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Leadership Agility: Are You Prepared to Lead an Organization in 2021?

The human capital management (HCM) professional's role as a partner in the strategic deployment of imperatives will continue to be at the forefront when reshaping organizations going into 2021. Many journals and articles that discuss organizational readiness in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world highlight the need for organizational agility. DeRue et al. (2015) emphasizes that while many large companies seek agility within the enterprise, very few evolve or fully understand the true competency of an agile leader. This agility is demonstrated by the ability to execute intentional and practical solutions in the middle of complex and evolving conditions.


Deploying and Motivating a Sustainable Workforce

One of the challenges going into 2021 is orienting a workforce balance to sustain needed agility, so as to lead the marketplace to success in a VUCA global economy. HCM professionals can address uncertainty by employing holistic approaches to prepare agile leaders to form integrated product teams representing cross-organizational functions. Members with in-depth knowledge of certain business operations can serve as architects and design thinkers creating prototype solutions that address internal and external stakeholder concerns. The agile leader will seek solutions that accelerate positive employee behavior, while mitigating enterprise risks. Agile teams can test prototype solutions through scenario planning, which allows for sampling of new solutions' viability before full deployment.


Budgeting for the Unknown

The COVID-19 pandemic is prompting chief financial officers to introduce additional financial measures to traditional budget planning in response to the uncertainty of 2021. HCM professionals will be asked to provide input to guide the preparation of multiple budget plans: for a workforce that may variously return to work, incrementally return or continue to operate in remote locations. The challenges will be how best to allocate funding aligned to capital expenditures such as facilities, equipment and even cafeteria staff.


Agile Leadership

Cognitive evaluation theory reveals that a focus on competency and motivation is intrinsically influenced by environment and context (Hagger & Chatzisarantis, 2007). The agile leader's ability to identify problems and analyze opportunities in critical situations is vitally important to future solutions that will strengthen employee engagement and provide adequate cognitive safety. 

Human capital strategy formulation should include the importance of employee engagement, trust, and continuous candid discussions in 2021. A recent article inside McKinsey Global Institute polled 800 executives envisioning the post-pandemic workforce (Dua et al., 2020). Many of the leaders polled have accelerated and deployed digitization and automation as a competitive solution. New roles in 2021 will concentrate on hiring individuals in health and safety, data scientists, and learning and development experts who can deploy digital learning introducing agile ways of working. 

While some may see the global economy's shift and uncertainty as doom and gloom, others will embrace the opportunity, accelerate technology and launch new methodologies to manage the future workforce effectively. Our role as HCM professionals is to partner with our leaders to provide them with guidance, processes and training. We are to mobilize collective solutions bounded by candor, psychological safety and the mutual trust required to lead into 2021.



DeRue, D., Ashford, S. J., & Myers, C. G. (2015). Learning Agility: In Search of Conceptual Clarity and Theoretical Grounding. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 5(3), 258-279. 

Dua, A., Cheng, W.-L., Lund, S., Smet, A. D., Robinson, O., & Sanghvi, S. (2020). What 800 executives envision for the postpandemic workforceFuture of Work

Hagger, M., & Chatzisarantis, N. (2007). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Exercise and Sport. Human Kinetics, Inc.