Introducing Agile HR to PayGlobal
At PayGlobal we have found that the benefits of the Agile approach have extended beyond software development and have broadened to include the wider spectrum of HR practices for not just the Development department but also the whole organisation.
In this blog I will outline our Agile approach to HR and share some of our goals, challenges and achievements. But first of all, I will describe how the journey began…
Self-management is of course a key principle unpinning the values of Agile, however the one gap that remained for our Software Development Team was direct support for their personal and professional development needs.
The role of People Development Coach for PayGlobal’s Development Team was created by Jan Behrens (then Chief Technology Officer). He researched what other companies were doing to support the personal and professional development of their staff but found very little evidence of direct resource dedicated to this in New Zealand. Realizing the benefits of supporting individuals and teams directly with goal setting and development, he created the role of People Development Coach for our team based on this concept.
In the words of Tom Peters, “The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.”
And here I am, the PDC is me, so a little about my background with HR so that you can understand that I joined the Agile journey with PayGlobal having come from a traditional HR background.
I started my career in HR with a large retail company and was with this company for 8 years. They had in those days a traditional, static, HR philosophy in place. However, in the last two years I was with them, a new Group HR Manager came on board. Under this most excellent manager I was exposed to a wider view of the HR world, and I must give her credit for my later adoption of Agile. Back then, Agile as we know it today was not in practice, however in thinking back now I believe that she had an innate understanding of agility.
From there I went on to work for a well-known university within their HR department. I was based in the Health and Safety unit.
Now, there is a truth universally acknowledged, and that truth is: everyone hates HR (AKA the Human Remains department)! And I discovered at the university that even HR need to hate on someone, and there that someone was their ugly cousin Health and Safety. From this experience I developed a good amount of resilience! And as time would tell, this experience would prove useful…
Health and Safety at an institution such as a university is compliance orientated, in part due to the high-risk nature of the environment. Much of the training and development work is driven by the need for compliance and risk-reduction. And man did we love processes! And using paper! We had forms to get forms to get forms… (which didn’t exactly improve our popularity – being unpopular was practically a KPI).
How I Became the PDC
I’d been with the university for 3 years, the main focus of my role was developing the H&S training schedule and building the committee groups and networks. And I was enjoying my role despite the inevitable challenges.
Then at the end of 2011 my recruiter kept badgering me about the PDC role with PayGlobal, and to be honest I kept ignoring her! However, I finally read the Position Description and was struck by how great the role sounded. I decided to chat to my manager about the opportunity, and she encouraged me to give it a go. From this I contacted Jan directly, and we meet for a coffee to discuss the PDC role. This is where I heard about the Agile and Scrum method for the very first time! Fortunately, due to the Christmas break I had a month before the second interview, and like any sensible candidate would, I spent my time frantically reading up about Agile and Scrum.
EUREKA! As I researched it, more and more I felt a real sense of affinity with Agile, especially the autonomy and mastery it allows for. The concepts felt right and empowering. As I read, I realised that many of these concepts had been deployed by my former Group HR Manager all those years ago. Her strategy as a manager was to outline the tasks for us, pick the specialists within the team to focus on tasks in which they were especially gifted, and then step back to let them get the job done. This was such a relief following previous experiences of micro-management!
“Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.”
– Agile Manifesto
She would simply check in with us each day to ensure we were on-track and happy, and would review each iteration of each project, giving suggestions for improvement along the way. This method meant that projects were completed by the team speedily and to a good quality, as we were all utilised to work within our individual strengths and passions, and we were free to work smartly with the right balance of autonomy and support. It also had another result – those three young women I worked with during those years are now highly successful HR specialists in their own right.
The next stage in the recruitment process with PayGlobal was an interview with Jan and a panel of four. During the interview Jan asked me to deliver an impromptu speech to the entire Development team. He instructed me to speak for 10 minutes on something that I was passionate about, and so I decided to speak on Scrum 101! This was a bit of a gamble given that my audience were Scrum professionals! But the tactic paid off, and I subsequently started in March 2012 with the Agile Development team.
It was the first Agile organisation that I had worked for, and thus some learning about the Agile approach was required! (Refer Agile Manifesto.org for a description of the values and underlying principles of Agile).
How did HR become Agile?
Ultimately we needed to become familiar with the core precepts of Agile, apply this to HR and put it into practice in a way that was tangible and useful for the team.
Sounds simple right? Well, not exactly… what followed was a season of learning how to inspect and adapt!
My First Project – Learning & Development Review
PayGlobal’s Agile Developers are at the leading edge of technology but the company at that time needed more development in its internal Learning and Development program. Having identified this, my first task when I came on-board was to review the L&D program for our Developers.
Now, traditional L&D focuses on “doing a course or getting a certificate” however, you will find that things are now trending more towards personalised learning. The focus is now about creating learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant to the individual.
Remembering that I had just emerged from the traditional and process-orientated world of H&S, my first attempt at putting some kind of L&D framework together resulted in the HR classic – a 4-page doubled-sided Word doc L&D Review form, which didn’t really cut the mustard! Like with all first iterations, things could only improve!
I needed to meet my customers’ L&D needs in a way that added value, and I wanted to deliver this promptly. So for the next iteration, I tried an online survey option to facilitate my L&D Review 1on1 sessions with team members. Unfortunately this also turned out to be less than ideal! The survey platform was unreliable and difficult to navigate. The complication of the survey was the exact opposite of the simplicity and value I was trying to achieve! From this I realised I needed to change my approach. It was time to inspect and adapt! So I started thinking outside the square…
After many iterations and some technical support from our wider team, I developed what has now become the L&D Goals Dashboard. Every one of our team members now has one of these. It is a one-stop-shop approach to tracking individual progress in the style of a Kanban board, and we have found this to be the most efficient and engaging approach to tracking L&D for our team. It means that individuals can update their goals and progress both proactively and independently, and their team leaders can have input as well.
With each iteration the situation improved rapidly. PayGlobal’s Development team are now highly engaged with their L&D, and our HR processes are now being replicated across the company. And I cannot take full credit for the final outcome, because it wouldn’t have been possible without the input of the team, from all levels and areas. All of this has been achieved in a very short time frame and we haven’t finished yet.
To have achieved such success with this in under 12 months demonstrates the power of the Agile method and its application outside of software development. Applying the principles of Agile to services has powerful results.
- The Agile approach makes HR practices relevant and workable for Agile teams and thus enhances their development and engagement. Focus on individuals and they will thrive.
- Healthy individuals support the growth of their team.
- Healthy teams deliver optimum results. Bottom line!
I am a great believer in the value of people and teams, and genuinely enjoy seeing others reach their potential. Therefore I am delighted to be part of a company dedicated to the development of their people.
Check out my upcoming blogs for more details of my journey into the world of Agile HR, including tips and tools to help you develop your Developers.