Survival of the fittest: Creating an agile workforce begins with your people

Any SME owner will acknowledge that the success of a company lies with their staff. Hiring and retaining highly competent people within your industry is widely considered the magic ingredient in ensuring your business continues to grow and achieve objectives.

While securing impressive new talent is one key element in bolstering your workforce, you cannot afford to neglect their development once you get them through the door. So how does your business stack up in promoting a culture of continued learning and development opportunities?

The recent SmartCompany SME Directions Survey showed only 21.4% of respondents plan to invest in education and training of their staff in the next 12 months, yet nearly 50% flagged a moderate skills shortage and 16.4% indicated a huge skills shortage in their respective industries.

Given the pace at which global business now moves due to integration with technology and a competitive market, the difference between organisations that thrive and those that flounder comes down to the classic theory of natural selection; only responsive businesses that adapt quickly to change will reach their full potential.

So, what are some of the ways you can go about building and maintaining an agile workforce?

Go back to the beginning

Take a step back and reassess your short and long-term business goals.

Richenda Vermeulen, founder of the digital strategy agency Ntegr!ty, says this analysis will help you highlight the areas where your individual employees may require extra training to achieve your overarching strategy.

“This is a question our clients come to us with all the time, and one of the first things we do is a performance analysis to get a broader understanding of the overall skillsets,” she says.

“For instance, knowing how you perform digitally, where you need to grow, and where your strategy is taking you.”  

Get creative

Sam Bell, general manager of corporate services and research at the Australian Institute of Management explains that while short courses and accredited learning modules are a popular choice and inherently valuable, business owners need to think bigger — or smaller, as it happens — than this.

“I think employers have seen over time that three-day courses don’t necessarily translate to increased performance,” says Bell.

“Now they say, let’s provide staff with some content on how to communicate. It could be videos, reading a great article… it doesn’t have to be a full course all the time,” he says.

“More and more businesses are wanting to see really targeted training [for] where the weakness is.”

Vermeulen further suggests that bringing in external help for more specialised training is a solution that not only specifically targets training to your business’s needs but offers the advantage of speed. Don’t shy away from requesting bespoke programs that fit your training requirements and timeframe.

Be an ‘always-learning’ workplace

Offering tailored training to employees not only helps businesses stay competitive in their day-to-day operational practices but also incrementally fosters a culture of responsiveness that the modern workforce demands.

Manpower’s The Skills Revolution survey, which questioned 18,000 employers in 43 countries, found the majority of employers recognise the need for workers to have accomplished soft skills as well as opportunities for further professional development as it contends with the ever-evolving digital economy.

“For people, employability — the ability to gain and maintain a desired job — no longer depends on what you already know, but on what you are likely to learn. Those organisations that can blend the right combination of people, skills and technology are those that will win,” the survey says.

Create win-win relationships with your employees

Part of creating a valuable and effective workforce not only relies on business owners investing in formal training opportunities but taking an active interest in their employees’ personal development to generate intrinsic motivation.

Both Bell and Vermeulen agree that business leaders need to encourage a culture of curiosity, embed this into employees’ job descriptions and explicitly offer staff opportunities to upskill.

“Give people time in their job descriptions. What time are they given for development? Even listing that people are required to come up with one insight a month that informs strategy – and make it a KPI,” Bell says.

Investing in upskilling your workforce results in a mutually beneficial, inclusive relationship between SME owners and staff that results in a culture of continued learning and responsiveness to business challenges.


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