In an agile organization, HR needs to provide the same services it’s always provided — hiring, professional development, performance management — but in ways that are responsive to the ongoing changes in the culture and work style of the organization.
Consider the cautionary example of a large bank I recently worked with. The team I was engaged with had its agile vocabulary down. Team members spoke in a way that would make any outsider believe they were one of the more advanced, enterprise-level agile successes (and, in many ways, they were and continue to be).
But although the vocabulary the organization was using had changed, the qualities being evaluated in the performance management system, for every employee, reflected a different mindset. Agile espouses collaboration, customer centricity, team-based culture, and continuous improvement.
These ideas and practices, however, were nowhere to be found in the evaluation criteria of the bank’s employees. Instead, the manufacturing-era qualities of individual heroism, delivering product on deadline (whether proven or not), and contribution to high-level, often unaccountable business metrics were the main determinants of employee competence, success, and promotion.
Yes, the words they were using every day had changed (which is a good start), but without changing their incentives, they were continuing to work in the same ways they always had.
A success story in building agility at scale comes from ING, which understood that language shifts, and even new incentive structures, were necessary but not sufficient. Agile HR also requires having the right people in place to practice and refine these new processes. To prove this, ING made every employee at its headquarters (nearly 3,500 people) re-interview for their job. Staggeringly, 40% of these people ended up in new positions or parted ways with the company.
And this result wasn’t just about their skill sets. In fact, in many cases the employees’ skill sets were still highly relevant. Rather, it was a specific mindset that was lacking — one that could embrace the uncertainty of a software-based organization while seeking out new, better ways to deliver that service. The HR team had to play a major role in understanding what this mindset looked like and how best to determine which staff members possessed it, which could be trained, and which had to be let go.