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Craftsmanship: The key to developing talent in an agile organization

While undergoing an agile transformation, organizations must stay ahead of the curve by rethinking their overall people model following craftmanship principles.
Bryan Hancock

Supports private, public, and social sector clients through expertise in talent management, organizational design, and workforce development

Maria Carolina Helo

Leads McKinsey’s Organization Practice in Colombia, working with clients across Spanish Latin America to strengthen their corporate governance, organizational and financial performance, and leadership and management capabilities

When building an agile organization, there is no single “off-the-shelf” model for developing talent. But a team-based organization should start with taking a deeper look at the themes of alignment, motivation, and craftsmanship. In particular, the idea of craftsmanship features in all success models as a means of encouraging individuals to continually hone their skills to foster the behaviors and competencies required in a team-based organization.

Growing from novice to master

Agile organizations value expertise as much as hierarchical influence, creating a realm of possibilities for people to continuously learn and grow towards achieving mastery regardless of open roles or headcount restrictions. This gives people opportunities to continually enhance their expertise toolkit and grow from “novice” to “master,” much like a craftsman honing their craft.

For example, a telecommunications company in Latin America created career-path flexibility by allowing employees to deepen their expertise in their current craft, without necessarily having to switch to a managerial track. Employees are still expected to grow holistically across both craftsmanship and overall people leadership, but compensation is tied to craft levels to retain scarce talent and foster a non-hierarchical culture.

Developing talent through a dynamic marketplace

Agile organizations have the ability to inspect and adapt to market conditions by shifting priorities and reallocating resources through a quarterly business review (QBR) process. This matching of company needs and talent happens through a dynamic, employee-driven marketplace that connects skills to highest priority work, incentivizing individuals to continually develop their toolkit.

This allows talent to push themselves beyond their comfort zones and grow in new and profound ways. Additionally, it builds a sense of empowerment as people have the possibility to better shape their careers in line with their interests and needs by more fluidly moving between areas and tracks.

For instance, a North American bank implemented a QBR that brought different business units together to align on company-level priorities. The transparency enabled leaders to stop or pause initiatives that were underperforming, reinvest capacity back into the company, and reallocate talent to the highest priority work.

Building an apprenticeship muscle

As agile organizations create career lattices focused on craftmanship, strong apprenticeship programs involving peers and senior roles become fundamental to challenging and developing employees.

To support this shift, some organizations have set up formal structures around crafts, also known as “Chapters,” bringing together groups of 7-10 employees who belong to the same craft area (e.g., Marketing, DevOps). This allows for seamless knowledge transfer among employees and coaching to continue growing in their current role or other areas in the organization.

This approach is proving popular among traditional brick-and-mortar retail companies across North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. These retailers have started organizing employees around Chapters to provide a formal structure that cultivates the apprenticeship muscle.

Organizations undergoing an agile transformation must stay ahead of the curve by rethinking their overall people model following craftmanship principles to minimize the risk of losing key talent—and a competitive advantage—to those that embrace the model as part of their process.

The authors would like to thank to Isabel Carrera, Lucia Darino, and Kyla Kelly for their meaningful contributions to this post.

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