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The tasks as an “Agile Leader” 

By Agnes Szeberenyi

The “War for Talents” describes the struggle, respectively the increasing competitive pressure of companies,for qualified employees. One of the main reasons for this is the growing competition, which is extending more and more to a global level. In today’s world, it is no longer just local companies that have to be considered as competitors. Internationally operating companies are also involved, regardless of location. Hence, thedemands on employers and thus also on executives are increasing; competencies and skills of employees have to be continuously developed in order to retain the talents hired. We talked to Adrian Zwingli, Chairman of the Agile Leadership Day & Business Agility Day, about precisely these challenges.

What challenges do “Agile Leaders” face?

Leaders in Agile organizations have several tasks. They are responsible for managing the daily business, deal with shaping the future and the transformation of the organization. In addition, there is the challenge of finding the right talents who fit into the company culture and bring the right skills, and then being able to retain them in the company. 

What can companies do to attract such talent?

There are very good examples of employer branding campaigns; companies are selling themselves to candidates as suitable, attractive and modern employers. Everyone wants to attract the best digital talent to the company.

But this question should not only be asked by the recruiting team. Of course, the “right” people have to be hired first. But in order to keep them in the company, employees need to be supported and developed. It is also important to maintain a good relationship with them. Among other things, this is also the task of a leader. In reality, however, the “high talents” are handled in exactly the same way as they were 20 years ago.

What does that mean in concrete terms?

We are currently organizing a double conference on the topic of DevOps and Testing for software engineers and people from the testing area. When you ask these people if they will attend the conference, they often answer: “My boss won’t let me attend because we don’t have time to learn” or “Day-to-day business leaves no room for further development”. This is quite astonishing, considering the image these companies project to the outside world. Moreover, it is devastating; employees want to be fit for the job and the future.

So is time the decisive factor? Or could it also be for budget reasons?

Actually, both reasons are mentioned. Many companies say they don’t have the budget to let their employees attend conferences or trainings. This fact has become more common over the past two years. The same companies, on the other hand, complain that they can hardly keep the talent they have gained.

If you are already investing a lot of money in employer branding and the recruiting of talent, you should also work on retaining them. In the end, it is much more expensive to let talent move on than to provide the necessary training. Even when budgets are tight, a good leader will find a way to put the necessary steps in place for their employees to develop.

The range of e-learning and internal training options is enormous. Are “expensive” external courses or attending conferences still necessary?

LinkedIn courses or Coursera licenses are not the kind of continuing education and knowledge enhancement that high-talents are looking for. Such courses can provide a basis for knowledge building. However, they do not provide the opportunity for exchange with colleagues in similar fields. The network, inspiration and drive can only come from personal exchange. In addition, the knowledge gained from the previously mentioned examples of other companies can be applied directly in everyday life. Conferences thus broaden the horizon of solutions and increase the strength of implementation.

What are you doing to develop your skill?? 

For me, learning means to further develop oneself. This happens on different levels: e.g. through daily retros, a clean daily planning where clear goals are set and improvement potential is elicited, or through executive education. It is often very challenging to find the time to do this. But if you invest the time, you can save a lot of time and effort in the daily life that would otherwise be spent on problem solving.

Further, it is important to have the right long-range vision. To know what will happen to our company in the near, medium and long term. How do influencing factors press on our organization and how can I as a leader enable the organization and employees to deal with these influencing factors? If you only use answers from past insights, you will be slow. Good talents need a vision.

What can you contribute as a leader to give this vision?

“Fit for the Future” is a mindset that employees must also possess themselves. It is a leadership task, but also a self-management task. Talents should deal with it on a daily basis. They must be given support in order to be able to develop further. Topics and areas that make sense for further development can be suggested. Above all, however, space must be given to be able to deal with the topics. “Giving space” does not simply mean signing off on a budget, but leaving room for the process of further development.

To return to employer branding: To live up to the promise of an attractive and modern company, it is not enough to simply send employees to a conference. Top companies today are part of the tech community. They are participants, hosts and partners at technology events and help shape them. This is exactly what is important to employees: they want to work in a company that shapes them as people, the entire community and the future. As the conferences mentioned show, there are some companies that exemplify this: Credit Suisse, Keysight, PostFinance, UBS or Wipro.