Agile HR

Agile HR or if you want Talent Management as it is called nowadays turn the whole company around. It’s employees centric, delivering value to the whole organization. At a glance, not much had changed. We still need to hire people, take care of people growth, do some evaluations. Just the way we work changed significantly. So let’s go one by one to see the shift.

Hiring

Hiring process focuses not that much on skills, because skills could be learned, and will change depending on the business value priorities, and the team needs, but a person who is a good match to the company culture and the team. In an Agile organization people who can learn fast, are the starts. They can go to any cross-functional team and deliver value. We look for someone who has not a fixed mindset, is ready to change. Having said so, people are often not hired by HR and managers but the teams and the HR are only consulting and coaching teams in that process. The world of the fixed positions is over. All the recruiting agencies need to adapt as well. When we’ve been hiring, we involve team members and give them a strong voice in the process. We stopped looking for C++, Java, or C# experts, we were looking for passionate people who have energy, passionate about anything they did. We want to hear stories about what they love to do. Even if it was just a tiny thing they did over the evenings. We were transparent on how the work is going to look like, stressing the downsides, so they have clear expectations. Transparency is the key, so one of the great ideas is to invite candidates to join a team for a day. It’s like going to the date, getting to know each other better, get a sense on both sides how is it going to be.

One example of a very different interview is to ask the candidate to use a creative set of Lego bricks and visualize how it’s going to be once they joined the organization and have a conversation about the model. It’s something you rarely see in the interviews but it shows a lot about the candidates.

Evaluations

Evaluations and performance reviews changed significantly in Agile space. It’s less about reviewing, performance, and evaluation, more about development and vision of the future and growth. As the Agile organization operates internally in very short cycles, where through radical transparency and instant feedback through retrospectives the organization gets to inspect and adapt and solve any issues right away, we don’t really need classical KPIs as they are not supporting the adaptivity and flexibility Agile organizations need and missing a team aspect as well. As a first step, you can start with setting team goals, instead of individual ones. It will help. However, eventually, you need to redesign the whole concept from the scratch. The key focus is on coaching conversations, transparency, and candid feedback from your peers.

One example of a radical change you can use is the team-oriented feedback. You give each person on a team or organization (yes, it scales) a certain amount of money to give away. Let say $100, and ask them to distribute it to the colleagues. The only rule is you can’t keep it. If you think about it, the message you got by receiving $0 it’s much stronger feedback then anything your manager can ever  say about your performance. Indeed, we need a lot of coaching to help people understand and handle what’s going on, but in general, that’s a good thing. If you scale this to the whole organization it’s even more fun, as the managers get such instant feedback as well as the employees.

Talent management

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article we are speaking more about talent development then HR. What motivates people? How do we grow talents? How do we support them on their journey? How can we help them to be successful? The answer is coaching, support them to create their own development goals, grow their interest, empower them, raise their awareness about themselves. Not surprising, but how many HR are taking such a support role and how many of the companies take it as process and governance role.

Example of such coaching conversation for the people growth could be using a few categories which are strategic for the organization right now to frame the conversation. Firstly, you need to make people aware of how the coaching scale works, that it’s very different from evaluation, it doesn’t have to grow quarter to quarter and that there is always a better way of doing things, and that this tool shall help them to identify their potential and find ways how they can grow to support the organization. As a next step, you let people rate themselves on a relative scale 1..10, where 1 = not good at this area, and 10  = I’m great at this. They need to be able to compare themselves with the other people around in the organization, explain how it would be, when you are 2 points above the level you are currently, what would be different once you get there, what would it mean to the organization, what is currently in their way, etc. All of those are good coaching questions. No magic. It just works like a magic 🙂

Measurements are dead, let’s measure

During my career as both Director of Engineering and independent Agile Coach, I’ve been hearing still the same grumble from managers: “We can’t get rid of measurements and KPI’s. How else could we know if the person is performing well, how can we compare people?” and at the same time, grouching from the team members: “We don’t like the individual based KPI’s and measurements, how are we supposed to be a good team when our managers can misuse that against any team member?” It’s surprising but no one likes individual metrics, they all admit they are useless, but they are all afraid to try anything else.

So if you have a bit of courage, you may try this: It’s based on coaching relative scale and is team oriented: 1 stands for 🙁 and 9 stands for 🙂 and it’s great if you add a reason for rating lower than 4 and higher that 6. Firstly, let the Product Owner give a team his number how he is happy with the team.

As a second input, ask Scrum Master to give a number to every team member how much he is happy with this person as a team player. Let them discuss it, but make sure the discussion is not about “why I’ve got 5 instead of 7”, but is focused on future development of that person discussion “what should I do differently so that I’ll get 7 next time”.

And last number goes from the team members. The best you can do for this part is to ask everyone to divide 100$ to all team members except himself. You may worry that they can agree with each other and rotate all the money one by one, or distribute them equally, but that’s not common in real life. The great think on this evaluation is that the team members are giving a feedback to themselves. So every team member gets an answer to the question how do you value my contribution to the team? And if you find out the other team members don’t see any value in your work, you would most likely be very much concerned about that situation and asking how can I do differently so that you value my work more.

Combining those three inputs you will learn much more than from traditional metrics, regardless the company size and culture. It’s working just awesome, but you have to have courage to give it a try.

And when this is just normal for you, you can take it one step ahead. The fully Agile companies are using such tool as the only one appraisal tool across the company. No other bonuses than those distributed by employees to the other employees. So in such company, if you feel you would like to appreciate the receptionist, give her some part of your bonus sum. The other one can be for your colleague, another part for a developer from a different team who helped you with some issue. And when you are afraid it’s too crazy for you, I would like to remind you that we are only talking about bonus distribution, not the whole salary. When you do so, you will increase team cooperation over individual heroes work, and openness and transparency over politics and gossiping. And it would be fun. If you still don’t know, start with Appreciation cards. Make them available and encourage people to give them to each other. Even by that you will learn a lot about yourself, your team and the whole organization ecosystem.