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Agile HR: A Recruiting Story

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The business world lives 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. But first, let us explore the basics of the principle.

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.

An Agile Recruiting Case Study

Avature’s recruiting team has been applying Agile principles to HR projects involving change management and improving day-to-day operations. In line with principles from the Agile software manifesto, Denise Dresler, Talent Acquisition Director, sought to welcome and harness change while redesigning the recruiting process, provide continuous delivery in short timescales, and work with stakeholders throughout the project. With the help of Matias di Tada, VP of Product Engineering, and other hiring managers, the team used an Agile approach to maintain quality of hire while extending offers to the best candidates sooner in the highly competitive market for software developers.

The Business Need

The call for innovation came after a candidate was fast-tracked through interviews only for the candidate to state in the final interview that he did not have the disposition to work in rapid release cycles—a fundamental feature of Avature’s Agile development model. While this scenario was particularly striking, it underscored a deeper problem: it was taking too long to filter out unsuitable candidates, and the delays led to higher drop-off rates and longer time-to-fill. This misalignment between the Hiring Managers’ needs and the interview process revealed a need for a new approach.

Building a Solution

Dresler had previously worked in consulting at Avature, where she built background knowledge of Agile recruiting by working hand-in-hand with customers in the implementation stage to address clients’ needs, such as developing new functionalities to help them hire the very top technical talent. Di Tada needed to make sure Avature was hiring the right kind of talent to continue its growth, and so was already taking an active role in hiring decisions when the opportunity to revamp the hiring process arose.

Rapid Prototyping

After analyzing what was and was not working, Dresler and di Tada designed a minimal viable product for selecting which candidates to send offers of employment. They wanted to implement technology and selected Codility, a technical assessment solution, as a replacement for a time-consuming technical interview. They tried this change with just one candidate, without process changes or global rollouts. The intention was to experiment and harness change while developing the solution.

Collaborating During Workshops

Dresler and di Tada gathered feedback from all parties who had used the trial process. In the next iteration, they led a workshop with all hiring managers to identify “what great looks like” in terms of both soft and technical skills. In the interim, the workshop participants were assigned the task of evaluating various proposed assessment methods. To finalize changes, participants defined the new interview strategy during a second workshop. Hiring needs were grouped into related areas, and each area went through the workshops using a model of incremental change within a short time frame.

Achieving the Desired Outcome

The final product is a recruiting process where steps occur simultaneously and roles are grouped into areas. Candidates complete either a junior or senior Codility assessment relevant to their area, and this step is integrated right into the workflow of Avature’s recruitment software. This differs significantly from the original recruiting pipeline, which was sequential and moved candidates towards a specific position. In a joint webinar with Codility, Dresler and di Tada share more details of how they managed change, developed their prototype, and engineer small-scale, low-cost improvements.

“Going Agile” Results

By implementing the agile principles of collaboration, feedback loops, and rapid prototyping leading to continuous improvements within short time frames, Avature’s HR team made significant improvements to their recruiting process. Candidates’ time-in-process went down significantly, leading to more competitive hiring, and 140 hours of interviews were saved. Innovation was achieved because Avature’s recruitment CRM and Applicant Tracking System enable leveraging the right data, adapting processes to specific needs, and creating a robust test-and-learn environment.
Adopting Agile practices also increased communication between stakeholders and visibility into the process for all parties. The workshop format fostered interesting conversations around issues such as fairness and bias. By using Agile’s “customer-centric” approach, Talent Acquisition came to better understand the impact on and tailor to hiring managers, which in turn increased buy-in. For Dresler, when it comes to recruiting, “the magic of agility is that it’s innovative and customer-focused.”

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