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Agile everything, including HR

Updated: May 3, 2020

Call it what you will – People Capability, Talent, HR – it’s taking up agile. Well, at least in some organisations it’s taking up agile. But what does that mean?

Here’s the easy version. HR carries on doing what it’s always done, but with Kanban boards, sprints, retrospectives and iteration of existing projects. Well, it’s a start.

Here’s the more challenging version. HR introduces agile performance management, learning and development, change, teaming, pay, workforce planning, recruitment, culture and leadership. Now, that’s transformation. And it’s not just about HR – it’s about the whole organisation. Let’s look at just one area.

Performance management

What’s the problem? Linear thinking and rigidity. Many performance management systems are a simple solution to a complex problem. We set yearly SMART goals and development plans. At best we revisit them throughout the year; at worst they’re reviewed yearly, and the whole cycle starts again.

I remember a few years ago, working with an organisation, facilitating sessions explaining its new, complex and rigid performance management system to leaders and staff. We were asked all sorts of procedural questions that didn’t have a clear answer. We relied on the following mantra: the most important thing is the conversation between the manager and staff member.

Yes, that’s right. But it wasn’t at the heart of that overblown system – far from it. At its heart was compliance and a one size fits all mentality.

Effective performance management is about regular conversation and ground truth feedback. It’s about setting, and then regularly re-setting, ever-changing outcomes. It’s about encouraging curiosity and learning. And it’s about innovation, failure and constant change. Setting rigid SMART goals misses the mark.

And why individual performance management? If we want collaboration and teaming, this points to team and project-based performance management.

Deloitte, and other large organisations, have junked the traditional performance management system. (And we don’t use it either.) Agile gives us the mindset, philosophy and tools to create something far better and more relevant.

It’s HR’s turn in the agile sun to flex its muscles and lead organisational transformation.


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