Today, more and more HR professionals realize that traditional HR processes and systems are outdated, heavily compliance-driven, bureaucratic and siloed. They now self-identify as using an agile methodology— articulating strategies that allow for flexibility, speed and collaboration to help companies gain organizational agility and build a truly employee-centric organization. This article will walk you through the diary of a CHRO who applied agile practices in everyday decisions to reinvent her people operations to become more human-centric and drive HR transformation.
Agile HR has the potential to revolutionize our profession and help us co-create the future of work. It also equips us with the capability to help our organisations transform and meet the challenges of the business. The starting point is a mindset change and who other than HR would have the ability to define and lead by example? By embracing a test and learn approach, and incrementally developing solutions in partnership with our people, we can enrich their employee experience.
Anamika was a dynamic young HR leader who believed that the HR function was never meant to be a siloed vertical. She was a strong advocate of taking a people-centric approach to creating user experience along with stakeholder value. Let’s look at a few pages from Anamika’s diary on how she applied Agile practices in HR.
Friday 4th Jan 2019
I walked into my office and found a flurry of emails. It was time for some introspection on how to change the way we work. I discussed this in the daily stand-up meeting and the team had a lot to say. Traditionally, we worked with half-yearly reviews of HR deliverables. But now, when changes are happening rapidly, we are expected to turn around and deliver to suit requirements. The team came up with a plan to review work in a shorter time frame. We decided to hold an HR cadence that runs monthly where planning and prioritization is done.
I felt it is a great idea since it would help each team member to showcase the value delivered to the stakeholder and also gather feedback to plan the next steps better. By holding a retrospective, the team members decided to assess how they have worked together and also what they could do to bring in continuous improvement.
Wednesday 22nd May 2019
9:00 am: An important task for today was to recommend a way to improve the learning experience in our training programs. I knew that old tricks won’t work anymore and I needed to find out what is it that’s required to create an ‘experience’. I placed this as a mini-project for the ‘Eureka Lab’ and waited for the results.
12 noon: Eureka lab was in progress and I found a lot of excitement among the members. Today we had a full house including members from the shop floor, team leaders, managers and even a few from the senior management teams. Collective brainstorming was on and the wall was full of sticky notes with great ideas. I was amazed to see that the team was using techniques so that every single idea is out there on the wall.
1:00 pm: Eureka lab is closed for the day and I was excited to see the results. There was a pictogram on the wall with a prototype of the ‘new’ Learning Calendar design. I was sure this time it would work. The new design was, of course, co-created starting with a ‘Pilot’ launch. In the past, for driving any change like this, the top managers would be in the room and the HR team was expected to deliver. Even if the feedback was poor, the program wasn’t stopped instead, it was just tweaked and repackaged as much as possible so that it could still be rolled-out as scheduled.
Instead, with the new approach, we had collectively decided that we would experiment with different experiences first or do some discovery work on what would work and when. We would actually test the prototype and co-create the final version after drawing insights.
Monday 17th June 2019
Today’s task was to draw out the HR plan and present it in the CXO huddle. I had to move away from the waterfall approach to deliver value incrementally. The traditional approach has been used to blueprint HR systems and processes upfront and release them into the business as rigid ‘policies’ and ‘procedures’. Something told me that the approach was not enough for path-breaking results. What I did today gave me awesome results. I had several meetings with different teams including my stakeholders from the business and we tested a hypothesis. Together we discovered what would work and what won’t.
Now I am a lot more certain that driving performance reviews this year is going to be a lot more meaningful and not something that I would dictate. The biggest learning today was that it is time for HR to come out of its siloed ivory tower and collaborate with peers from the business. There cannot be a better way to keep up with the dynamics of the environment and the business.
Tuesday 10th September 2019
Today was a very interesting day. The team had tested a new feedback app as part of a wider project to redesign performance assessment and reward management. Being a technology-based company, the team’s expectation was that everyone would love an app-based solution. However, the business teams hated the app. They did not like the reminders it gave and its frequent notifications seemed to annoy them. It turned out that all they needed was a space free from giving ratings on a pre-designed form and rather just have a mechanism for more frequent feedback. The design team quickly jumped to action and changed course.
Not only did this approach decrease the risk, but it also built the ability to change and re-plan as the business environment changes. It certainly saved us from the risk of committing time, money and people into developing a flawed idea.
Monday 30th December 2019
Today is the end of the fiscal year and it is time for me to introspect on the transformation of HR practices. Here are some reflections of the year that went by.
We had inherited an outdated HR model
Most of the existing HR models were out-of-date. We were stuck with heavy compliance-driven, bureaucratic and siloed HR processes and systems. Ours was an HR model reflecting the legacy of top-down decision making, a pyramid hierarchy and a human view where workers need to be closely monitored and assessed. As a result, we had often heard from other parts of the business that we’ve lost the human touch, focus too much on form filling and even impede the delivery of business value.
We have started to rethink the way we work
To update our HR model, we were required to move beyond cosmetic changes, such as introducing pulse-surveys or digital peer feedback tools. What we required was a fundamental rethink, where HR would step into the experience of work and start to redesign it from the user’s perspective instead of HR’s perspective. We have now realized that HR professionals can reinvent their people operations to be more human-centric and deliver business value, no matter what industry or type of organisation we work in.
Constraints don’t curb innovation
Of course, the road was full of constraints and we realized that we must always be mindful of them. We learnt to work around and innovate within these. We understood the importance of balancing between the rights of our people and the compliance needs of our business. Another big learning was that if we trust our people to make adult decisions, we can build systems and processes based on their user experience, rather than just rules and regulations.
I sign off from this diary with a feeling of having earned my worth. More promises to build AGILE practices as I turn on a new page in a new diary next year. I will start small and experiment. I might fail but I know it is better to fail early, learn and course correct.
Agile fuels me towards progress.