Unleash panel: Implementing Agile in HR

A panel at Unleash Conference and Expo shared their experiences of rolling out Agile working within their HR functions

Agile can be key to helping organisations shift their focus from the customer to employee experience, according to Tracey Waters, head of people engagement and development at Sky.

Speaking on a panel on day two of the Unleash Conference and Expo in London, she said: “We’re hitting the stage where the 20th century organisation is no longer fit for the 21st century, so we have to become much more responsive to employee needs not just customer needs."

This is a “real challenge businesses need to tackle”, she said, adding: "Agile Is emerging as a solution to solve that."

The rest of the panel agreed that there is a need now more than ever for Agile in business.

For Natalie Bage, head of ways of working at Lloyds Banking Group, HR increasingly utilises Agile ways of working because “employee expectations are changing… how we behave outside of work and the technology we use is getting better”.

But “we’ve not had that same user experience focus in organisations”, she said, adding “we’ve been a bit behind from an HR perspective”.

Dorota Piotrowska, chief people officer at Netguru, said that for her organisation Agile is “in the DNA of the company”. But because it is going through a period of rapid scaling up, “this adds some complexity to what Agile can be about”.

Agile needs to operate across three levels, she continued: “It’s about the organisation and everything that needs to be adjusted at that level, and the team and everything that needs to be adjusted at that level, and the individuals and their mindset and everything that needs to be adjusted at that level.”

Regarding the individual level, Piotrowska said: “There are all kinds of building blocks when you think of Agile but growth mindset is the fundamental element”.

Netguru has an Agile operational model that is divided into two domains: the social and the personal. The personal domain is where this growth mindset sits, Piotrowska explained.

At Sky the learning and development team started implementing Agile about three years ago. “L&D is a good function to start with as we’re a bit removed from the business,” said Waters.

However, the panel agreed that implementing Agile brings a number of challenges. “Because we were the first part of HR to introduce Agile it was quite a foreign concept in our function,” said Waters.

“Agile is a change management process so you need to lead the change,” she explained, adding that if she “had the time again [she'd] have put more effort into bringing all HR people on the journey”.

Those leading Agile also need to manage expectations, added Bage. “Often senior leaders in organisations want to know when something is fixed and with Agile it’s hard to know that. And teamed with employees whose expectations are constantly changing… and the market moves as well… [we] need to continually look at things and that’s not well understood.”

She advised other HR practitioners looking to roll out Agile to “communicate when things go wrong and learn from them”. “We have a wizard of honesty in our team where we each talk about one thing we failed on last week,” said Bage.

“My advice would be to become a HR scientist,” added Waters.

“I’ve become much more about data and feedback and testing and experimentation,” she said. “It makes a massive difference when you have the data and can show you’ve been through an experimental journey to get to that conclusion.”

There’s a “long way to go”, Waters added. But Agile has to start with HR “because the business is coming to HR to ask what it looks like so we need to walk the talk”.