Agile HR: The New Rules

 

Turn your HR department into an adaptable, productive, agile machine. 

 
 
There was a knock. 
 
“Come in,” said Donald Pierce, CEO. The door swung open.
 
“Hi, Don,” said Timothy Carol, HR Director. “Still a good time?”
 
“Absolutely,” said Don. “Close the door. Have a seat.”
 
Tim closed the door and pulled out a chair for himself. He sat down.
 
“What’s new?” said Don. 
A month earlier, Don asked his HR Director to reimagine the company’s Human Resources department. 
 
Traditionally, HR is responsible for hiring and developing people while managing their output, their performance. 
 
“I don’t want you to change what you’re doing,” said Don. “I just want you to do it in a faster, leaner way. I want your processes to be more efficient and deliberate. I want you be more agile.”
 
“Agile?” said Tim. “Like the development team?”
 
“Exactly,” said Don. “Like the development team: I want you to accelerate your project tempos and embrace experimentation and testing. Shake up the status quo.”
 
“I understand,” said Tim, nodding. “I’ll be back in a month with an update.”
 
 
What is agile?
Agile is a productivity approach. It’s a means by which to arrive at a desired outcome incrementally, using cycles.
 
Software developers, famously, use the agile approach to mitigate risk. Instead of creating, for example, an application all at once, they’ll break down the process. They’ll work in sprints that allow them to gradually analyze, design, code, and test their work in an iterative way. In other words, they start with something simple, then add onto it. 
 
The benefits are vast: agile teams can rapidly adapt, pivot, or completely change direction. They’re limber because they’re not held in place by compounding commitments. 
 
Of course, agile methodology can be applied to a range of disciplines... 
 
Creating an agile HR department
Human Resources – like most any other department – abides by processes and procedures, standards and expectations. Therefore, it can be optimized, honed to run more smoothly, to operate more efficiently. 
 
Agile principles remain constant across departments and disciplines. The only variable piece is the product: Developers use agile to advance the development of software; HR professionals use agile to advance the development of people. 
 
Eager to foster an efficient, team-based HR culture centered on continuous improvement? 
 
Here’s what you do:
 
1. Stay small, tight. 
Big teams are clunky, bureaucratic things. They’re dense with red tape. 
 
Historically, small teams are known for their agility, for their capacity to turn on a dime. They move faster, partly because there’s an abundance of interpersonal trust, but also because there’s more individual accountability. 
 
When German software giant, SAP, transformed a 20,000-person department into 10-person micro-teams, efficiency was said to increase 100%. 
 
There’s tremendous potential in letting a small group of people find their own way. The upside is palpable. 
 
2. Work in sprints.
“Sprints” are periods of time – usually lasting a couple weeks – that agile teams allocate for themselves to complete a chunk of work. The goal is to have a clear, defined deliverable at the end of each sprint. 
 
Sprints help individual members focus while enabling communication and transparency throughout the team. Efficiency ensues. 
 
3. Cut your meeting schedule in half. 
To assess the progress of each sprint, agile teams meet each day for a brief, focused period of time called a “scrum.”
 
Scrums typically last about five minutes, max ten. The point is to touch base and adjust. It’s not about developing a framework or planning a strategy. That piece has already taken place. 
 
The takeaway here is that most meetings are too long and dense, full of air. Most meetings take more time than is necessary. 
 
Stay agile by having a lean agenda, concrete goals, and a hard stop every time you gather. 
 
 
4. Solicit new perspectives. 
Agile methodology leaves plenty of room for change and deviation. In fact, it’s built on the premise that you can’t know all the requirements of a project from its onset. It takes time and experience. A complete picture product of an ever-evolving perspective. 
 
Therefore, your HR team could benefit from outside input. 
 
Make time to step out, to speak with other departments, other executives and managers and employees. Learn their point of view. Internalize it. It may illuminate a better way.
 
5. Curb perfection. 
Time and money are finite resources. You know this. 
 
Whether you’re developing an app, building a website, or hiring a team of people, you’ll always be bound by time and money. The sooner you accept this fact, the less stress you’ll incur when your deliverables eclipse your resources. 
 
Instead of straining to find the time, the money, the energy to accomplish an unattainable objective, train yourself to pivot. Rewire your thought process to pursue creative opportunities rather than unrealistic expectations. 
 
What else can you do?
 
“A lot has changed,” said Tim. 
“In a good way?” asked Don.
 
“Absolutely,” said Tim. “We’re demonstrably more productive.”
 
“Good,” said Don. “How’d you do it?”
 
“Well, for starters,” said Tim, “we broke the team up into smaller, tighter groups …” 

 

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