The softer side of Agile – Neglected and unnoticed ….

The word agility is on the lips and tips of most business executives throughout the world as they try to increase their employees’ and organizations’ ability to anticipate change and respond efficiently and effectively.

Agile adoption requires all departments and functions to be aligned and think likewise, which includes the HR function.  However, many HR executives are clueless on the intent and the focus of agility in the current HR processes. Creating the Agile Organization turns its focus on agility itself and asks the question. What is the role of HR in the agile adoption in the organization, how and where and what should the HR folks contribute to make the organization Agile.

Well the answer: learning and performance management.

In fact, a major challenge is organizations are trying to move from a historical management approach that is highly structured and perceived as more safe to one that is less structured and perceived as more risky.

There are numerous elements that go into enabling employees and leaders to behave in a more agile fashion—and many of these elements are outside the influence of HR. To that end, HR should first establish a strong collaboration with senior leaders focused on evolving the organization to a more agile model before making changes to processes. Without this agreement, efforts by HR to increase organizational agility are likely to be mostly futile.

Assuming HR has this agreement, the question becomes, “Where should HR focus its efforts?” While many talent processes are important, our research indicates there are two levers of talent management that are at the core of enabling agile behaviours: learning and performance management

Learning enables individuals to anticipate changes as a result of constantly enhancing their understanding of the organization, its markets, and future opportunities and challenges. Further, learning also enables individuals to respond effectively and efficiently to those opportunities and challenges, if that learning can occur in the moment and in response to specific needs.

Traditional performance evaluations, which focus solely on individual performance, create a “chasm of disconnect” for agile team members. Because agile is all about team performance and trust, the typical HR performance evaluation system is not congruent with agile development.

Performance management enables agility by establishing clear goals and reinforcing and rewarding those who respond effectively and efficiently. If performance management does not reinforce the importance of acting with agility but instead emphasizes following the historical plan, then employees will not perform in an agile fashion.

Many companies shifting to Agile. But, most continue to use their existing performance evaluation methods! Agile organization with Traditional measurements will always behave and do the following:

• Rewards the wrong behaviours
• Creates/exacerbates the chasm
• Individual stature
• Promote myself
• Me first, team second
• Me versus everyone else
• Desire to become an SME

We like it or not, most executives love to measure and measure wrong things and have no linkage with the organizational goals and strategies. Most of the measurements in the SW industry has been due to the adoption of models and frameworks like CMMI and ISO’s of the world, which focus on the measurement driven system.

No, No, No, I am not against the measurement, but would have reservations against what is getting measured and why it is getting measured and the usage of these numbers in the system.

Measurements drive behaviour, why team measurement is important, what to measure, and what not to measure. Agile introduces tangible techniques for measuring agile team performance-end of sprint retrospectives, sprint and project burn down charts, peer reviews, and release performance reviews. To demonstrate Agile uses role plays to contrast traditional, dysfunctional annual reviews with agile-focused performance reviews. Take back practical knowledge, based on fundamental agile principles, about how to integrate team measurement techniques into your existing environment-whether the HR department buys in to this practice or not.

As Eliyahu Goldratt mentioned …. “Tell me how you will measure me and I will tell you how I will behave.”

It is human nature for people to modify their behaviours to match the evaluation system.

  • A very important part of any agile rollout is to align the performance evaluation system (and other HR practices) with what Agile emphasizes.
  • Not doing so causes dysfunction that will erode the team’s effectiveness.

As with any new approach, introducing an agile performance evaluation system will have its challenges:

  • Resistance to change
  • Fear – too revealing
  • Deflates the general optimism
  • Loss of control
  • Cheese mover comfort zone, Etc.

Some final thoughts on this front ….

  • It is human nature for people to modify their behaviours to match the evaluation system.
  • A very important part of any agile rollout is to align the performance evaluation system (and other HR practices) with what Agile emphasizes.
  • Not doing so causes dysfunction that will erode the team’s effectiveness.
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