Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Role of HR in agile

There is something happening in HR...... The self-managing organizations described in the book of Laloux have practically no supporting departments, like HR ……. In his study on leading agile organizations, Denning describes that there are practically no signs of external consultants and coaches. Bersin says in his 'Key predictions for 2017' that Learning & Development will still struggle immensely and Hans Bakker of Nyenrode states in his announcement for the Next learning event that there will be no HR manager in about 5 years.

Together with Jeroen Molenaar, agile consultant for the INGbank, I wrote in our previous blogpost about the agile work environment as an example of an agile learning ecosystem. An agile work environment based on values and culture, where trust and autonomy of employees and teams are of paramount importance. In our second blogpost we wrote about the three leadership roles in teams. In the third blog we wrote about the so-called tribe leadership team (TL-team). In this blog we discuss the support of HR in the transformation process and in an agile learning ecosystem.

Deloitte (Bersin, 2016) distinguishes three fields in the role of People Operations (HR):
  1. Ensure that the operational human processes work efficiently; 
  2. Understand, organize and improve the employee experience; 
  3. Structure of the talent system.
1. Ensure that the operational human processes work efficiently
People Operations, Human Resources(HR), has an important task to ensure that operational human processes run efficiently and smoothly. These processes cover administration, salary, contracts, benefits and other personnel affairs, such as illness and dismissal. It also ensures that the IT support is up-to-date, including HR analytics.
One of the main tasks of People Operations is the recruitment of new employees, obviously in consultation with the business. It is useful to involve a few executives from the business to participate in the HR Steering Committee directing the recruitment activities. In the battle for talent and identification of talent, cooperation between the business and people operations is crucial. With regard to recruitment I further refer to the book written by Laszlo Bock: Work rules at Google.
It seems obvious to consider the onboarding of new employees also as a responsibility of HR, although I can imagine that the Executive action team may also pick it up. In an agile environment the internalization of the agile mindset in relation to values and culture is of outmost importance and the business with agile coaches can best bring it into the picture.

In agile the chapter leads are responsible for the HR cycle; planning, monitoring and evaluating employees. It is the People Operations task to design a performance review system that fits into the agile philosophy. An annual assessment no longer fits here; the chapter lead will organize regular dialogues with each team member. In Agile, you work in a cross functional team and so the team performance review should be associated with the individual review. In a POCLAC team, the chapterlead will collect information about a team member from the agile coach and the product owner. As working well in a team is so important, then other team members have also a say in someone’s review. However, do not make it complicated. For example look at the Google practice and subsequently address your efforts on the two tails (worst and best employees) where you will see the biggest performance improvements. And last but not least, when trust is a key value, then it should also be reflected in the new performance review system. In short the last word is not yet said.

2. Understand, organize and improve the employee experience and building up the talent system 
To organize and improve the employee experience writers, in many articles and blogposts authors argue that this would be a task of People Operations; that she would make the organization a 'great place to work' (Bersin, 2016). By this they also mean everything that has to do with culture, engagement and learning. However in an agile mindset this is something for the business, ownership should be in the business and it has to be sustained by the business. People and their interactions in teams, the culture of learning and experimenting is all about agile.

Learning is upgraded to strategy

I go back to the philosophy of an agile learning ecosystem. If you want an agile organization that rapidly and resiliently anticipates the digital disruptions, it is inevitable that you constantly learn in your work. You do not want it otherwise, these learning processes are crucial for survival. You can only be agile by learning rapidly. It is not for nothing that experiments are encouraged in an agile environment and that means learning all the time. Agile at ING means constantly working in labs. Hagel also referred to it as scalable learning. Birkinshaw sets learning in his presentation at the Peter Drucker conference 2016 as priority for strategy and transformation and he is quite right! Learning is "serious" business and you should not leave it to HR, and as a business you should do it yourself!

