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What HR or Managers can do to Support the Agile Transformation

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The Human Resources department of a company can play an important role during an agile transformation. by addressing employees concerns like feeling threatened about the future of their roles or individual identity or fears about an open work environment. In the article the importance of HR in agile adoption on the Scrum Alliance website, Ashish Mahajan describes a HR model that can be used to develop and sustain the agile culture in an organization.

The HR model consist of 4 activities, the first one is “hiring the best”:

Hiring an employee with right attitude and mind-set is the first step toward building an Agile organization. The focus should be to get the right individual, one who fits the organizational and team culture.Hiring a good manager who has an Agile mind-set is as important as hiring an Agile developer.

The next activity in the HR model is “Organizational restructuring”, about redefining roles and creating open workspaces for agile teams:

HR's task is to define the structure of the new, flexible roles and responsibilities and to address any problems employees have during the transition.

HR can help create an open work space where people can freely communicate to enhance this collaboration. For example: Remove cubicles, replace them with open work space, give each team a dining-table sort of set-up where they can easily work in pairs or groups.

The third activity is “performance management”, where the focus could be on rewarding teamwork, participation of management in demos and retrospectives, and frequent conversation between managers and employees about their performance. Although these are mostly management activities, Ashish states that HR can drive the agile transformation:

The role of HR becomes highly important in changing the structure of performance management and supporting the management team in implementing those changes.

According to Ashish, “sustain motivated employees” is the last activity in the HR model for developing and sustaining the agile culture.

HR needs to be creative in finding new ways to sustain motivated employees within the organization. The focus should be on providing an environment of autonomy and developing mastery, which will encourage employees to approach their work with excitement.

In the Forbes article HR, leadership, technology, and talent management predictions for 2013, Josh Bersin predicts that “flatter organizations and focus on agility will change HR practices”:

In 2013 more and more companies will see the value of what we call “agile management” and “agile HR.” Organizations now operate as flattened, cross-functional teams, creating demand for less top-down HR and management styles. This is forcing changes in performance and goal management, performance management, reward strategies, and leadership skills.

Another Forbes article by Josh Bersin, has human resources become out of date?, describes how today’s high performing businesses with a strong focus on customers have questions about the role and function of HR:

When you look under the covers at the companies that thrive in today’s business environment, you find that they are organized and managed very differently. They have essentially obsoleted the “professional management” model and have turned into highly agile, customer-centric teams. (…) Where does HR fit in all this?

Josh describes the need for all HR processes, that are used by managers, to become continuous:

Rather than have an annual performance review, we should have a continuous feedback process. Rather than a formal, once a year training program, put in place a continuous learning environment. And rather than recruiting for jobs “when they become open,” we must put in place a “continuous talent acquisition” and “continuous employment branding” solution.  

Esther Derby explores what managers can do when they want to have benefits from teams in software development. Her article supporting team-based work starts by explaining the difficulties that managers can have with existing HR policies:

The managers in these companies recognize the enormous benefits teams provide to the company–creativity, engagement, learning. However, in many of these companies, the HR systems focus only on individual accomplishment. Individual goals, individual bonuses and merit-pay processes cause real damage when the desired behavior is collaboration and teamwork.

She suggests several steps that managers can take to minimize competition between employees, and have them focus on shared goals:

  • Amplify the importance of teams
  • Dampen the race for rankings
  • Don’t treat people as fungible
  • Emphasize interdependent and collaborative work
  • Aim for policies that focus improving the organization

According to Esther, managers can take a stand and could start a conversation with HR about supporting teamwork:

HR is there to support performance, not disrupt it. Talk to them about the detrimental effects you are seeing. Share the research. Decline to participate in the ranking mess.

What do you think that HR or managers can do to support the agile transformation?

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