As more and more companies look to become more customer centric and agile, they are running in to a common roadblock. That roadblock is Human Resources. Agile company structures break all known HR principles. A few of the most common problems are as follows. How can you have an organization structure and reporting lines, if teams are agile and working across multiple functions? If work is taking place in this manner, duties will change on a regular basis, so how can you have job descriptions? If goals and objectives are changing on an ongoing basis how do you measure performance and initiate promotion and pay rise conversations? The answer of course, is that HR itself needs to become more agile.

Embracing the mindset

The easiest way to think about an agile mindset, is that its key focus is on adding value to customers and the business. Many in HR often speak about adding value, without quite knowing how they can do this. The answer quite simply is to adopt an agile mindset. Most HR programmes are still approached in a “big bang” or “waterfall” way. For example, every firm wants to create a leaders of tomorrow programme. But to do that they would spend an entire year or even more designing a programme that is then fully launched in one go and rarely delivers the required results.

Agile solves this problem, by breaking the approach down in to several smaller slices to ensure it derives the most value to those that will use it. Agile is focused on incremental step by step change. It is extremely rare that you can go from 10% to 100% in one go successfully. Whatever process or system you are changing, you also need to embed the behaviours that go along with the new system or process to ensure it is sustainable. Agile breaks this down by going on an incremental journey. By taking smaller steps along the way to go from say 10% to 20% it’s a lot easier and can be done a lot quicker with much less disruption. You then take the lessons from that and use that to go to 25% or 33% and so on. This makes the changes made more likely to take hold.

No more Silos

Once the HR team adopts the required mindset, a team can begin to evolve their ways of working within an agile framework. Now its important to remember that there is no specific blueprint that must be followed in Agile, that would defeat the purpose of being agile. So instead a firm needs to identify its own version based on its culture and objectives. This means some teams may prefer working with a Kanban, while others adopt the scrum framework and sprint approaches. The agile principles of experimentation, testing and learning apply as much to the way in which the team will work, as the work they are going to do.

This should lead to the end of HR silos as the need to do handovers to other teams and deferring decision making slows processes down. If you have an agile team responsible for solving say high attrition, they need to be fully accountable for that and be allowed to make decisions quickly without the need for approvals. Many of the important HR challenges exist because no one owns the outcome. If you want better leaders, which team is responsible for this? Recruitment are meant to hire talent for leadership roles but learning and development are supposed to be training leaders and talent management are supposed to be building succession planning pipelines for leadership roles. This is a key reason why so many firms have a disjointed approach to leadership development and so many other HR goals such as reducing attrition.

The answer to all these challenges is of course simple. There need to be an agile HR team that cuts across all these areas, restructuring the team as a pool of capability that exists within HR to solve and deliver outcomes. Not segregated by job titles and siloed responsibilities or fragmentation.

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