Agile Workplace

Why the future of HR needs to be Agile

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit
November 4, 2021
5 min read

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“It’s how we make sure everything gets done.”

I was one month into my new role and my COO decided to “gift” me the privilege of writing the awards applications we decided we wanted to go for, the deadline was two weeks away and I didn’t know where to start. Not only was I new to the company, but I was new to tech and new to understanding how different awards processes worked. I barely understood the company from an operational standpoint and now I needed to wax poetic about the company’s story, our challenges and successes, and paint the picture of why we were deserving of accolades and the perceived prestige that could come with them. I booked time with each of my co-Directors in the hopes that I could hear from them why we should get any of the awards we were applying for and knit together a narrative that would help get us where we wanted to go. It wasn’t that I didn’t think we deserved the awards, I just didn’t know how to tell the story clearly and compellingly. What I got from my coworkers not only gave me what I needed to write the applications but also inspired me to change my way of working.

I’ve always been interested (more like obsessed) with finding efficiencies. So, when our Director of Technology patiently walked me through in detail how his team organizes their work, I was in awe. I was familiar with the terminology of Agile and believed I had a grasp of the rhythms of their days and weeks, but what I didn’t understand was how deeply rooted the processes were in values:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Working software over comprehensive documentation.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
Responding to change over following a plan.
That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.”

- From the Manifesto for Agile Software Development

Is it just me or does this sound like it could be an HR Manifesto?

In 1987, the US Army War College introduced the acronym VUCA to describe the state of the post-Cold War world. It stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. The intent of presenting this acronym is not only to provide some problem definition, as important and validating as that can be but also to guide individuals and organizations to preparedness for the future. But how do we possibly achieve preparedness for the future when the world is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous?

The Agile PeopleOps Framework points to VUCA Prime, an alternate model suggested by Bob Johansen in 2007. In his book, Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present, he poses Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility as an acronym to help guide us forward.

Volatility Vision

Volatility- the very word resembles violence, conjures images of turbulence, drama, etc. VUCA Prime suggests the way through is to provide Vision. While the people around us are feeling bruised by the frequent and drastic changes thrown at us these last couple of years, we can help people pop up from the fray by pointing them to a destination. The destination may be time-bound, project-bound or, my favourite – purpose-bound. If we stay focused on X, what will the impact be for (our people, our clients, our cause, etc.)?

Uncertainty Understanding

We used to be able to safely predict a lot of things like when it would be good to book a vacation or how to organize our days and weeks. Things we didn’t even realize were stable and relatively predictable have become uncertain and completely in question. The antidote according to Johansen is Understanding. As HR & PeopleOps professionals, we of course need to be understanding and empathetic. However, this is not the understanding we mean here. We need to be more data-driven than ever. Look back, look inward, look forward and dig to identify trends and anticipate possible scenarios. The field of Strategic Foresight in HR is becoming more important than ever and is something we will be talking about more in the months to come.

In the meantime, I encourage you to sign up for Hacking HR’s panel session on Managing The Challenges of an Agile HR Strategy as part of the Certificate Track Becoming an Agile and Innovative HR Function at their 2022 Global Online Conference taking place March 7-12, 2022.

Complexity Clarity

Teams, deliverables, health orders, budgets. Everything is interdependent, intertwined and complex. HR & PeopleOps can play a vital role in providing clarity where clarity can be found. Wondering where to start? To get clarity on roles and responsibilities, especially when focused on a project, open up your favourite virtual whiteboard tool or simply a shared spreadsheet and create a RACI matrix. This tried-and-true tool often reveals where the gaps are and helps to create clarity regarding key accountabilities. How do you begin to prioritize when it feels like everything is a priority? Try sorting your to-do list using the Eisenhower Matrix. Check out the how-to guide on this powerful tool.

Ambiguity Agility

When the meaning and impact of information provided is unclear, we experience ambiguity which often puts us at risk for making and relying on dangerous assumptions or biases. For example, we may have data that shows high turnover in a particular department, but without testing and seeking the answers to potential hypotheses, we may dismiss or act on data based on faulty assumptions. The answer to this problem? Agility. We need to select from a list of possible solutions, test, learn, and iterate.

Increased productivity. Reduced friction. Testing and iterating. Being clear about the definition of done. Always operating with our values front of mind. It’s time for Lean, Agile and Design Thinking methodologies to be brought to our HR & PeopleOps processes. Our people are depending on it.

About the author

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit

Candace’s passion for connecting people and building stronger teams and communities has been her “why” for over 20 years. As a Chartered Human Resources Professional, with a social work, mental health and fintech background, she has a large and varied toolbox to draw on to serve clients and to support the pursuit of healthy workplaces and great candidate experiences. She is values-driven and a consummate professional unless you’re with her during an NBA playoff game. She lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband, son, motorbikes and two rescue dogs, Wylie and Lucy.