Why HR should take the lead in agile transformations

It is often a thorn in the side of any HR professional in an agile project environment: HR is involved late in a transformation process. According to Orpheo Ormskerk and Peter Turien from Towson, this is a missed opportunity – they explain why HR should not only be involved from the start, but should have a prominent or even leading role in the transformation team.

For agile transformations, it is not necessary for the HR organization itself to deliver its products in a short cycle (although it helps). However, it is conditional on her embracing the agile values ​​and principles and then using them to redesign HR services in line with future work.

The relationship Agile and HR can be viewed from two perspectives, resulting in two disciplines: Agile for HR and HR for Agile.

When we look at Agile for HR, we talk about how HR organizations themselves work and contribute in an agile way, and we look at how they offer the products and services iteratively. This instead of trying to implement a whole solution for the whole organization at once from the big bang idea. By also working iteratively for the HR function, items from the service catalog can be released faster.

HR for Agile is about HR’s role as an essential component for success with agile transformations. When organizations shift to an agile-oriented operating model, HR’s role is to ensure support for behavioral and structural change.

Because the basic principle of agile work is to strive for self-directed teams, it is also about reinventing and organizing the relationship that our HR officers have with the rest of the organization. The services and products that HR provides must help the organization in the development towards an agile organization and contribute to delivering sustainable value to the end customer as quickly as possible.

The HR pillars are the foundation of the success of the transformation

An HR organization provides guidance to a company on at least the following four topics:

  • Skills and learning and development
  • Human performance
  • Leadership development
  • Role clarity and role unit

It is also precisely the four resources that are being used from the agile transformation to enable the necessary change of attitude and behavior.

In order to make the most of the benefits of agile work, companies and / or business units need to organize and behave differently across the entire organization. Among other things, they must become more customer-oriented, act data-driven and strive for autonomy. This is only possible if the right support is created for this and this change is subsequently anchored.

The change is far-reaching and therefore requires a different attitude and relationship from the leaders and their interaction with teams and people.

Creating support for this change, defining the new framework and facilitating the desired behavior is now precisely an HR team’s specialty. It can therefore be said that it is an indispensable party in the design of the agile oriented organization and that it should be part of a transformation team from the start.

We already expect our HR to take the lead in securing and facilitating the right competencies. This is done, among other things, through a vision of and awareness of employment policy, the establishment of a company-wide training plan and the facilitation of personal development plans. It is skills and experience that will help you get started quickly and successfully. People with experience can be recruited quickly and carefully, and people in the organization are offered perspective with the expansion of knowledge and skills.

However, having the right competencies on board is only sufficient in the pilot phase when only a limited part of the organization is still working agile. As soon as agile work is used more widely and this becomes the “operating model”, the need for role unity and role clarity arises.

This is often the (too) late moment when HR organizations are actively asked to participate in the agile transformation. And so often with a limited need to facilitate this role of purity and clarity by making clear profile descriptions that comply with all legal obligations. These profiles are very important because roles like Product Owner, Scrum Master etc. are often new to an organization.

This cannot be seen separately from developing a vision and implementing new leadership and leadership development. For example, performance management will be handled in a completely different way and decision making is expected to be much more at the team level. This means that HR must develop new competencies that support the new way of working and that are future-proof within the new way of working.

The HR officer as serving manager and coach

Speaking of future-proof – HR officers will also need to embrace and spread the agile mentality. This can be done by positioning oneself as so-called ‘servant leaders’. Because if people and teams are expected to take more ownership, these teams will also take on more HR tasks in the teams and arrange them among themselves.

In short, the HR officer becomes, to an even greater degree than today, an advisor and coach, who sets the framework within which the teams can act. This is a further argument that the HR organization and the HR officers should play a significant role in the agile transformation from the start so as not to constantly lag behind the facts and thereby become the inhibiting factor of the change.

Now that many organizations are implementing a different iteration in the agile transformation to achieve the next redemption plateau, it is advisable to rethink the composition of the transformation teams and that the HR function immediately gets the role that organizations deserve so that HR can provide optimal results contribute to the new way of working.

About the authors: Orpheo Ormskerk and Peter Turien are Agile Transformation Coach at Towson, a consulting and interim agency that helps organizations embrace agile principles.

Leave a Comment