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Thursday, February 23, 2017

HR & leadership development in an agile environment: what does it look like?


Deloitte describes in an interesting article: Better pond, better fish, the 5 most relevant practices stimulating the development of leadership in an ecosystem. Based on research they found in most successful companies, leadership development is most effectively embedded in the workplace. Leaders tend to learn best with other leaders and from other leaders inside or outside of their organization. The authors argue that leadership courses are less and less appropriate. They have come up with the following top five practices in successful organizations:

  1. Let’s talk about it: what does successful leadership look like?
  2. Foster a climate of risk-taking and experimenting; 
  3. Spread it like wildfire: knowledge-sharing as a tool for leader ship development;
  4. See the world: expose leaders to other leaders, new contexts and novel challenges; 
  5. Create strong ties between HR and business leaders. 
These 5 practices are of course important and I ask myself how are they supported in an agile learning ecosystem? In the article, the role and tasks of the business are described in addition to HR. I doubt about the roles and tasks Deloitte seems to attribute to HR in an agile learning ecosystem. I think that in such agile ecosystem the HR functions are orchestrated by the Enterprise Action Team(scrum language) or change team, chaired by the COO. This team is alert and mindful in monitoring and supporting all change processes and is supported by the agile learning (A&L) advisors( agile coaches or scrum masters).
The networking A&L advisor will buzz like a bee around the teams and people with a leadership role, mindful about opportunities to support, as they say: making hay
while the sun shines. I assume that a paradigm difference reveals itself and that the digital disruptive world has also disruptive consequences for HR. I believe that in an agile learning ecosystem the business is in charge of leadership development and most 'old' HR tasks are carried out in the business. The trend is that many assumed HR tasks in time will be solved in the business. A striking example is the Spotify approach in which all employees are invited to develop and demonstrate leadership, with agile learning advisors to ensure that interesting stories are shared and published.

Below I build on the HR tasks and roles described by Deloitte with regard to leadership development in an agile ecosytem. An important caveat to the argument of Deloitte is that no distinction is made between the CEO, the management team, tactical managers (tribe leads) and operational managers, let alone the three distinct leadership roles in teams, please read my 2nd blog.

1. Let’s talk about it: what does successful leadership look like? 

HR (Deloitte): Co-create an evidence-based leadership profile with business units to set clear expectations for leadership.
Of course it is important that you make clear what you expect from managers. But it's more important that you live through the focal points in terms of values and culture. When you set the value of trust and a culture of autonomy and teams, the leadership profile is obviously a derivative. It is important that you think through the role and tasks of different managers in a changing organization, operating in a digital disruptive environment. More importantly, you talk all the time about it with everyone, resulting in shared meaning. This is orchestrated by the change team, supervised by the COO. A profile, if you could speak about it, is not something static, but something that is constantly in motion and will vary in teams. The risk of a profile is that it gets a status and in a manner of speaking the CEO would have to give authorization for every minor change. When you start working with the three leadership roles at operational level, you cannot speak of one leadership profile. In self-organizations you see that teams ask someone from their midst to take up the leadership role and then a profile is less important. 
HR (Deloitte): Identify and use different communication channels for discussing leadership expectations and the required capabilities for future leaders.
The Enterprise Action Team is very keen on what is asked from leadership and how to encourage certain behaviour. Continuous conversations in the Enterprise Action Team and in tribe sessions with tribe leaders, chapter leaders and agile coaches create a clear picture of people with leadership roles at various levels. Of course, you have to share compelling stories of wise and courageous leadership and it is a major task of agile coaches to publish these stories in collaboration with the communications department and to facilitate discussions in hackatons, team-of-teams meetings, etc. They are also able to contract ‘content’ developers, if needed.
2. Foster a climate of exploration, risk-taking and experimenting
An agile environment is typically a work environment where experimentation and exploring contacts with people outside your team is very important. It is in the organization’s wished culture. HR has no significant role in this field.

HR(Deloitte): Use evidence-based assessments to identify high-potential leaders with change potential and high risk tolerance
Since experimenting is part and parcel of agile, you do not need such assessments. Everyone is working hard to experiment and learning to experiment whenever possible. Tactical managers (tribe lead) are well supported by agile coaches and the same applies for the MT. You do not need assessments to assess who is like a fish in experimental and risky water. When introducing agile in an organization, you wish to start with executives that fit in an agile environment with affinity for experimentation and change. The Big Five personality test and an interview might help. For interpreting a big five report, an assessment psychologist will contribute. The selection process is again in the hands of the Enterprise Action Team. When the COO has a clear view about role and tasks of an agile tribelead, without assessments he will be able to tell who qualifies for the job of tribelead. 
HR(Deloitte): Publicize stories of how appropriate risk-taking practices led to good business outcomes.
Publicize stories is just something for the business itself; the point is to develop alertness for interesting and best practices. This is a task for everyone and the A&L advisor helps people to develop this alertness. The A&L advisor makes sure that those stories are heard at meetings, be recorded on video, "tagged" and announced on the dashboard of employees.
 HR(Deloitte): Set expectations and design processes to promote rapid-prototyping approaches to new ideas.
This means exactly what agile and scrum is all about. To put this in motion, there is an 'Enterprise Action Team.
3. Spread it like wildfire: knowledge-sharing as a tool for leadership development
Knowledge-sharing and storytelling are crucial for work and hence for leadership development. A company’s culture should support this. It’s part of work. The agile manifesto values individuals and interactions over processes and tools.

