKinsey & Company for the Productivity Leadership Group. It found that if the UK continues at its current rate it will be 32% less productive per hour worked than the US and Germany by 2025, and that if the UK closed just half the productivity gap it would add an extra £400 billion per year to the economy by 2025.

The Agility Mindset is intended to be a practical toolkit to help businesses enact agile working to benefit individual organisations, as well as the UK economy as a whole. The AFF has created five golden rules to help organisations overcome traditional barriers to implementation:

  1. Be business-led
    The business needs to lead on the development of agile working practices. Committed collaboration between business and HR leaders will generate working practices that are able to address business, customer and employee needs.
  2. Understand the needs of the business and the workforce
    Begin with a clear idea of business objectives, use this to develop a view of the ideal workforce, and then work out how agility can help to achieve both. Understand what employees value and work with them to develop agile practices. Considering value to both employer and employee will lead to balanced, and more effective, agile practices.
  3. Develop the agile working model bottom-up
    When developing your agile business model make sure you approach it at the right level – usually a single operation or business unit at a time, rather than across the whole organisation. When extending agile working practices there will always be specific requirements that need to be addressed; one size does not fit all.
  4. Consider big, strategic changes
    In some cases small changes to agile working can have a big impact – introducing a new shift pattern to meet increasing demand, for example. However, gaining the full benefits will require a larger change – a shift in planning philosophy, a change in operating model, or a new employee value proposition. The more ambitious you are willing to be the greater the potential benefits.
  5. Educate leadership first
    The attitude of management can be a barrier to introducing agile working, so getting senior business leaders on board is vital. Implementing new agile working practices is not easy, but the benefits of a more agile organisation – one that performs better and has a more engaged workforce – make this a worthwhile investment of management effort and time.

Fiona Cannon is the author of The Agility Mindset, director of the Agile Future Forum, and group director of diversity and inclusion for Lloyds Banking Group