Agile HR: Start by Getting Awareness

As organizations are changing the way they work, their need for overall business agility is growing. Different departments are trying to not only implement the agile frameworks and apply Scrum or Kanban to enhance their capabilities to deliver value but also completely redesigning their function and AgileHR is one of those departments which requires a radical shift. You need to change the way you look at things and approach things. Agile requires a different culture that is team oriented, and much more collaborative and creative. As many practices organizations currently use for Recruiting  & Onboarding, Positions & Career Paths, Performance Review & Evaluation, and Rewards and Bonus systems are individual oriented, and are coming from competing and controlling cultures, the change is inevitable. The higher level of business agility is in the environment, the stronger pressure is for changing the practices as well. So what is HR role in the agile space?

We can say that: “We build organizations around motivated individuals, involving them in co-creating their journey.” Agile HR focuses on the best employee experience from the first contact, through Day1, supporting their growth, and motivation, and increasing their value to the organization. It’s not about processes but a different culture. We simply create environments enhancing collaboration, co-creation, innovations, and creativity. Very different from what HR role is in traditional environments. I see HR as the core of the transformation. They need to allow it to happen, they need to support that shift.

Continuous Feedback

Every change needs to start with awareness about the current and desired stage. What is our current culture? What are our values? What is the current level of safety? What is the engagement of people? Do we understand employee satisfaction? Are they promoters?

If you look into the ADP Research Institute Global Study of Engagement “Only about 16 percent of employees are ‘Fully Engaged’. This means 84 percent of workers are just ‘Coming to Work’ instead of contributing all they could to their organizations.”

Be aware of those things is a good starting point. Many organizations start by measuring engagement on yearly basis. And it’s a good start. Having the ability to compare results not only to the global data but also to your company trends. But if you start doing it, two interesting things usually happen. First – people start complaining that they have to fill in too many questions at one time, and second that once you start digging into the data and trying to inspect and adapt based on that, people start telling you that their responses are not particularly valid anymore – for example, there was a lot of stress in December, but now, in January we feel we are fine, etc. So sooner or later you realize you need to do such surveys more frequently, and also in a distributed way. The good news is there are many tools that can support that need. I have experience with using Officevibe which is designed to ask one question per week and that way is giving you more frequent data points and trends so you can make it actionable. It’s easier to be measured and you can see the impact of changing the practices right away.

Agile Leaders are the beginning of modern management

In order to achieve success at the organizational level, we need to start management talent development program to create leaders who will help to grow a company, make quick decisions and stay ahead of others. Modern leadership style is no longer applying the traditional model of the “leader-follower”, i.e. one decides and the other executes orders. Nowadays, when most employees are from the category of creative workers and the company is looking for innovation and creative ideas to stay competitive, the leader-leader model is a more effective one, where the leaders’ main goal is to help others to be successful leaders. What is modern Agile management or Agile leadership about?

Excellent Agile Leader has four core competencies: Ability to define the vision, motivate, gain feedback, and ability to influence through themselves, others and system.

The ability to formulate a vision is the engine of change and motivation. A vision is not necessarily linked to product and business but should be focused on the organization and its purpose. The second competency is the ability to motivate and give the energy. It is a competence closely related to the vision. If you have a good vision, it motivates itself. Agile leadership builds on so-called internal motivation to strengthen the autonomy of individuals and teams. The third of Agile leader’s competences is feedback. Feedback is DNA component for Agile Organization together with openness and transparency. The art of getting system-level feedback is critical for the leader. The last is the art of influencing complex environments. Change things, people and their behavior, support and consolidate culture. Agile leadership begins with a change of self, your judgments, values, and behavior, style of work. Great leaders start with themselves as a role model, to change the way they show up, how they interact with others, and how they can inspire people around them to collaborate, create a team spirit, and become leaders. They are capable of working with the entire system and influence the whole organization and its culture.

Agile Leader-Wheel

Agile Leader Wheel also defines four supporting competencies to help leaders define the right approach. When is it better to decide and when decisions can be delegated and it’s better to collaborate. At the same time, when it’s better to take a role of facilitator and when start coaching. We do not talk that much about coaching individuals, which of course may be useful, but coaching the whole system – teams and organizations as a whole. Excellent Agile Leaders have not been born as Agile Leaders, but they are constantly looking for new ways to get better and to gain and strengthen the above-mentioned competencies.

Traditional metrics are dead, let’s kill KPIs

Most of the people, when you ask them, admit that KPIs are not any useful at their organizations. They don’t motivate, they don’t change people’s behavior to any better way. In the best case KPIs are usually a formal metric, in the worst case a way how to punish people. In modern organizations, which are built on top of collaboration and teams, the need for individual metrics disappeared. So what can you do instead?

If you have a bit of courage, you may try this: ask all team members to distribute for example 100$. They can give it to any team member, but can’t keep it for themselves. In a very short time, you get a very honest feedback. If you ask people to give Kudos or appreciations together with that, it’s awesome. Problem of bonus distribution solved. There are companies which distribute the bonuses not only within one team, but across the whole organization. To the receptionist, CEO, sales, developer. Your choice. We make it very transparent, so the system will correct any weird behavior as exchanging bonus money within two people. In general this is more theoretical question. I haven’t seen it happen but it comes out anytime we talk about it with managers. I guess it indicates lack of trust.

Another way how to do it when your organization is more Agile is to give every month people some money to their bonus account, you can keep them of give some to the others. Each month the random person from your company rolls a dice and if there is a six, the money is yours and we start to build another jackpot. When it’s any other number, they just continue in moving money as appreciation. As no one knows when the money is going to be paid, they don’t game it.

Finally, I have to admit that I don’t believe in any money bonuses. They are not going to help with real motivation and the risk of side effect is higher than possible outcome. So I would kill not only individual KPIs but bonuses as well. You can achieve better motivation by giving people autonomy, responsibility and clear purpose. And you can help them grow with coaching. It takes more time and energy then do KPIs and bonuses, but it brings higher results.