Bringing Agility into HR

While Agile originated as an approach to software development, due to its benefits, it has since been applied in almost every industry and environment, including HR. The journey to “being Agile” in HR begins with understanding and believing in Agile values and principles then applying them to the way (and the “why”) we do our work.

The Agile values and principles help to guide the way I work every day. Accenture | SolutionsIQ distills these down to “bringing humanity to the workplace.” I genuinely believe Agile HR centers around this brief but powerful statement. To me, this means: to lead with empathy, focus on the employee experience, make a meaningful impact, and inspect and adapt often. I encourage HR practitioners to start your Agile journey by answering the question, “What does bringing humanity to the workplace mean to you?” This is an easy exercise to help you identify your HR north star and begin embracing Agile values and principles.

Reading about Agile ways of working in HR can be a bit overwhelming. Many articles and white papers focus on high-level Agile transformation initiatives such as, “overhauling the recruiting experience, the performance management process, the compensation program, or the on-boarding program.” (Whew, where to even begin!). While these are excellent initiatives – if you and your teams are new to Agile, I recommend starting a little simpler.

Working in an Agile Way

Try turning your camera on!

Accenture is the biggest consultancy on the face of the earth – so it’s hard to keep track of all the new connections I make almost daily. So what could be simpler than ensuring that you turn your camera on when you are on a video call, even just to wave hello.
Seeing my colleague’s faces, reactions, hand gestures, and laughter makes all the difference for me. It helps with collaboration, builds connections, and ultimately can help create friendships which makes work much more fun.

In the beginning, this was difficult for me to get used to, so I recommend trying with some colleagues you are most comfortable with. You will appreciate the difference it makes in no time. And be smart about it: if you encounter bandwidth issues, or you’re not feeling your best, you don’t have to turn on your camera. I am saying, though, that if you start you using your camera more, your relationships and effectiveness will noticeably improve.

Contribute whenever possible.

If you have feedback, a question, a comment, an idea – say it! Easier said than done. Participating in a group takes trust and courage. Working with my HR colleagues, I believe I am in a safe environment where all ideas are both considered and valued. Believing in this trust has helped me build the courage I needed to contribute and share early and often. My colleagues have told me in words and actions how much they appreciate my contributions. It may seem insignificant to you, but over time, your contributions will have an impact.

Another aspect of this is giving feedback. If you are a regular contributor in any setting, you will eventually have to provide feedback, which can come across as negative. Two things are important to keep in mind: First, if you often contribute in a way that has a positive impact, then it makes your feedback easier to take, because you have collectively established a safe, productive environment. And second, if your feedback is to point out a problem, offer a solution if possible.

Spice up your meetings with new facilitation techniques.

If you’re showing up to meetings “checked out”, chances are that you’re not engaging with others and being present. This can happen even with teams who have worked together for a long time. To ensure participants are present and energized to contribute, you can spice up the format of the meeting in simple ways:

  • Use sticky notes over PowerPoint
  • Rotate the meeting facilitator role
  • Use video
  • Use “check-ins” with participants

Try incorporating an interactive activity to encourage participation, spur group brainstorming, and just make meetings more productive and fun.

Ask for feedback early and often.

I ask for feedback on almost everything I work on. Collective brains produce much better outcomes than my one brain! I used to hesitate to share my work for fear of criticism and/or the thought that “my way is the best way.” I have discovered that “criticism” (or what I now just call feedback) is always meant with good intent and that “my way is the best way” is much more successful as “our way is the best way.” Ask your colleagues early on to pair real time – you will enjoy the experience and create great work together.

Make things better.

Think of the end user or “customer” (often the employees in HR) and ask these questions often:

  • How would this policy, communication, conversation, or approach make me feel if I were receiving it?
  • How can we make this better?
  • Who might we include in this conversation to provide another perspective?
  • Where can we find an impactful win for the employees, the business, the team?

Personal experience tells me there is almost always room for improvement.

Stop or reduce multi-tasking.

Like most, I have years of constant multitasking and reactive thinking under my belt. I had to put in some real work to re-train my brain to focus one getting one thing done. But there’s so much to get done – who can find the time to do just one thing at a time? Well, you can.

It helps me to schedule periods of strategic “focus” time on the calendar each day. I am prioritizing the focus that I need to be effective, which isn’t for nothing: multitasking – and task-switching for that matter – results in poorer-quality work. If I turn down a meeting to focus on one task, the other participants in the meeting can rest assured that, when I am working on something that impacts them, I will do it right, in a focused environment.

Other approaches you can try to improve focus and reduce multi-tasking include turning off your email for specific periods of time, putting away anything that you know will distract you, or using the Pomodoro technique.

Create a backlog to help prioritize, provide transparency, and better organize work.

I found that having a visible backlog (prioritized task list) has transformed the way I work. This has been most effective for efficient collaboration with cross-functional (and often times distributed) teams. In my experience, it’s worked best to create both a team and individual backlog, providing transparency amongst team mates and/or leaders. Creating a backlog can be quick and simple by using a physical whiteboard with stickies if you are collocated with your team, or leveraging a virtual board like Trello, LeanKit, or the one integrated in Microsoft Teams (which is what I use).

Refer to employees as “Employees, colleagues, co-workers, people” – not as “Resources”

This is a sticking point for me and has been for years. Resources are inanimate objects, such as money or oil, that we use to accomplish a goal. People are not resources.

Referring to people as resources can be dehumanizing and can make us feel less engaged, less empowered, less collaborative, and possibly even less human. This is exactly why at SolutionsIQ we have strived for years to “bring humanity into the workplace” in both big ways and small. Just call people, “people!”

Summary

While certainly not an exhaustive list of tips, I hope some of these recommendations inspire you to consider different ways of working together. For me, Agile has significantly transformed the work experience, enhanced my relationships with colleagues and leaders, and made me a happier employee overall. I am so passionate about spreading the goodness of Agile into HR and across business because I want everyone to benefit from it. Small changes can have big impacts, and that is something I can attest to.


Looking for more tips on making HR more Agile from Allison Flaten, check out this Agile Amped podcast. Or check out our white paper “Resources for Agile Humans.”