The Power of ‘and’ in balancing stability and flexibility for your people

September 10, 2021

People, or talent, is the most important asset of an organization to stay ahead of their competition. The focus of any organization should be on retaining talent, fostering cross learning within the organization, and leveraging redeployment of experience, skills, and capabilities.

Over the last years, and especially accelerated after the pandemic, organizations struggle to meet employee demands on physical and mental health needs as well as their moral concerns about an organization’s contribution to society. This difficulty comes from a false trade-off: the assumption that organizations can only increase productivity and enhance knowledge development by organizing themselves around stability, and therefore forget about the ‘people side’ of the organization to stimulate individual learning opportunities and retain new talent. The human element has been lost and we need to respond by creating a more dynamic talent operating model that is fit for future generations of people and work.

So how do you create a balanced environment which appropriately allows for both the stability to stay productive and enables the demands and ambitions of the employees simultaneously?

Based on our experiences as transformation consultants at Blinklane, we have come across and worked with various organizations pondering on this dilemma. There is no by the book solution. We believe a powerful solution lies in the balancing act of both stability and flexibility while putting your people first. This can only be achieved if you truly understand your people, align their personal goals to business objectives, and invest time to tailor the approach to the individual.

Understand the New Generation

From an organizational perspective, stability in the form of creating stable teams make perfect sense since they are beneficial to the business preserving the acquired knowledge, lessons learned and the performance of the team. However, high-performing professionals want to try new things, learn adjacent skills, take on international assignments and work with different leaders. New generations are even more characterized by a desire to want to make an impact. On the surface, this seems to be an excellent fit with the Agile organization as it offers both the freedom and autonomy to self-organize and develop. However, these types of professionals often experience a discord between their expectations of an Agile organization and the possible development opportunities.

Many organizations have a blind spot for capitalizing the most promising talent within their company. They are seen – but because they are good, they are kept doing what they are doing. Therefore, growth opportunities outside of their sphere are not considered. In our field we come across people feeling trapped in a team, losing interest in its purpose, and seeking for new opportunities to learn in and outside of the team. This creates tension with the flat, team-based structure of an Agile organization where we focus on organizing value around stable, long-lived teams. These teams are characterized by working cross-functionally together full time on the same assignment and stay together for a longer period, even after the initial assignment is finished. This means that organizations must trade some stability for personal development, but how can they do both at the same time?

As mentioned before, we see an organizational paradigm shift, the balancing act of stability and flexibility, while striving to optimize speed and value delivery. Key is to align the business strategy to the people strategy, in other words: the business value proposition is part of the value proposition for employees, to leverage their skills and capabilities and experiences.

Think of an internal Talent marketplace

The Talent Marketplace is an operating model letting people promote their skills and aspirations; it gives people tools to find and learn from mentors; stimulates creativity and innovation; it recommends projects and assignments that are of interest; and it manages the search, hiring, onboarding, and moving of people from role to role. There are various underlying principles to establishing a talent marketplace, the main principle is aligning employee goals with the organization’s interest.

There are various potential benefits of a talent marketplaces, the first being: productivity. All organizations seek to become more productive. For this to happen, its people need to become more productive. This should not be read as though people need to work harder. Rather it focuses on how to leverage the different expertise in the organization and matching this to executing in the organization.

It starts by asking the question ‘what skills does the organization have? Is the organization able to identify where the skills are in the organization? And can the organization deploy them when it is needed? This calls for a gap analysis to identify what is needed to execute on the strategy and how to operationalize the strategy and the people.

Talent marketplace is not a short-term quick win, it requires commitment and dedication for the long-term. There is also no step-by-step recipe to design and implement a talent marketplace. It calls for customization and an iterative and incremental approach. Firstly, a good understanding of the challenges the organization is facing, which can be presented as an opportunity for improvement. Followed by formulating hypotheses that are tested and validated early in the design process.

Focus on your people

Competition is fierce. Focus your efforts on retaining talent, fostering cross learning within your organization and leverage redeployment of experience, skills, and capabilities. We believe this can only be done if you truly understand your people, align personal goals to business objectives, and invest time to tailor the approach. It is a balancing act of both stability and flexibility while putting your people first.

About the authors

Eveline Sintnicolaas and Kelly Hauwert are both transformation consultant at the Amsterdam office of BlinkLane Consulting.