Results From Our Global Research: The Future Belongs to the Agile

At Workday Rising last week, thousands of professionals gathered to peer into the future of the changing world of work. They heard about innovations and initiatives aimed at, among other things, helping organizations become more adaptable and responsive.  

In other words, the future belongs to the agile.

New research offers a look at why. A global survey commissioned by Workday queried 988 C-Suite executives and leaders, a third of whom have finance leadership roles, about organizational agility. The results show how businesses that recognize the importance of agility—and equip themselves to achieve it—do better than those that don’t.

Companies report stronger performance when they embrace agile ways of working: breaking down bureaucracy, eliminating data and process silos, building a workforce with modern skills, and prioritizing technologies that evolve along with them. In fact, those companies are 10 times more likely to react to shifts in the market with agility and speed. That’s a big advantage at a time when change is accelerating.

Most organizations, however, aren’t in a position to report such promising metrics—and it appears relying on slow, inefficient planning processes is at least partly preventing them. Just 25% of finance executives are confident that their planning processes equip them to be responsive to economic and geopolitical shifts. This responsiveness is a defining feature of active planning environments—which are continuous, comprehensive, and collaborative—because they position decision-makers not only to act fast, but even to anticipate what might happen next.

Among the 75% who don’t engage in active planning, they reported they’re held back by three primary obstacles: inflexible and outdated legacy planning systems, siloed planning processes that stymie collaboration, and a lack of relevant workforce skills. 

Agile Thinkers Are the Future of Finance

Companies that plan to win take a holistic view of agility. They recognize that tomorrow’s winners will equip their workforces with the skills, mindsets, and tools that allow them to think and act with agility.

Of course, this requires building a culture of agility. But this is about much more than just corporate mission statements. Workday’s research found that in the next five years, half of all finance leaders plan to upskill at least half of their workforce.

To do that, they will look for new skills centered on wielding modern technology. For instance, 22% of finance executives believe the ability to interpret and act upon predictions made with machine learning will be the most valuable skill to their function over the next five years. Even more (27%) say the ability to use advanced analytics and data visualization will provide the greatest value. What will be different in the future is that powerful planning tools will take these once-specialized capabilities and democratize them so that people throughout an organization—not just highly trained analysts—can put these very skills to work in various functional departments, from HR and sales to finance and operations.

In the workforce of tomorrow, executives will also look for new ways of thinking. For instance, one in three finance leaders say they will look to hire and develop workers who possess an ability to identify and manage risk. One in four will seek employees who demonstrate the cognitive agility needed to contend with constant change, and who can produce creative ideas and utilize lateral thinking to solve problems and grow the business.

Throughout the world, successful organizations are already marrying these traits to create their own cultures of agility. Orchestrated by finance, company-wide planning pushes data-driven insight to the people closest to the business, allowing them to collaborate in real time on departmental and functional plans. These then feed into the strategic corporate plan, and finance and business users alike have confidence knowing they’re all working from a single source of data.

In these organizations—the leaders that are showing the rest of the world the way forward—continuous planning is key to agility. And it’s exactly what the age of urgency demands.

This article first appeared on the blog of Adaptive Insights, a Workday company.