Long gone are the days in which companies worried that only new technologies were able to disrupt their operations and industries. Nowadays, political, social, and technological environments are evolving rapidly. Such changes create further risks and opportunities that may severely influence the way a company operates. For instance, as North American and European countries entered in lock down to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, several organizations were forced to make the move to remote working, despite not being prepared for it.
These massive disruptions have led some organizations to go under, while others fundamentally reinvented their operations to meet their strategic goals. In face of recent challenges, several companies have discovered that they need to be resilient, adaptive, and responsive. All such qualities serve as founding pillars to the Agile methodology, which has become increasingly attractive to companies by promoting faster deployment times and resilient workforces that are flexible and adaptive in the face of challenges and changes.
Arguably, a department that is in need of change in many organizations given recent and prior events is human resources (HR). HR is a key pillar in balancing organizational needs with employee’s priorities, helping to build, operate and foster incentive mechanisms and culture. Conversely, decisions made in areas such as prospecting, training, salary, and career development can heavily impact employee motivation and productivity. This incredibly delicate package can directly translate into a company’s ability to meet its strategic goals such as profitability, market share, productivity and sustainability.
Traditionally, the HR department was governed by stiff protocols that were meant to instil policy alignment, control, and facilitate vertical structures. This style, often criticized as an obstacle to innovative thinking and resilient teams, has been under scrutiny by the business community in recent years. To bring human resources into the digital age, Agile has been identified by some as an ideal solution to create the right incentives necessary to ensure company success, even if partially implemented – Agile Lite (HR Goes Agile, HBR).
Unbeknownst to them, some companies have already started to implement Agile practices across their organization, while others have knowingly deployed Agile teams to test the waters. Nevertheless, in many well managed environments, such experiments have proven to be fruitful and have given way to innovative thinking and behaviour.
Traditionally, the modus operandi for bringing new talent was, and still is in most enterprises, reactionary: as positions were made available, a formal search process started, from which a pool of applicants was formed. Once the ideal candidate was identified from the pool of applicants, an incentive package was negotiated and, finally, necessary organizational training was given. This talent acquisition style has its benefits as it ensures that the organization follows controls and policies, however, it can be very time consuming and not necessarily attract or select the best candidate for the position.
Agility driven talent acquisition practices understand the power that a company’s culture has to attract the right personnel. An agile talent acquisition staff becomes less reactive and more proactive in its operational handling. This means that the person is more in tune with the needs of their organization to appropriately forecast personnel needs – this can be done by maintaining a relationship with managers, understanding the turnover ratios on each department, and being attuned to the company’s demographics and needs (ex: what employees are expected to retire soon?).
By understanding the organization’s internal environment, talent acquisition members are then able to cultivate relationships across multiple channels (ex: LinkedIn and Universities) and expedite the hiring process should a position become available. It is important to note that this practice does not enforce or condone direct hiring. In fact, it is still advised that talent acquisition staff invite desired candidates to participate in formal hiring processes and, if all boxes are checked, then make an offer to the most qualified individual.
Inevitably, as organizations’ needs and challenges change, new projects with differing or novel set of skills may appear. Depending on the complexity of the task, consultants or new talent may be brought in. However, for small and short-term projects, the procurement process for new talent or an agency may become too costly, or even risky. In some cases, the skills necessary to fulfill the project may be found in-house. Some forward looking, agility driven organizations have increased their workforce productivity by assigning short-term projects to employees with downtime. For example, should one department require assistance with the automation of a report, they may post the assignment in a board so other members of the company can apply to fulfill the request.
Such practice has been implemented by the CPP Investment Board and they call it Gigs (optional short-term assignments). Similar internal talent utilization may prove to be beneficial on several levels:
Conventional talent management practices are typically owned by HR and focus on assigning static training for individuals who are preparing for new roles, are underperforming, or need to achieve a specific performance level in a desired practice (GSA). This practice alone may not encourage innovative and proactive behaviour among the workforce and can even hurt engagement levels.
Recently, with technological advances in the are of online learning, Agility driven talent management practices are openly facilitated by HR to any employee who wishes to learn or hone a new skill. As such, internal learning portals are available (or the company has the choice to partner with institutions who offer such service) for employees to choose from a vast selection of topics which can be suggested to them according to identified best practices, or can be selected by them independent of their job. Agility driven HR has also found itself with a lot of untapped data that can be harnessed to drive personalized training. Technology is evolving at a rapid pace, causing organizations to consider workforce upskilling as a major driver in the digital age. HR departments that fail to transition at pace, or faster than its competitors may find itself scrambling compete.
Initially, Agile was a work methodology destined for software development. However, as time passed, other teams and departments started to retrofit its framework to their operations in the hopes of achieving similar results such as higher productivity, engagement, and efficiency. As explained in our previous article from the Agile series, The Agile Sales Department, Agile teams have 4 distinct roles: the team lead (in Scrum, also known as Scrum Master), team member, product owner, and stakeholder. Additionally, Agile practices are surrounded by ceremonies that instill team collaboration, autonomy and ownership to reach mutual objectives. Below, let us discuss how roles and ceremonies can both be adapted to further the HR department’s goals and objectives.
