March 9, 2021


News for Agilists

How to put HR in the driver seat of organisational change.

Often the misconception is that HR is automatically the central point the Agile movement since Organisations changes usually were driven from HR/Management perspective.

In practice, I see just the opposite when we talk about Agile Transitions, where HR teams remain aloof and wait until the change is done. Often HR is still so busy with elementary matters such as salary, recruitment and personnel administration that HR department innovation itself seems to be ‘forgotten’. Where self-organizing teams throughout the organization blossom like crocuses in the spring, HR teams often seem even more busy looking at how on earth such developments fit into the existing structure.

At the same time, HR is currently making a fantastic advance and catching up. I see organisations where HR has reinvented itself and is therefore invaluable to colleagues and the organisation. Below I describe the three most important shifts of HR within an Agile organisation that puts them in the driver seat.

1. A shift from responsibility for the well-being of colleagues in HR alone towards a joint responsibility

It’s not just HR’s responsibility to ensure that colleagues feel good about themselves and are able to do their job well. This is a daily duty of everyone in the organisation. If you see that your colleague can do better or develop better, then you help him/her.

In that case, you don’t mail the HR advisor that he has to pick it up. You do this together as a team.

For example, the Sprint retrospective is an event that not only looks at ‘functional’ improvements but also at improvements in team collaboration. How can we make better use of each other’s strengths and how can we help each other individually to become better together as a team?

The purpose of the Sprint Retrospective is to:

Inspect how the last Sprint went with regards to people, relationships, process, and tools;… — Scrum Guide 2017

This also means that HR has to come out of its ivory tower and be transparent about its role. In the past, HR often thought about what was good for your development within the company. That is outdated because that is up to the employee now. In short, HR has a serving, inspiring and coaching role for all her colleagues, where having good social skills (and not being a closed department) is a requirement.

2. A shift from delivering ‘one size fits all’ solutions to adding value every day

Ask an HR professional if he has helped his colleagues a step further this week in self-reliance, in enjoying their work or in being able to make decisions quickly, and few can answer in the affirmative.

Yet this is the core from which HR has to work: making people awesome. You don’t do that mainly by developing large policy documents and HR instruments that must immediately apply to the entire organisation. You do this by adding value every day so that colleagues can do their work as good as possible for the end customer. This means that we have to stop:

  • Thinking in resources: HR is pre-eminently the field that thinks in terms of resources, such as training courses and online learning portals (Resources delivered? Tick in tha box!). But creating a resource does not add value. It does add value if you enter into a dialogue with your colleagues and solve their bottlenecks in the short term as part of the larger objectives.

Every grain of sand you remove from the machine makes it run a little smoother. You may not notice this after removing a single grain, but do it 100 times and see what difference you’ve made. — Marty de Jonge

  • Long procedures: No more spitting out long procedures everyone at once. Work together with colleagues in short cycles, adding value every time. Doesn’t a solution work? Then you continue to develop. Dare to experiment and explore in an empirical manner.
  • One size fits all: One size does not fit all. HR has to let go of that thought. Every team has its own needs and what has value differs per team.

3. A shift from being a ‘business partner’ at the service of the management to HR as a ‘people partner’ at the service of the teams.

Traditional HR supports management. During a complicated exit interview, HR is brought in, just like when vacancies are posted. We think from the manager’s point of view.

In an Agile organisation, teams are in the lead. HR is no longer the advisor of management alone, but advisor of the people in those teams. This is where HR can take on a strong advisory role. Make sure you are up to date with the latest developments and advise and inspire your organisation to grow further.

Then, as HR, you can lead the way in organisational development and own your advisory role. HR can also very well guide teams in their Agile development.

Who holds up a mirror to the teams? Who is the conscience of the team? In short, the role of HR will involve a lot more than being obedient to the manager.

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