HR(Deloitte): Establish real-time, broad communication of company insights and innovations.
Of course you should regularly communicate insights and appealing innovations; but that is the task of business, supervised by the Enterprise Action Team, with the support of agile coaches and the communications department.
HR(Deloitte): Build storytelling about the organization’s history, identity, and desired culture into development initiatives
Idem. One of the main tasks of an A&L advisor is to help anyone to practice the desired culture and to support them when something happens that is not consistent. They are very alert for illustrative stories and they take care that these stories are published and told in meetings. In the introspective meeting at the end of each sprint team members reflect about their culture and practice of storytelling. 
HR(Deloitte): Reinforce that helping others learn is a part of every employee’s job.
For example at ING and Slack one of the pillars of the desired culture is helping others to learn and agile coaches support team members to apply it. This is a business matter. 
HR(Deloitte): Raise expectations and resources to support peer-to-peer feedback.
Of course, this is crucial, but the Enterprise Action Team ensures, in consultation with IT, that everyone is facilitated and supported to organize peer-to-peer feedback. It is up to the agile coach to promote this in the teams. 
4. See the world: expose leaders to other leaders, new contexts, and novel challenges
In a digital disruptive world, it is crucial that managers meet other leaders. It is the tasks of agile coaches, together with tribeleads and chapterleads, to strengthen all kinds of networks and encourage people to undertake exploratory activities. They are super attentive to invite executives to experience different contexts. Agile coaches support the tribelead to have constant attention for this. When executives naturally do not have this alertness, probably they will not be a tribelead in an agile working environment. Team-by-team meetings and hackathons are of interest.

HR(Deloitte): Design programs that build leadership capabilities through challenging experiences and frequent exposure to diverse leaders inside and outside the organization
You should not develop programs; it is inherent in work to build up leadership capabilities. Agile coaches inspire each other to facilitate executives and other people to gain those learning experiences, inside and outside the organization. Of course teams and departments set themselves challenging goals. 
HR(Deloitte): Integrate real-life customer feedback into everyday learning activities to give developing leaders external exposure.
It is precisely a characteristic of Agile that people meet the customer every week or every two weeks, in the review meeting, preferably located at the customer site. The tribe leadership team monitors. Regularly customers are invited to participate in hackatons and in tribe meetings. These sessions are organized and facilitated by the A&L advisors. 
HR(Deloitte): Augment development programs with exposure to external business environments through interactions with outside leaders or immersion experiences
You should not develop programs; you should do everything that it is considered as work, monitored by the enterprise action team and agile coaches. The management team and tribeleads should encourage leaders to visit external business environments. In these cases leaders are also invited to make an appealing ‘report’ of the visit, for example by making a video and the A&L advisor organizes support. In agile it is self-evident to explore and to share. 
HR(Deloitte): Add coaching and mentoring opportunities as ongoing aspects of leader development.
Workers are enabled to organize mentoring by themselves, supported by agile coaches. It is up to HR to select professional external coaches. Teams or leaders are able to contract them. 
HR(Deloitte): Teach future leaders ways to expand their network’s breadth and depth.
Networking and extending the network is an agile part of work, with constant experimenting and evaluating. You should not consider teaching people; just practice it, together and help each other. 
5. Making contact: the importance of strong ties between HR and business leaders
In the text above I argue that a strong tie between HR and business leaders is not so important in an agile work environment with regard to leadership development. If you have not embraced the agile mindset, if there is no Enterprise action team, if you do not embrace the values of trust and autonomy, then a strong tie with HR matters. Good and intensive contact between HR and the business is important in organizations where the "maturity" level in terms of agile is at a low level and therefore also the agile leadership maturity level.

Many organizations do not yet own an agile mindset and in that case there is still work to do for HR in leadership development. For example you will organize short workshops to train new A&L advisors(agile coaches). The moment the organization starts to develop an agile work environment, the number of HR tasks will be less and less.

In summary
HR has almost no role in an agile learnEcosystem with regard to the most relevant practices for leadership development. This fits within the agile mindset. If your target is an agile organization that rapidly and resiliently anticipates the digital disruptions, it is inevitable that you as leader learn and organize learning in your work. You do not want it otherwise as these learning processes are crucial for survival. You can only be agile by learning rapidly. It is not for nothing that ongoing experimentation is encouraged in an agile environment and that means learning all the time. You work constantly in labs. Hagel refers to it as scalable learning.

In my next blog I will describe the role and tasks of agile HR in an agile learnEcosystem.

Other posts about agile: