The recent March-April 2018 issue of the Harvard Business Review provides a guide for the way the concept of ‘agile’ is changing how organisations hire, develop, and manage their people.
A concept taken from the tech world, ‘agile’ refers to a set of innovation methodologies which have been revolutionizing the IT and tech world over the past 25-30 years. These methodologies in essence involve a radical shift away from command-and-control-style management towards a faster model driven by users.
Over the past few decades these agile principles and methodologies have been increasing success rates in software development, improving both quality and speed to market, as well as boosting the motivation and productivity of IT teams. And the theme of the new issue of Harvard Business Review is that these methodologies are now changing the way HR works too:
“Agile isn’t just for tech anymore. It’s been working its way into other areas and functions, from product development to manufacturing to marketing—and now it’s transforming how organizations hire, develop, and manage their people.”
HR Goes Agile
HR has traditionally been built around the long-term, with workforce and succession planning being big emphases alongside an entrenched system of annual appraisals. But with rapid innovation becoming a key strategic imperative for most companies in today’s marketplace, a sweeping transformation is taking place.
As the Harvard Business Review article indicates, with businesses increasingly looking to emulate the agile practices of innovative Silicon Valley organisations, “top-down planning models are giving way to nimbler, user-driven methods that are better suited for adapting in the near term”.
Speed is the new business currency. And with the “business justification for the old HR systems gone and the agile playbook available to copy, people management is finally getting its long-awaited overhaul too.”
How can people management in your organisation become more agile? Here are a few key areas where changes might be made…
1. Performance appraisals
In today’s business environment it has become much more difficult to engage in long-term planning, including planning a year in advance how projects would go and when they would end. This means that the traditional HR practice of the annual performance review is no longer suitable for many organisations.
“As individuals worked on shorter-term projects of various lengths, often run by different leaders and organized around teams, the notion that performance feedback would come once a year, from one boss, made little sense. They needed more of it, more often, from more people.”
Indeed organisations which have made the transition to a new feedback model effectively have switched to a system of frequent performance assessments, often delivered project by project:
“Overall, the focus is on delivering more-immediate feedback throughout the year so that teams can become nimbler, ‘course-correct’ mistakes, improve performance, and learn through iteration—all key agile principles.”
2. Coaching and feedback
To switch successfully to a system of frequent performance assessments, it is important that managers are equipped with the skills required to coach and feedback effectively. The ability to give effective coaching and feedback to staff is in fact often identified as the most important managerial competency, and the Harvard Business Review article confirms that “the companies that most effectively adopt agile talent practices invest in sharpening managers’ coaching skills.”
Managers that know how to give feedback effectively are more likely to do so, and management training is important here: it can show managers what good coaching looks like and can initiate a change process to disseminate desired behaviours throughout an organisation.
A key switch here is to encourage managers to move away from judging employees towards coaching them in their day-to-day work. The aim is not only to build capabilities on an iterative basis, but also to build relationships, and thereby drive engagement at all levels within the organisation.
3. Focus on teams rather than individuals
For those struggling to coach individuals, understanding and addressing team dynamics may seem an impossibly difficult task. But with so many companies now organizing their work project by project, management systems are switching their focus from individuals to the teams working together on those projects.
The team is now the fundamental unit of business, and more and more work – including strategic revisions and iterative development of projects – is carried out at the team level. To quote the Harvard Business Review again, “groups are creating, executing, and revising their goals and tasks with scrums—at the team level, in the moment, to adapt quickly to new information as it comes in.”
In order to manage these more agile team dynamics, managers need a new set of skills. They need to know how to gather and organise multi-directional feedback for example, since in an agile environment team members know better than anyone else what each person is contributing, and peer feedback is therefore essential to course corrections and employee development.
Is yours an agile organisation?
So there are some pointers for organisations looking to become more agile. Where to begin? At LDL we can offer the support of a highly experienced management training consultancy to develop your staff and equip your managers with the skills they need to drive key agile principles.
Whether it is in developing the ability to coach and feedback effectively, or to inspire and empower staff to take more responsibility and independence in their role, at LDL we can offer you and your organisation a broad range of learning solutions.
Please contact us to find out more.
Learn more about LDL Management Training.