If you as MT choose to go on the path of an agile learning ecosystem, you will create a support team or change team that supports the organization in its change process. In the scrum approach it is called an 'Executive Action Team’ and is often called a change team. This team is the responsibility of the COO. Since the transformation process has no end, it is not a project, this team will constantly keep a finger on the pulse of the organization’s transformation. In this team, people with a people operations view will participate. The transformation means for example that it often requires a change in employment conditions, which will have to be managed carefully. In some organizations you see that HR is not really involved in the agile transformation process. When HR does not internalize the agile mindset itself, it is difficult to grow in that new role. Since the business is in the lead, it might be handy, but it is not wise for the long term.

Team as learning lab 
In a changing environment, the team will be a learning community; constantly you talk mindfully with each other to work even smarter. Working in short sprint cycles, using the agile meetings including the retrospective meeting where team members look back on the past period, makes work one big learning process. The intensive contact between the team and teams in the tribe will facilitate sharing of information. Proximity is an important factor to take note of information from another. Factors such as confidence, feedback and recognition might also be easy going.

Leadership development

In most successful companies, leadership development is most effective in the workplace, "embedded 'at work, summarizes a recent article published by Deloitte: Better pond, better fish. This article lists the five most important methods on how to promote the development of leadership in an ecosystem. The tasks of the business and HR are described and in an agile learning ecosystem I argue that the HR tasks described will be taken over by the business (see my last blog).

Agile learning (A&L) advisor 
Agile learning advisors will assist teams with the transformation, Hagel argues for a 'trusted' talent advisor and this person is often called an agile coach. At Spotify it is even a leadership role for people-oriented and group-oriented leadership, see also my second blog. I described in my 2nd blog that the agile coach buzzes as a bee around the teams, alert for every opportunity to support people and alert to any event which could be of value for team members. Agile coaches support each other to do better; they ensure the buzz in the network of teams. The A&L advisor is part of the business and not of People operations. In an agile approach it is also not appropriate to hire external agile coaches. Agile coaches support each other to become excellent in their craftsmanship. Make sure that agile coaches can rely on specific expertise, like behaviour experts, a learning expert, etc. These experts need not be a member of the organization, they might be part of a small pool of carefully chosen consultants and coaches by the People Operation(HR). A&L advisors have access to these people without permission. Of course you have made arrangements with them about fees, time investment and you periodically evaluate their added value, their price, etc.

Knowledge generation and craftsmanship 
Regarding skills and information provision the chapterleads play an important role (HR cycle). They ensure that all team members will develop and flourish. They are supported by the agile coach. Then you must indeed have to agree that the A&L advisor should and can provide the required support. And this goes further than that single question of an agile coach in a POCLAC meeting. If there is a need for information and chapter members with their chapter lead do not have the answer, the agile coach supports the tracing of a knowledge holder, a master. A sophisticated profiling system helps but is not always enough. The agile coach also organizes a 24-hour Question & Answer service for team members to provide requested information rapidly (see the concierge at Klick). In this way they also ensure that the knowledge database is filled with up-to-date information. Obviously IT ensures that content can be uploaded into smart systems so that employees are tailor-made informed on their dashboard and on their mobile app (including using profiling, analytics, etc.). The IT system is learning to publish tailor made information on your dashboard needed for tomorrow.

Continuously finding, organizing and sharing relevant 'content' is also called "Content curation ', see interesting publication from Anders Pink. In an agile environment, the role of learning professional will be taken over by the Agile learning advisor, chapter lead and by team members themselves. The roadmap described by Anders Pink is a discussion; in an agile environment you do not need to look for a target group and you do not go for knowledge discovery; the agile workprocess is in itself the discovery journey.

Content development 
Significant attention should be paid to content development as you cannot afford time-consuming procurement processes - the business and the customer cannot wait that long. At least you want to show the customer at the end of the sprint (within 2 weeks) something. Content providers must be able to present a 'minimum viable product' to the 'customer' in the agile way within a few days.

