Five key steps to improving workforce agility


Debra Timmerman

Vice President, MSP Solutions, Direct Sourcing, Career Transitions and Executive Coaching

In today’s business world, there’s really one thing that’s certain – and that’s uncertainty. We’ve seen time and again how markets can change in a flash, whether it’s the result of new technologies, changing consumer expectations or external shocks.

As a result, the companies that thrive are those that are nimble enough to change tack quickly – and one of the most important components of that capability is workforce agility. Whether it’s bringing people on when the business is scaling up to meet demand or redeploying resources in response to shifting market conditions, how companies manage their workforce is more important than ever.

Yet our 2022 Re:work Report, for which we surveyed 1,000 senior executives across 12 countries, suggests many businesses are struggling to deliver true workforce agility. Those that are doing best were found among the “Vanguard” companies – those firms that the research identified as most likely to report increased revenue, profitability, and productivity.

Here are five lessons to take from the Vanguards’ approach to building workforce agility.

1. Get better visibility of the talent mix across your business

Too many businesses are still in the dark about the talent in their businesses, with as many as 32% of firms admitting they have a problem with poor visibility of the current talent mix and their future needs.

It’s a widespread problem among the businesses I speak with, but the good news is that there are solutions. With better processes and reporting tools, companies can cut through the fog. The Vanguards point the way: approaching half (43%) say they have adopted tools and technologies to improve the visibility of their talent mix, compared to just 27% of the rest. Better understanding your workforce is a critical first step for improving workforce agility.

2. Prioritize diversity, equity and inclusion

Building diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) isn’t just about fairness and doing the right thing. Research shows that having the best and broadest mix of talent, who bring different points of view to the table, is crucial for innovation and problem solving. I strongly believe that no business can afford to neglect any group of people as a potential source of talent.

In our research, Vanguards were more likely than other companies to have taken a range of steps forward on DEI. But whether it is on the representation of women, inclusion of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic background, or other dimensions of diversity, we know business still has a way to go – and it’s a key foundation for workforce agility.

3. Unlock the full value of your contingent workforce

Our research shows many firms are starting to take a more strategic approach to the use of contingent workers. Rather than seeing the contingent workforce as a stop-gap solution, many firms realize that contingent employees can infuse their business with new skills and perspectives. Vanguards are ahead of the pack, with 52% saying they have a clear strategy for contingent talent and 46% perceiving contingent talent to be as well-qualified as permanent talent (vs just 33% and 32% of the rest).

Contingent talent offers firms rapid access to the skills they need to pivot towards new business opportunities. Malcolm O’Neal, SVP of Human Resources at MRC Global, told us that the targeted use of contingent talent has been crucial for his business as it has entered a period of high growth. “The contingency concept allows us to really move fast,” says O’Neal.

4. Adopt the right tools and technologies to manage a rapidly changing workforce

Vanguard firms are far more likely to have adopted a range of tools and technologies that help them unlock the power of data to manage their workforce agility: from reporting on the talent mix, to analytics on key employee metrics such as wellbeing and retention.

That includes the use of data analytics to improve talent forecasting (adopted by 42% of Vanguards, vs 25% of the rest). Their potential is huge, as Anthony Webster, EVP and CHRO at Evoqua Water Technologies, told us. “The big thing that we’re focused on now is predictive analytics for hiring,” says Webster. “For a given type of role, if you have x plus y plus z – whether it be the company that the candidate is coming from, or their educational background, or whatever it may be – does that lead to higher or lower attrition?”

The insights generated through predictive analytics could be game-changing for managing workforce agility.

5. Outsource strategically and work collaboratively with external partners

A final lesson that I take from the research is about the value that Vanguards take from collaborating with specialists in the talent and recruitment space to complement inhouse HR capabilities. Vanguards are 1.5x more likely to outsource contingent-workforce management to a specialist provider (32% vs 21%).

The approach can help firms to move faster than they could alone. Malcolm O’Neal told us that MRC Global rethought its whole approach to hiring as it went into high-growth mode. “What has evolved for us is a new ‘as-a-service’ model,” he explains. “Rather than try to build out our own talent acquisition function, we’ve formed a strategic alignment with external partners to develop recruiting-as-a-service.” It is an approach that has worked well.

We would love to hear how you see the future of workforce agility developing – and if you would like to chat about how we could help support your business’s workforce agility, please get in touch.


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