Menu Close

Meet The New Agile Human Resources

Posted in ♦ Education and Training, ♦ Gaps to be Closed, ♦ Needs, ♦ Solutions

Day two is where Human Resources really shines as an agile group. The first day of onboarding is really just the setup for day two where methods that qualify as Agile are revealed as cyclical. This matters. On day two, the HR team works with the new hire to move the tasks from the Backlog to the Done column in an agile way, demonstrating to the new hire that the working model of the company is always and forever continuously improving and actively adapting to circumstances that arise in real time.

Working in an Agile way means that you are not only flexible and adaptable, but that you are insistent in your drive to create change that will lead others to want to be flexible and adapt. These behaviors are very hard to teach via texts or in classrooms. By immersing the new hire in a Scrum-esque framework immediately, it shows the new hire, on the second day at the office, how onboarding is just one of many innovative conversations going on in the company. In this way Human Resources demonstrates, by modeling Agile behaviors instead of just raising awareness of Agility, that there is a method to being innovative, and that the company is committed to innovation.

It’s 07:50 and the Human Resources onboarding team and the meeting facilitator assigned to the new hire are sipping coffee, gabbing, and getting their vocal chords warmed up. In ten minutes they will unlock the door to the office and let in the first of the day’s new hires on the second day of their new career. A few minutes later, the group of seven people including the new hire will walk to the room where this new employee’s wall of sticky notes was displayed and chatted over the day before.

The second day of onboarding is where the Agile approach takes shape as a cyclical, and not a linear approach. This day is the purposeful beginning of the feedback cycle that is critically important to agility. Whereas a standard onboarding process may run for days, ending with a survey for the person being onboarded, Agile frameworks leverage short feedback loop cycles. This means more subtle measurement, and reactions to measurement, as the architecture and method. The reduction in cycle-time from observation to action can be as quick as one minute to the next. More data is captured. More opportunities to test are presented. The cumulative effect of small changes daily makes progress as relevant as possible, because the information is as fresh as possible. A cyclical process encourages continuous improvement.

Now it’s 08:02 and the facilitator (Scrum Master) has guided everyone (HR team and the new hire) into seats looking at the board of sticky notes from yesterday. The group is allowed a casual thirty minutes to discuss how the day went yesterday. The focus of this discussion is not about the tasks that were done, but rather about how the process felt. Are there any questions about how to proceed next? Does anyone have comments regarding what things felt uncomfortable, what things worked well, or any suggestions as to how to proceed based on knowledge gleaned from previous onboarding sessions with other new hires? The list could go on. The point is to gather information, in a lightweight manner, to improve the experience for the onboarded, and the onboarders, and to make the process more and more relevant for future cycles with future new hires.

A feature of this continuous cycling is the increased exposure to improvement opportunities that are not directly related to the product that teams have gathered to create. For example, let’s suppose one of the people on the HR group (Development Team) is new and has gone through this same onboarding process as a new hire. She makes the comment, ”At my last job, we onboarded in groups. Planning was a lot easier that way.” Another person in the HR group, a veteran to the argy-bargy of Agile frameworks responds with, “Totally get where you are coming from. Let’s talk today about how we can help with your scheduling issues.” In this example, the product is supposed to be a new hire that understands everything in their new hire packet, and is also conversant in Agile. The discovery that was made (an HR staffer has scheduling challenges) relates to the operational effectiveness of the Human Resources group. Instead of dismissing the comment as irrelevant to the onboarding process, the veteran acknowledged the challenge faced by the junior team member, and capitalized on it as another way to quickly improve the functionality of HR. Innovations cannot be planned. It’s the cyclical organization of Agile frameworks that creates an environment where innovation might happen. The product is the result of a process that uncovers innovative ways to improve the process of making products. Yes, that’s a cyclical mouthful.

Now it’s 08:30. The Development Team watches as the Scrum Master and the new hire look at the backlog to see if any changes need to be made in the order of the sticky notes, top to bottom, based on any ideas or interests that have come up in the mind of the new hire. After about five minutes, the entire group stands at the wall of sticky notes and holds the daily stand-up meeting prescribed in Scrum, facilitated by the Scrum Master. Here, items are moved to the done column, any impediments to progress are noted, and new items are taken from the backlog and moved into the Sprint column to be done on this same day.

For the sake of stress testing this model, let’s say there isn’t one person on the Development Team from HR that has any time in their schedule to do any onboarding items that day. Maybe there is a required attendance event. Maybe there is another initiative that requires focus. Maybe the HR people are just too busy that day. The day sets up like a big loser for the new hire – they can’t access any HR resources to make any progress on their new hire backlog on their second day in the office. What to do?!

The Scrum Master is there to take this and any other impediment as an opportunity. It’s possible that this new hire has never seen their new workstation. Not a lot of oversight is required for a new hire to be able to see their new space or where the office supplies are located. Maybe the company has a selection of onboarding or other training videos prepared that the new hire could review. Maybe there are opportunities to sit in on meetings held by other departments. The Scrum Master’s job requires a special knowledge of the company’s people and of the unique ways the office works, how the work gets done, and what options are available. Because a good Scrum Master is constantly looking for ways to eliminate impediments, a great one will develop a corporate field of vision that is deep and crosses many departments. Because the Scrum Master has this special awareness, they would likely have a backlog of potential optional activities to choose from, in a formal or informal format. Just because reality coughed up a roadblock, doesn’t mean the cycle stops. The Scrum Master is there it keep progress going by seeing these roadblocks and working around them.

It’s 08:50. The team has settled on the day’s Sprint goal. There are five items in the Sprint for the day. All but one item from yesterday was moved to the Done column. All of the impediments have been cleared. The next meeting for this new hire is in one hour. There is another new hire due in for his second day of onboarding at 09:00. His onboarding Development Team is the same, but another Scrum Master is assigned. The first new hire and their assigned Scrum Master have an hour to groom the backlog, discuss Agile, locate the lounge, go find the new hire’s desk for a chat session on some aspect of the enterprise software, locate the copier, the restroom, the bike racks, go over the fire evacuation plan. On the second day, there is a sizable list of items (living in the Backlog) that can be grabbed, executed, and moved to Done. The rest of the new hire’s day could be filled with seeing a day-in-the-life of their onboarding Scrum Master – an impromptu single-day apprenticeship.

Having the new hire see an Agile decision making process, and live it day-to-day, will condition the new hire to think in an Agile way when the time comes for the new hire to participate in a development team themselves. Approaching onboarding this way positions Human Resources to demonstrate innovative behaviors that will be automatically modeled by the new hire. If the company’s employees interact in thoughtfully designed ways using Agile frameworks (Scrum, Kanban, Design Thinking, etc.) then how else will a new employee act but to model those behaviors?

Regimented and “efficient” administration positions HR as a bolt-on with specific tasks to perform that are generified to the point of feeling outside of the daily lives of core business activities and more about policing compliance. When HR has their own cyclical Agile initiatives and methods, HR works as a member of a consortium of networks all humming similar cyclical tunes. There is no “onboarding is over, now we can do the real work,” because the real work is instilling innovative behaviors that will translate across all departments. This work never stops, and Human Resources can be positioned to lead by example, at the start of the first cycle in a new hire’s career.