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Agile HR, Part I: An Introduction to Agile

Written By
Emily Friedrichs
Associate Editor

The business world is living by the motto, “Be the disruptor or be disrupted.” As a result, Agile methodology is taking over globally. In a recent Deloitte survey that included business and HR leaders in 140 countries, 94% of respondents rated “agility and collaboration” as critical to their organizations’ success. Business is hungry for speed-to-innovation, and Agile has emerged as the prevailing tactic. For recruiting teams, Agile can improve candidate experience and help close hard-to-fill positions faster, as achieved by Avature´s Talent Acquisition team. We explore Avature´s story of implementing Agile in Agile HR, Part II.

What Is Agile?

When the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was published in 2001, its emphasis was on “individuals and interactions, working deliverables, customer collaboration, and responding to change.” In 2018, Agile has become the exemplar of business competitiveness, yet its permutations are seemingly infinite. Agile may refer to a personal mindset or to enterprise-level models for Agile organizations. Project management can be Agile, as when Avature worked with Dr. Sebastian Hubert of Siemens to use their ATS implementation as opportunity for his team to train in Agile project management. Some visions of Agile advocate for employee empowerment, removing hierarchical approval layers, or inverting the management paradigm so that managers deliver for their team, like Ray Arell’s approach at Intel. Arell criticizes the notion that scarcity drives innovation, and advocates that if the team is delivering, then management’s job is to serve the team. Others versions of Agile might emphasize speed, visibility, or productivity, but all agree on adaptability.

Agile is most applicable in environments where planning and rules no longer work. Rather than focusing on a particular output, the approach focuses on a clear outcome. To make progress among so much uncertainty, Agile projects advance in increments, by creating a minimum viable product that is tested by the end-user, oftentimes in limited-time, task-centered “sprints.” Feedback is reviewed and incorporated by the Agile team before creating the next iteration of that component of the product. This process repeats until the desired outcome is achieved. Feedback, not rules or planning, drives decision-making.

Agile in HR

Human Resources has been at the frontline of Agile’s rapid expansion. There are published Agile HR manifestos. The widely discussed and criticized Harvard Business Review feature article from April of this year, “HR Goes Agile,” fostered conversation about HR’s successes and failings at adapting to Agile’s takeover. The Agile approach requires particular skills in employees, such as collaboration and adaptability. HR has also been affected as organizations restructure in teams. Learning and development needs have shifted, and managers need stronger coaching skills. Compensation strategies must discourage inter-team competition, as well as reflect the fact that decision-making and impact have become team efforts.

Agile Performance Management

Perhaps the most affected area, HR has felt a strong need to transform performance management in order to become more flexible and meet the changing performance metrics of the modern-day workforce. In a reality where one individual might be working on critical business initiatives in silo-busting teams run by different leaders over varying time cycles, the notion that performance feedback would come once a year, from one boss, makes little sense. There is also a need to evaluate performance as a team and not only for individuals, as well as incorporate multidirectional, 360° feedback.

More adaptable performance management also benefits employees who do not work in Agile teams. Different departments, such as product supply and R&D, might be operating on different calendars and have varying performance assessment needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach adds little value. Feedback or incentives that are either continuous or closer to project cycles have also been shown to be more effective at changing behaviors. It’s no surprise then that the same Deloitte survey cited earlier found that 79 percent of executives rated redesigning performance management as a “high priority.”

Agile Recruiting

An Agile approach can be leveraged in recruiting to respond faster and with greater creativity, and knowledge of Agile is necessary for recruiters to find the best candidates for an Agile team. However, profound misalignment between recruiting teams and people who use Agile methodology at work was found by a recent Scrum alliance survey. Recruiters and HR professionals’ lack of understanding about Agile was problematic according to 90% of employees who practice Agile methodology. Nearly two-thirds of those practitioners said they had been dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their experience using a recruiter to find a job in Agile. And while 29 percent of recruiters said their Agile knowledge was good or excellent, only 3 percent of practitioners rated their recruiters’ knowledge as good, and none of the practitioners who responded rated it as excellent.

To read how Avature’s technological ecosystem enabled its Talent Acquisition team to implement agile and improve alignment between recruiting and hiring managers, continue to Part II of Marking Agile Work in HR.

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