The HR Manager is usually tasked with many of the product owner activities. It can range from setting the vision for the team (alongside stakeholders such as Senior HR Manager and Managing Directors), setting priorities, anticipating stakeholder’s needs, overseeing progress, creating key strategic decisions and team targets. At the end of the cycle (or sprint), the HR manager will review the team’s progress and provide relevant guidance for future cycles. Although priorities may differ depending on the company and team, one of the key objectives in this role should be to provide targets and guidance for their HR team depending on their priorities – be it for the compensation team, benefits team, talent management and more.
The Team Facilitator/ Coordinator serves as an intermediator who encourages the team to be the best they can be (balancing time, cost, and quality), while facilitating meetings, managing stakeholders, reinforcing objective oriented actions, and supporting team introspection. The team facilitator is also tasked with shielding the team from internal and external challenges that are not relevant to the current cycle’s objectives. This role is incredibly powerful even more so in organization who are testing the implementation of agile teams by introducing a few teams per department or project.
Team Members are a group of 3-8 individuals, excluding the hr manager and the team facilitator. Their aim is to carry out the goals and objectives of the current cycle to the best of their ability in the allocated time and to take steps in preparation for future sprints.
Stakeholders are other individuals with an interest, concern, or who are affected by the activities of the team. Several individuals may be identified in this category: VPs, employees, hiring managers, and colleagues. Agile teams will often have the customer (stakeholders) in mind throughout the sprint. It aims to continuously understand what the customer values and how can be achieved within the team’s constraints. Although it is important to have stakeholder’s interests in mind while designing solutions (as, in hr, they will be directly impacted by such decisions), team facilitators and coordinators need to be able to identify and shield stakeholder priorities that are detrimental to the accomplishment of team’s objectives.
Agile teams usually work around cycles which are often referred to as sprints. A sprint is a period of 1 to 6 weeks (the exact time depends on the team’s dynamics) where a team looks to deliver upon agreed targets, usually by setting smaller, manageable tasks to complete throughout the period. Targets may depend on the agreed priorities made by the product owner, coordinator and team members. These are items that HR teams already do to some extent, however, the goals oriented nature of such teams may benefit from the fast-paced and dynamic approaches found in agile processes.
Daily Stand-Up: A 5-15 minutes daily meeting that encourages each team members to discuss tasks completed in the previous day, tasks intended to be completed on the present day and the challenges to its completion. Certain teams may not fully benefit from daily stand-ups, due to several factors including the rigidity of other process in place, the nature of work the team does, implementation challenges, and cultural discrepancies, among other factors. Other teams may find that a stand-up every other day leads to a better team dynamic. To assess the validity of establishing such ceremony, managers and teams need to ask questions such as:
It is important to note, especially with this specific ceremony, that some members of the team may find the process to be more closely related to micromanagement practices, and hence, attribute a negative connotation to it. As such, it is important to maintain communication and be clear about the objectives of this ceremony while also ensuring a judgement free environment.
Sprint Planning: an event that happens in collaboration with the entire team (HR management, team facilitator and team members) and gives start to the beginning of the sprint. During this ceremony, sprint objectives and its deliverables are decided. Tasks that will be delivered during the sprint are proposed and agreed upon by all members of the team. The team also agrees on how the task is going to be completed and by who. Inputs from the backlog are also taken into consideration while doing the sprint planning.
For further clarification, the Team Backlog is a list of items for the team to complete that originates from the requirements and roadmap (the broader team objectives). The Team facilitator maintains and refines the backlog through the sprint, but it is the team member’s responsibility to proactively complete items in the backlog as their capacity frees up once they have completed the items that they are responsible for in the sprint planning.
Team Retrospective: a team gathering ceremony to reflect on the outcomes of the sprint and create an action plan to build upon their success and resolve potential weaknesses before the start of the next cycle.
Highly productive agile teams often have traits such as self-management, team empowerment and transparency. Such traits are facilitated by the culture established within the team and the company. Hence, in some cases, organizational culture may need to be changed or adapted to increase success levels in agile teams. For test cases of agile teams, leaders will need to look for ways to insulate the team from certain external cultural factors that are counter-productive to agile success to ensure that the test case can be the closest example possible to what the business would look like if it changed its culture.
In addition to culture, people skills, buy-in, and a team’s ability to adapt to new demands need to be considered. Technology also plays a crucial factor in facilitating the move and Agile-centric tools such as Jira can assist teams to be better organized and reach their goals and objectives.
Beyond a methodology, Agile is considered to be a lifestyle and work ethic which many identify as imperative to an entity’s survival in today’s rapidly evolving and disruptive technological environment. More than ever, businesses have been urged to reinvent their practices and re-assess their values which further shows the need for resilience, adaptability, and responsiveness. Parallel to the teachings of the doctrine, Agile can be adapted to serve the needs to a team, department, organization, or industry. However, caution is necessary to not forego of essential values and elements that are considered to be the founding pillars of the practice while still considering key pillars that have made the organization successful. As with any progressive attitude and behaviour, old practices need not to be thrown out the window and deemed completely useless when something new comes along. It usually needs to be adapted and recycled to fit today’s perspectives, demands, and objectives.