Are You Ready for an Agile Future?
HR Systems That Build and Reinforce Agility
Human Resources and Agility
Think about this world. Is your organization already on this path? Or, do you need to help nudge it in this direction? Think about the people who will work most successfully in this environment. As an HR professional, how do you ensure that your organization can attract and retain resilient, agile, nimble, adaptive people? Beyond managing change, this article will begin to explore how you can help your current employees develop this capacity. We will take a look at the work environment, organization, and climate that will enable you to contribute the workforce needed for the future.
Richard A. Shafer, Associate Dean and Executive Director of the Center for Leadership in Dynamic Organizations at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, challenged traditional HR organizations and structures in HR Magazine (Vol. 44, No. 11). This move toward agility will create a new role for the HR function, he wrote. In many organizations, existing HR systems are major impediments to creating agile workforces. For the most part, HR systems are designed to reduce variability and to standardize behavior, not to promote flexibility and adaptive behavior.
He predicts that HR organizations will become smaller. Hiring criteria and processes will be altered to reflect agile attributes Job descriptions will be eliminated and compensationsystems redesigned to pay relatively more for enterprise-wide results and relatively less for individual outcomes. As a professional, your job is to create an organization that constantly builds its capacity through building the capacity of the people you employ.
Multiple layers of management that separate people from information, customers, and the ability to make knowledgeable decisions wont work in your agile future. Neither will people who want to do one job, make limited decisions, take no risks, and pass each challenge to their supervisor. As a manager in the desired environment, every time you make a decision that could be made by the individual who has the knowledge, the proximity to the situation, and the need, you deprive that person of the opportunity to grow. You destroy employee empowerment.
Direction and focus, in this environment, is provided by leaders who drive and communicate the organizations strategic vision throughout the workplace, daily, incessantly, and consistently. People internalize this vision and perform their work to maximize its attainment.
Furthermore, if you are still focused on meeting customer needs by providing a quality product, on time, that meets requirements, for a price your customer is willing to pay, you are lagging behind the learning curve. According to Daryl R. Conner, CEO of ODR, Inc., in “How to Create a Nimble Organization”, published in the National Productivity Review(Autumn, 1998), the defining moment for customer service will be not when established needs are expressed, but will be when the unexpected requirement materializes over night.”
Conner cites three critical characteristics of the nimble organization. These organizations:
- Hire only agile employees. Conner believes that who is on your team is more important than how the team is structured or its assignment. When staffing your organization for nimbleness, he says, 80 percent of your resources should be directed toward hiring people already prone towards the desired attributes, and then training and coaching them to expand their capabilities even more. No more than 20 percent of your resources should be allocated to assisting those who say they are willing to work against their own instincts and biases and try to develop completely new propensities to become nimble and resilient.
- Understand the interaction of control and resilience. When change is introduced, it is typically better handled by resilient people. It is better integrated by people who are used to constant change and who are not taken by surprise by the announcement or request.
- Build a core competency around handling ambiguity. People who handle change most effectively recognize that change can be scary, perhaps unpleasant, and that it always requires something different from them. Despite this, they continue to rise to the occasion and effectively perform their job responsibilities.
HR’s Contribution to Agility
The contribution of the HR function to the hiring and development of agile, nimble, resilient people is critical. You design or administer most organizational systems that contribute to agility.
- Create selection, testing and hiring criteria that identify diverse, resilient, nimble people.
- Provide orientation that emphasizes the organization vision and expectations for agility.
- Assist and coach leaders to communicate the vision, and design a work environment that removes barriers, de-emphasizes hierarchical control, emphasizes empowerment, and puts people directly into contact with customers and suppliers.
- Create flexible job descriptions that change regularly to meet organization needs. Consider using a job plan approach so employees are in charge of monitoring their core job functions and goals.
- Provide opportunities for people to work on crossfunctional, even virtual, teams that solve a problem or approach a new opportunity.
- Create an environment in which diverse ideas, training and education that develop individual capacity, and reading are the norm.
- Hold people accountable for their results. There are consequences for met and unmet goals.
- Push decision making down, across, and throughout the organization so people are not waiting for decisions before taking action.
- Design a feedback system that provides ongoing, daily feedback so people always know how they are doing. Invest the time to create a competency-based, individually planned and negotiated, results-based performance feedback system. Eliminate the traditional performance review.
- Reward people who produce results that have wide-ranging impact in the organization. Reward results and impact, not longevity or seniority. Reward, at least, quarterly. Consider sharing profits
- Base promotions on contribution and impact
- Encourage intelligent risk taking and open discussion, and even some conflict over diverse ideas and viewpoints. Avoid group think to maintain relationships
- Coach managers to handle their own people issues, instead of handling them for them. You build their capability and thus that of your organization as a whole.
The rewards for the HR manager who builds this workforce and work environment are immense. You directly impact the organizations bottom line and can expect to influence the overall strategic vision. You are valued on a par with the people who manage line functions. The HR world is changing. Recently, I read a job description for an HR Director in a Detroit, Michigan paper. It basically stated that HR traditionalists who viewed their work as administration and policy making need not apply. The company wanted applications only from candidates willing and able to advise the corporation at the highest, most important strategic level. Are you ready to take your place at this table? The future is now for all those willing to apply.
What do you think? Id love to hear what you think about this HR trend. Are you seeing or creating these ideas in your organization? Talk about your thoughts in the HR Community Connection Forum. What can you do as an HR professional to get your organization ready for the future?
Heathfield, Susan M. “Are You Ready for an Agile Future?” About. AboutMoney, 12 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.