The clue is good information provision and then as the customer you have lower design demands. People Operations ensures that developers are ready for hiring with a “press of a button”. The A&L advisor in consultation with the chapter lead may initiate the process of content generation. They have the trust from management to take "good" investment decisions; confidence is in agile a key value and this also applies for content (learning material) development. And when a team member has information of value, then the agile learning advisor helps to ease this person’s burden of work so that valuable information can still be brought to the attention of others efficiently. Make sure that those readers are able to appreciate(score) - content, with badges for example, thereby automatically generating feedback and this motivates the content creator. As a result of the attention of the people in their vicinity, people will be more interested to read the 'curated' information.

For each function (do you still speak of functions?) you assess the minimum competencies (qualifications). When employees lack certain minimum competencies, they should as soon as possible make the skills or knowledge their own. In an environment with digital disruption you cannot afford a delay. In terms of behaviour and knowledge People Operations provides a wide range of videos and other content that people can access directly. When people have too little knowledge about a particular subject, they can register immediately for (e) learning modules and/or video’s in the academy or learning portal. People Operations ensures that all kinds of learning programs for this purpose are ready for use, of course, in consultation with the chapter leads. The chapter lead should be able to rely on the Preferred suppliers providing those programs to ensure that the curriculum is up to date. Make agreements about that.

Subject matter areas are in change as well as the minimum knowledge and skills requirements. Periodically the chapter leads assesses which content is needed to stay up-to-date (knowledge, skills and behaviour). It is a matter of scheduling otherwise you forget it in the hectic activities of daily work. It is then up to People operations, in touch with the chapter lead, asking preferred suppliers to present an offer you cannot refuse. Obviously you have selected suppliers anticipating new developments and they inform chapter leads proactively about desired knowledge and skills, without overfeeding them.

Preferred suppliers
In an environment full of disruption you need partners with regard to education, training, information, content development, etc. You expect these partners to anticipate and inform proactively any changes in the business environment. In the fields of knowledge provision and skills development People Operations has the task to select the preferred suppliers, obviously with a link to the chapter leads. Together with procurement the contracts are drawn up and prices (fees) are determined. Since you ask for a rapid service, the fee will sometimes be higher than before. The supplier would also need to create a pool of people to be able to respond quickly. Just keep in mind however that the cost of a high-speed service is probably insignificant compared to the added value that the business may generate. Periodically you evaluate the services provided by the supplier, with People Operations in the lead. They check for example if the services provided are adequate and fast and that the invoices are in line with the quality of the product delivered. Obviously they rely on information from the chapter lead. The business must be able to trust that People operations has a sharp eye for their needs; they must be confident that they contract top suppliers for a reasonable price.

The business IT system should be equipped to provide team members with tailor made relevant information. Analytics and profiling are crucial. The Executive Action Team will work closely with IT, allowing valuable timely information presented on the dashboard and mobile app of employees. IT also ensures that all kinds of content with tags can be easily published by team members (whether or not supported by the A & L advisor) and readers can then appreciate (score) the content for example with 'badges'.

Transformation process 
HR has an important role in the transformation process to an agile learning ecosystem. What is needed above all is to strengthen the executive team action and to properly introduce the first agile learning advisors and guide them in their role. HR can also help in selecting people for the agile learning advisory role. A condition is that there are HR people able to support and facilitate these change processes. If not, the Executive action team will often be accompanied by externals.

Does HR go back to personnel affairs or does she evolve in the Executive Action team? 
Organizing and improving the employee experience in an agile environment is the responsibility of the Executive Action Team. A&L advisors support them. ChapterLeads have an important role in the HR cycle and in the professional development of employees. A point of concern is that the chapter leads pick up their role to build up and develop expertise by chapter members to become masters in their own area of expertise. People Operations(HR) will have to design a performance review system in line with the agile philosophy and appropriate values. HR equips the EA team, you could say that HR transforms into a part of the EA-team, not next to the business but embedded with the business. HR is agile, it's not a job but a role in the EA-team. HR is too often overlooked in the business transformation and there is too little time for good constructive conversations to assess the People operations’ role and tasks in an agile learning ecosystem. It is time to clarify roles in the future organization. We have to stop beating about the bush and raise the real issues with regard to HR in an agile learning ecosystem.

Blogs in progress:
  • Agile in municipalities 
  • Customer delight in an agile learning ecosystem

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