Infrastructure programmes typically span many years. They require a vast range of capabilities to combine at the right time to deliver successful outcomes. For example, when added together the phases of HS2 will take between 17 and 24 years to deliver, working nationwide with hundreds of organisations. The skills required to deliver this vary from planning, to change implementation, to deep technical engineering expertise.
In parallel, there is significant change happening in the way people want to work and their career aspirations. Today, many workplaces are composed of five generations. In turn, this brings a diverse range of complexities, motivations and expectations within one organisation. Individuals no longer join organisations for life but tend to look for experiences between 3 and 5 years - often far shorter than the life of an infrastructure programme.
In addition, there continues to be rapid advances and opportunities in data, automation and enabling technologies such as distributed ledgers.
In this context it is possible to observe a ‘two speed organisation’. This describes two groups of people. The first is motivated and change ready, comfortable with disruption and new technology. The second is struggling with the requirements of a digital age, but still has valuable experience and subject matter expertise.
Whilst this is somewhat of a generalisation it can be observed in reality. The two ‘speeds’ present both a challenge and an opportunity for organisations.
So how can talent and engagement be maximised through these long term programmes, whilst the world around continues to change?
Organisations need focus and commitment to meet this challenge and capitalise on the opportunity. They also require the capability to adapt and utilise market changes to their advantage through the journey.
Perhaps most importantly, long-term programmes and individuals ‘agree’ on wanting a key attribute: agility. In this context agility is characterised as increased flexibility in both structures and employer/employee agreements and ways of working.
There are several ways to achieve this agility and harness the opportunity of a two-speed organisation. Here are two ideas:
1. Create “talent pools” for transformation within the organisation. This occurs when each function has dedicated staff that can be deployed flexibly over time. It allows support for projects and transformation activity. It can be effective where organisations need to be agile in their response to customers and when there is a high volume of change. Hiring for the talent pool could be done on this basis, reinforced by emphasising the importance of transferable skills via robust and transparent recruitment, supporting training and competency frameworks.
It may be that this doesn’t suit everyone, but one of the ‘speed’ groups of people is likely to connect into this very quickly as a concept. The other group is likely to be more content in longer term SME roles in any event.
Many organisations ‘react’ against this approach for e.g. cost reasons as it can seem hard to account for. However they, typically end up doing it anyway to cope, just informally and poorly with under-developed capability!
2. The second opportunity is to create an agile and learning mindset throughout the organisation. This makes is easier to flex to changing opportunities, customer demand and evolving technologies. This requires a shift in the people strategy to focus on developing and rewarding “skills for life” such as adaptability, resilience and the ability to solve complex problems, in addition to a shift in culture promoting a safe space for teams to trial, fail and learn.
To make either of these a success, you have to adapt your operating model. This requires crafting a shared, compelling vision with strong engagement. It needs top-down strategic alignment to business needs and bottom-up views of the business and delivery teams.
We don’t believe this challenge is going to ease. We believe these kinds of approach will not only be required in managing and exciting your talent over time, but also in order to attract them in the first place. How are you planning to respond?
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Lauren has over four years' project management experience at FTSE 100 clients. She has supported large business, cultural & technology transformation programmes across the public and private sector