Do we need HR professionals in an agile world?

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You may have noticed that in the past couple months, I have been writing about how to bring performance management and reward & recognition more aligned with agile values and principles. You may also notice that in many of my experiences, I did not involve HR. So, does HR fit in an agile world? If they do, then where and how do they fit?

Yes, HR is needed in an agile world. They are crucial to an organization. It’s high time we take a look at the HR department and understand how their job can affect the agility of the team.

You may ask, “if they are so important, why didn’t you involve them in your cautious approaches?” Good question. In my experience with HR professionals, they normally just use their go-to methods, and apply to all groups and situations. Unfortunately, in an agile world, there is no 1-size-fit-all solution. To include HR in cautious approaches, their mentality, roles and practices need to change. At a bare minimum, HR will need to do the following:

  1. Break down all the silos within HR department
  2. Understand company strategy, business strategy and product strategy. They also need to understand the teams, what agile is and what C-suite wants. Otherwise, they won’t be able to help define culture, organization structure, hiring strategy, promotion strategy, etc. Today, HR only understands what senior management wants. Unfortunately, that’s an old way of doing things, that HR designs the solution at the top, then rolls it out to the rest of the organization. We need HR to understand the goals and problems at the source (whether it be team level or senior executive level or anywhere in between), prototype a solution and test it out.

If #1 and #2 are done, then when the business unit is undergoing changes, HRBP can partner with the senior leaders in that business unit. You would also notice that the roles of HR and Agile Coach will start to merge. That’s because HR should be the ones who lead the transformation in the company. 

I deliberately left out changing the name “Human Resource”. Even though employees are not resources like desks or chairs, merely changing the name while maintaining the same way of working makes no difference at all. In fact, it would infuriate employees as it shows them that the company only cares about cosmetic changes but is not willing to do the hard work to affect actual changes. 

If you are an HR professional, I’m sorry, I cannot give you examples of what I have done within the HR department because I’m not an HR professional. However, I’ve worked closely with HR, so I know what a product development organization needs from HR, and how traditional HR hinders agility. When I say “traditional HR”, I mean functional HR model with specialists. Don’t be discouraged. There are places where HR professionals can get help on how to apply agile in their discipline, how the principles and roles need to change, and how to work with other departments in the company. Agile HR Community is one such place.

However, we don’t need to wait for HR to learn and change, there are plenty of things that we can do. In fact, I’m giving a talk on Sept. 29, titled “Daring you to open the HR pandora’s box”. I’m focusing on what I’ve done in the areas of performance management and reward & recognition, with and without HR. Hope to see you there!

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