Talent Management in the Age of Agile

The whole concept of agile emerged from the software development industry as a way of making the development process more efficient and effective with streamlined communication and rapid decision-making in an intensely collaborative, typically cross-functional teamwork environment. It’s about rapid response to change and adapting quickly to ever-changing landscapes. The concept is being increasingly applied to various aspects of business leadership and management. It was only a matter of time before people began thinking about what it would look like if talent management and HR were agile.


Size Matters

A huge battleship out on the ocean needs a lot of time and space to change course – it certainly can’t turn on a dime. A small speedboat, on the other hand, is very nimble in similar circumstances. Applying this to realm of TM and HR would indicate that your teams need to be relatively small in order to be agile. Break your department up into smaller teams for particular business units or departments or sets of responsibilities.

Re-Thinking Meetings

If agility is the goal, then TM and HR departments need to take a step back from what is often a punishing schedule of regular meetings. They suck up an enormous amount of time and often accomplish very little. Prune away as many of these unproductive meetings as possible and only have meetings with clear objectives and pathways for reaching an end. Think of a software development “sprint” and turn meetings into something that looks more like a sprint than a dead-end.

Changing Team Composition

A team needs to be together long enough to learn how to work well together, but having people languish on teams for years and years eventually becomes counterproductive. Look for opportunities to bring in fresh perspectives on teams by moving people around with a strategic view of who would work well where.

Use Scrum Methodology

Continuing on the theme of teamwork, getting peak performance out of any team is going to be easier if you teach them Scrum – the software development technique that relies on short “sprints” of teamwork with very clear deliverables that happen over a defined period of time (typically a matter of weeks) involving rapid reactions and incremental changes. You can find most of what you need to get started at Scrum.org.

But was does agile TM and HR really look like? Bersin by Deloitte gives the following list of examples:

  • Training leaders at all levels of the company to act as hands-on coaches, not “managers”
  • Designing the organization into small, high-performance teams that set their own targets
  • Creating customer interactions within all groups and functions in the company
  • Delivering a strong, focused mission and values to keep everyone aligned
  • Creating systems with lots of transparent information, i.e., what are our goals, who is working on what project, who are our experts
  • Implementing “systems of engagement” not just “systems of record,” i.e., collaboration, information-sharing, project management
  • Building a focus on continuous learning and learning culture at all levels
  • Implementing a strong external employment brand that attracts “the right type” of people
  • Hiring and promoting experts, not general managers
  • Encouraging and teaching people to give each other direct feedback
  • Creating programs for peer-to-peer rewards and recognition
  • Developing programs to foster diversity in teams

A Two-Fold Task

Looking through this list of agile HR examples, it becomes clear that for TM and HR, being agile is two-fold task in which TM/HR departments become more agile themselves, but given the role of TM/HR in the business, the second part of its task is to help make the entire organization more agile. Part of that larger task means learning how to hire the kinds of people who will work best in an agile environment. That means broad experience and ability to move between disciplines as needed as opposed to folks who have only one main skill. Performance reviews need to be more about teams than individuals. It’s a significant paradigm shift.

These are just a few of the ways talent management and human resources are beginning to join the agile movement, and it’s a topic that will become increasingly seen on conference agendas and the media in 2016.

June 25, 2016   Updated :November 28, 2017   agile, agile HR, agile TM, agility, talent management   

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