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Digital talent: sensible defaults for an agile organization (part one)

Our blog series focusing on digital talent for the modern workplace explores how agile organizations can align their digital talent strategy with their business goals, foster a progressive and unified culture, and rally towards a shared sense of purpose and meaning. This blog is the first in the series and looks at sensible defaults that help make the most of an organization’s digital talent.


A sensible default is a predefined practice designed to ensure the consistent implementation of specific policies and processes. It aids decision-making. For instance, when it comes to talent acquisition and management, sensible defaults could include job descriptions and performance evaluations. 


However, a default that’s outdated, yet blindly followed, can do more harm than good. For example, job descriptions that only mention sought-after skills and don't fully capture the role’s expectations can alienate top candidates who want to understand what the role can do for their career.  Performance evaluations that rely only on objectives may not accurately reflect the employees' duties and goals. In fact, in most cases, traditional talent practices like annual reviews and hierarchical career paths no longer meet workforce needs. This misalignment can make employees feel undervalued and misunderstood.


What organizations need is agile talent management practices that prioritize continuous learning, feedback and career development. They need a new set of sensible defaults. Here’s a starting point for creating those.

Empower teams  


Empowering teams creates a collaborative, engaged and high-performing workforce. It promotes autonomy and support for team members, leading to higher engagement, job satisfaction and productivity. It promotes creativity and innovation, encouraging new ideas and solutions. Here are some approaches that can help empower teams:


  • Set clear expectations, goals and priorities that guide decision-making


  • Encourage team members to take ownership


  • Provide resources and support such as training, tools and access to information


  • Offer regular feedback and recognition to build confidence and motivation


  • Celebrate successes and learn from failures as a team


Establish clear communication channels


Effective communication is critical for a collaborative and aligned workplace. Consistency is key to avoid misunderstanding and misinformation. Here is how clear comms channels can be set up:


  • Set up regular team meetings and check-ins to discuss goals, priorities and progress


  • Use open company-wide email or intranet to share news and announcements


  • Set up a chat platform to facilitate quick communication


  • Have open door policies and stay approachable


  • Conduct regular employee surveys to gather feedback


Encourage continuous learning


To create an adaptable and flexible work environment, ongoing learning and development is crucial. Here are our recommendations:


  • Provide access to learning resources


  • Create clear learning objectives that align with a team member’s role and career aspirations


  • Encourage knowledge sharing and peer-to-peer learning


  • Measure learning outcomes against objectives


  • Recognize and reward employees who demonstrate a commitment to ongoing learning and development


  • Integrate learning and development initiatives into performance reviews and career advancement plans


Decentralize decision-making 


Decentralizing decision-making to employees can improve efficiency, promote creativity and empower staff. This approach enables organizations to leverage the collective intelligence of their workforce and remain agile in a rapidly-changing business environment. However, decentralized decision-making should not mean ignoring structure or direction. Here is our guidance on going the decentralizing route:


  • Communicate company objectives and values clearly


  • Establish guidelines for decision-making and set clear boundaries


  • Set employee goals to help them understand what they need to achieve and how they contribute to the organization


  • Provide employees with resources and support to make informed decisions


  • Encourage collecting diverse perspectives while making decisions


Foster experimentation and risk-taking 


Encouraging innovation involves empowering employees to take calculated risks and try new ideas, even if it means occasional failures. This approach encourages creativity and problem-solving. Teams can learn from their mistakes, make improvements and achieve better outcomes. 


However, experimentation must be done prudently, considering potential consequences. An experimentative culture shouldn't mean taking risks without assessing potential negative outcomes. Here is our take on this:


  • Create a safe environment where teams can test new ideas and approaches


  • Encourage employees to learn from their missteps and use them to improve their work


  • Set clear boundaries for experimentation and risk-taking


  • Provide employees with necessary resources, support and autonomy to try new ideas and take calculated risks


  • Celebrate failures and successes equally


Promote continuous feedback 


Ongoing positive and constructive feedback to team members can improve their performance and create a culture of open communication. Here is how you can ensure healthy practices:


  • Allow employees to receive timely feedback, make adjustments and improve performance


  • Encourage employees to receive feedback from their peers as well


  • Use technology to facilitate feedback


  • Equip employees with the right set of tools and techniques for giving and receiving feedback


The first step to building an agile and adaptable workplace is recognizing when traditional sensible defaults are no longer effective. To keep up with the changing demands of the workforce, organizations should create sensible defaults that reflect today’s digital talent environment.. This means moving beyond conventional talent practices and adopting practices that foster a nimble and versatile workplace.

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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