Building the agile enterprise

26 february 2018

We’ve entered the era of agile talent!

We recently read an interesting interview on the topic of freelancing and agile talent and how organizations are now employing a mix of freelancers, contractors, consultants, and full-timers. Freelancers and temporary workers are not new, but things are shifting because we’re not only talking about seasonal industries anymore. We are talking about all kinds of industries at all levels of the organization.

It’s clear that a new generation of workers is on the rise!

Freelancers - let's call them agile talent - are not connected to one single organization as a permanent employee and are doing much more strategic work than some years ago when it was just about operational work or temporary work, replacing a full-time permanent employee.

Agile talent calls for agile HR and agile talent management...

Agile = being able to move quickly and easily. In a business context, agility is the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways.

Agile is transforming how organizations attract, develop and manage talent.

Not that long ago, it was easy for corporate companies to attract the best talent because everybody dreamed of being employed by them and because they had the budgets to offer te most attractive benefits packages. But this isn’t the case anymore. Anno 2018, we’ve entered an era where corporate vision and mission statements have lost all meaning when it comes to motivating and retaining top talent. Anno 2018 agility and growth play a central role in managing talent.

Managers today are employing agile talent management strategies
that compliment their business goals and purpose to get the job done.

So, let’s all register for a training, read some books on agility and agile management and then just roll it out? Of course not!

Agile is not the silver bullet that can solve all your HR problems. You can’t just start an agile transformation.
Before embracing agile it is key to first understand what it means and how it really works. Our #dreamteam member Lesley Arens wrote a blogpost on agile management (Dutch) and via this link you can also learn a lot about the principles of agile and how to implement it.

Too many organizations keep using a job-based, bureaucratic talent management approach that doesn't take into account how the world and our workforce has changed.

Talent management has to be reinvented and should be driven by the skills
and competencies the organization needs for long-term growth.

This means Talent management requires more agile solutions that can respond quickly to changing conditions and that take a more individualized approach to evaluating and rewarding performance.

If we demand our workforce to constantly reinvent themselves,
then HR and talent management should do the same, agree?
So, how to embrace agile and where to start?

This article illustrates some of the profound changes companies are making in their talent practices and describes the challenges they face in their transition to agile HR.

Where are we seeing the biggest changes?

1) Performance appraisals:
The first traditional HR practice to go was the annual performance review. As individuals worked on shorter-term projects of various lengths, often run by different leaders and organized around teams, the notion that performance feedback would come once a year, from one boss, didn’t make sense anymore. Then again, dropping appraisals without a plan to fill the void of course is a recipe for failure. Better to switch to frequent performance assessments, with a focus on delivering immediate feedback throughout the year so that teams can improve performance in real time, and learn through iteration which are all key agile principles.

2) Coaching:
Companies that are succesfull in implementing agile management invest a lot in sharpening their managers’ coaching. Managers go through a “coach” training that’s broken into weekly 90-minute videos and “Learning sprints” are brief and spread out so the managers have time to reflect and test-drive new skills on the job. Also peer-to-peer feedback is incorporated.

3) Focus on teams:
Traditional HR is focused on individuals and their goals, their performance, their needs. But as already mentioned in one of my previous #ConnectWithContent articles organizations are becoming more team focused. Teams are creating, executing, and revising their goals and tasks with scrums at the team level, in the moment, to adapt quickly to new information as it comes in. And they take it upon themselves to track their own progress, identify obstacles, assess their leadership, and generate insights about how to improve performance.

4) Compensation:
Pay is changing as well. A simple adaptation to agile work, is to use spot bonuses to recognize contributions when they happen rather than rely solely on end-of-year salary increases. Compensation works best as a motivator when it comes as soon as possible after the desired behavior. Annual merit-based raises are less effective, because too much time goes by. Compensation is also being used to reinforce agile values such as learning and knowledge sharing.

5) Recruiting:
Also recruiting and hiring have become more agile. What to think about cross-functional teams working together on all hiring requisitions. A “head count manager” represents the interests of internal stakeholders who want their positions filled quickly and appropriately. Hiring managers rotate on and off the team, depending on whether they’re currently hiring, and a scrum master oversees the process.

6) Learning & development:
"Although helpful for those who have clearly defined needs, offering an online suite of learning modules is a bit like giving a student the key to a library and telling him to figure out what she must know and then go learn it". Better to use data analysis to identify the skills required for particular jobs and for advancement and then suggest to individual employees what kinds of training and future jobs make sense for them, given their experience and interests.

A lot of processes have to change for an organization to move away from a linear planning-based, “waterfall” model towards a more flexible and adaptive solution.

Many HR tasks will become obsolete, as will expertise in those areas. Meanwhile, new tasks are being created.

The rise of Agile HR

The HR function itself will also require reskilling. And the pressure is on, because it’s coming from the operating level, which makes it much harder to cling to old talent practices.

In 2012 (!) Josh Bersin allready focused on how HR could contribute towards building agile organizations (read the article). HR, he believed, was one of the business functions with a significant contribution to make towards the organization’s agility. For Bersin, Agile principles are key to supporting the kind of continuous learning, continuous talent acquisition, and transparent processes that enable organizations to attract, develop, and engage talent in the twenty-first century.

When applied to HR, Agile principles change the focus from imposing controls and standards to empowering collaboration and innovation. Here are some of the ways in which Agile methodologies influence key areas of HR, We’ve found them in this article:

  • remedial approach vs continuous learning environment
  • recruitment mindset vs continuous talent acquisition
  • opaque talent processes vs transparent access to talent information
  • siloed objectives vs unified mission and values
  • implementing systems vs pivoting small initiatives
  • HR as system of record vs HR as system of engagement

Reframing HR as an Agile discipline can help HR create a more resilient organization
that’s required to navigate the realities of the VUCA vortex.

However, transitioning from a traditional to an Agile HR methodology constitutes a big change. Before putting it in motion, it’s important to have the underlying supports in place, such as:

  • an organizational culture that prioritizes engagement and trusts its employees
  • An HR department that is ready to take on the role of Chief Adaptability officer
  • A workforce that is ready to take greater responsibility, and is supported in doing so
  • Technologies that make resources widely accessible

The rate of change in what organizations need to do, how well they need to do it and how fast they need to do it, is constantly increasing. The only way to respond to that is to have an agile organization. And the only way to create an agile organization is to attract agile talent and to have talent management practices that create talent agility.

  • Want to learn more? Read ‘reinventing talent management’ by Edward E Lawler
  • Need help in attracting agile talent? Or are you looking for experts on agile management and agile HR? Reach out to us. 

Have a great week!


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