For the last eight years, Amy Dickinson, a people and talent expert at PA Consulting Group has helped companies deliver large-scale transformation. Most recently, she’s responded to business’ increasing interest in adopting either agile methodology in its purest form, or its basic principles of innovation, collaboration and productivity.
To the peripheral viewer, agile is about working in small autonomous teams that quickly push out products and services under a flatter, more decentralised hierarchy. But to those working at the heart of agile businesses, such as Amy, the perspective is much wider.
“Agile values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, it’s also about being very close to your customer, really understanding their needs, involving them in solution design and testing. It’s also about building in increments by deconstructing the complex into manageable pieces and rigorously prioritising them according to the value they’ll deliver to the business,” Amy explains.
As with any change journey, each business adopting agile will approach it in a nuanced manner, says Andrew Minton, Managing Director at Criticaleye. “Some will embrace it holistically while others will want to take an approach similar to agile product design, testing and refining their methods in small projects and in an iterative manner.
“Whatever point you’re at, operational change programmes also require cultural change, so there will be many adjustments. It’s the HRD’s job to manage that transition as fluidly as possible,” says Andrew.
Three HRDs, each at varying stages of implanting agile, sat down with Amy to discuss the blockers they’ve met and hear her advice.
Hitting Key Changes in Harmony
Dave Newborough, HRD, E.ON
Having previously been focussed on lean methodology, E.ON’s organisational psyche shifted at pace this year. E.ON's HRD, Dave Newborough explains: “We’re in the test and learn phase of embedding agile. We’re very excited by it and recently launched our first chatbot through scrum methodology.”
“In particular, our millennials have really run with it at speed. In fact, we’re finding that the general pace of change is really picking up. This is great for productivity but while our HR team embrace agile, they’re yet to fully adapt to its speed."
“HR also tends to like standardised processes and systems, which is less common under agile. How do we get both areas of the business to change in unison?” asks Dave.
Advice and feedback
According to Amy, HR often isn’t successfully brought along with the agile change programme. “Creating agile in a bubble means when that bubble hits another area of the business it creates friction,” she says.
Amy believes the best way to look at this is to ask how HR can support the business in developing greater agility – that might be restructuring reward mechanisms, looking at performance management systems or reviewing organisational design to encourage agility on a broad level.
“Agile often requires a faster pace as well as new talent. HR should look at the likely recruitment requirements, how to speed up the on-boarding process and how to build a talent pipeline. That must be done alongside the change consultant or leader so that the new needs of the business are met,” she advises.
Keeping Momentum in the Agile Change Programme
Vanessa Trigg, HRD, FBN Bank (UK) Limited (part of the First Bank of Nigeria Group)
Last year’s introduction of Paul Cardoen as the new CEO of FBN UK triggered significant business transformation. A big part of that was the roll out of a new strategy and vision based on agility, connection and trust (ACT), says Vanessa Trigg, the company’s HRD.
“Last year saw staff changes and a shake-up of our reward strategy. This included moving away from performance bonuses and towards collaboration-based incentives, as well as a strong focus on behaviours. That went down really well and has made people feel more connected to the organisation,” she says.
“We’re now a few months into the change programme and are focused on governance, compliance and regulation. We’re trying to avoid losing momentum and need to pick up pace and enthusiasm. We try to achieve this by having good communication from the top. However, I'd like to hear any other ideas.”
Advice and feedback
It’s common for businesses to lose traction when they hit dry areas like compliance, says Amy. One tool she uses with clients is an App called ‘20 Days later’, which helps people form new habits. “The tool sends push notifications to remind and encourage people to adopt the new approach. After 20 days, the team re-groups to evaluate the programme’s success and value,” she says.
Change champions can also be incredibly effective, but many companies simply push communication through them, wanting them to disseminate information. “You’ll find far greater value in creating strong feedback loops that capture sentiment around the business. It really helps locate the blockers,” Amy advises.
She also recommends considering what you want from your champions, adding: “Do you want them just to boost wider engagement or shape, design and implement change? If it’s the latter, you must decide how much autonomy to give them. Establishing a group of ‘product owners’ with accountability for specific parts of the change programme could be more effective.”
Creating the Right Environment for Agile
Devyani Vaishampayan, Founder of HR Tech Partnership and former Group HRD at BSI
BSI recently redesigned its office space to create more agility and shift how the company thinks. At the time, Devyani Vaishampayan, who is now founding and heading HR Tech Partnership, was Group HRD at BSI.
“We modernised the offices and brought in better lighting, but the key aspect was to ensure there are no fixed desks, which has had an amazing impact on collaboration,” she shared.
Devyani also gave great thought to creating buy-in. She explains: “We had pre-change workshops to give people a taste of what was to come. We also included them on decision-making to get them on board.
“We decided to do it in phases, which was a good decision because the positive feedback on the first phase gave momentum to the next. What we did has worked, but what other advice do you have on tailoring the built environment to foster agility?”
Advice and feedback
“You’re right in what you’ve done so far but you might also want to think about a few extra things. Agile works on the value of building face-to-face communication. It’s really important to create space for more informal meetings so people can collaborate,” says Amy.
“Wall space is also very important. It sounds very basic but having white boards and pin boards on which teams can chart their progress helps the flow of information. Because they’re public it also allows open communication across teams, which may then see opportunities to step in and cross-pollinate.”
Even relatively small changes to the physical environment can have quite a big impact on culture, says Amy. Investing in a modern décor will feel to staff like you’re investing in them, boosting engagement as well as rebranding the business as progressive and innovative.
By Mary-Anne Baldwin, Corporate Editor, Criticaleye
These thoughts were shared during Criticaleye’s recent conference call, HR’s Role in Building a New Organisational Structure.
Interested in learning more about Agile? Read up on how to adopt agile, the impact of the built environment on agile, and how to crack cross-team collaboration.