CEOs ignore HR at their peril

Businesses today need to be flexible to adapt and survive the introduction of new technologies and increased market competition – and HR is crucial to help create a culture and structure that helps achieve this over the long term. 

In my 14-year career as a Scrum Alliance® Certified Agile Coach, I have supported a variety of organisations to help them reap the benefits of agile so as to develop the resilience to thrive in volatile and turbulent times. Along the way, I have learned a lot, specifically the importance of putting people first. Here for Today’s Boardroom readers, I explain why agile should be a priority for the modern CEO and why the HR team is an invaluable ally when carrying out a change within a business.

Firstly, what is agile?

Agile refers to a specific set of values and principles that foster the mindset and skills businesses need to succeed in today’s ever more fast-changing times. The values, outlined in the Agile Manifesto – proposed an alternative way of thinking when approaching the management of projects, team engagement and product development to deliver consistent value in a shorter timeframe.

These core values are:
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

From these set of core values, agile - and the frameworks that form part of it such as Scrum - are an incredibly powerful set of principles and practices that enables cross-functional teams to deliver products and services in short cycles, enabling fast feedback, continual improvement, and rapid adaptation to change.

While the Agile Manifesto has its roots in software development, the authors also drew inspiration from the automotive industry and, as such, the principles are universal and have proven to be consistently effective in transforming how businesses adapt to volatility across a broad range of sectors. Agile is increasingly recognised as a valuable mindset to adopt, with the Forbes Insights and Scrum Alliance Report finding that 81% of the 1,000 C-suite executives surveyed recognised the value of organisational agility and out of those who had adopted agile, 87% stated that it improves their quality of work life.

As an agile coach I have seen first-hand the positive changes adopting an agile framework has brought businesses such as British Telecom, Man Group, the UK’s Government Digital Services, American Express, Capital One and many others; not just operationally but also with employee engagement.

Agile is not just an HR fad

87% of executives view the CEO as the biggest proponent of organisational agility. Change starts at the top and an organisation’s leaders have a crucial role in ensuring the proper implementation of agile, however, executive buy-in alone is not enough. Agile principles must be recognised and valued throughout a business, company culture needs to adapt, and the focus must be on fostering a culture of resilience to reap the benefits of agility.

HR plays a crucial role in fostering an agile culture because any evolution in a business (especially an agile transformation) involves instilling new ways of working, establishing new roles and responsibilities and setting new expectations and opportunities. To make the transformation work, it will involve a mix of training, coaching and recruitment as well as potential job redefinition across all areas of the business. HR professionals have the skillset and employee relationships that senior executives may not have to help smooth any transitions, so it is important to work collaboratively with HR to implement agile.

As a Scrum Alliance® Certified Agile Coach, I have learned how invaluable an HR teams’ expertise is in a successful agile transformation. Below are two of the most important lessons to consider when embarking on your agile journey:

Culture is key - culture is key to supporting an agile enterprise: 65% of respondents to the Forbes insights report in collaboration with Scrum Alliance® agree that their culture is an asset to the organisation, and 66% consider agility an essential part of their company’s DNA. As early as the beginning of the recruitment process be sure to work with your HR team to establish what skills and values potential employees should bring with them, and which can be developed through training programmes.

For example, because agile teams are inherently self-organising, people-skills are just as important as technical skills (and some say even more so) which can be a big change in the recruitment of the more technical roles. Adaptability, creativity and resilience are also important factors when recruiting people into an organisation that is looking to harness the benefits of a more agile way of working. Understanding this can help make the selection process faster and easier, as well as enabling teams to focus on finding candidates with the right agile mindset who will contribute to the transformation of culture and business quickly, even as they learn the requisite skills through your training programme.

Do not make assumptions - it is not always the long-term employees who are opposed to change, nor is it always the creative directors who embrace it. Despite the report finding which states that 66% of respondents said that agility is an essential part of their company’s DNA, 57% describe their company’s culture as resistant to change. Your HR team can be your biggest advocates in the transformation process across all teams in your business. They will also help you gauge employee sentiment and performance throughout and offer practical strategies as to how to increase agility and boost employee empowerment.

If you want to become a more resilient organisation, one that harnesses the benefits of an agile approach such as Scrum to help you grow during challenging times, there is a lot to consider. My advice to executives who are pursuing agility is to work with your HR department to understand your employees and put them first. Start with the goal of fostering an agile culture and work closely with your HR team to train existing staff to work in an agile manner. When recruiting, look out for prospective employees who align with agile values. The most important lesson I can give is to be patient: any business change, particularly an agile transformation, is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be mistakes but focus on small incremental improvements and with time you will get there.

Scrum Alliance Certified Agile Coach at Inspect and Adapt Geoff Watts published this article originally on Today’s Boardroom. It is republished with permission of the author and the original publication.

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