What is the role of HR in the Success of an employee in an Agile Organization?

In Organizations that practice Agility, there is a growing need now to reimagine the role of HR. In this article, we see just from an employees perspective areas when HR interacts with an employee during the employee life cycle.

Mark has worked for 12 years. He has a masters degree. He is well respected in his field. His skill is sought out in the industry and he is really happy with what he is doing.

Employee Lifecycle

Let’s look at this lifecycle where typical involvement of HR happens.

The term human resources is a challenging one. Irrespective of what we call this group its what this group does that can make a huge shift to an Agile Organization.


In most cases, if you are really good at what you do, you probably have a good job. So if you are a recruiter who is hiring for experienced professionals you need to do a lot more than just searching for profiles on job boards or LinkedIn. Most experienced recruiters have a tactic of approaching candidates, and over a period of time, getting them to think about possible future opportunities.

A few years back, I had hired one of the best Agile recruiters ever. As soon as she joined, all of a sudden our recruitment pipeline would look really good. She would organize events that looked more like meetups, and in those meetups, she would invite some of the candidates she was targeting either as a speaker or an attendee.

Good recruiters make the whole process seamless. Every small detail would have been thought through. Each email that goes out or the phone call has a fun human touch. Even when people are not hired, they would get an email why they were not hired, and what would they have to do to get hired. We have had numerous cases where people would come back after months saying, I completed all the items in the list, now hire me.

On-Boarding New Employees

Why do we celebrate only when people leave the company? While we should do that, why not make a lot of noise and make someone feel awesome. on the day they join the company.

Here are some ideas to make Mark’s first day memorable.

  • Send Mark something he/she likes a few days before they start.
  • Stand with your team and clap and invite Mark as he joins the organizations.
  • Keep paperwork on day 1 to a minimum.
  • Laptops should be ready when they arrive not after a few days.
  • Keep a task board of things they have to do and give them a few days to complete the work.
  • Don’t bore them with corporate training on the first day. let them do the work they joined to do.

Professional Development

Most work not always but in many cases has come down to teamwork. Every employee needs to set for themselves a few goals and they should be measured on reaching those goals.

  1. Goals to help grow self.
  2. Goals to help the team
  3. Goals to help the organization.

Separate feedback systems from Financial Incentives. Dan Pinks Drive  Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Are you creating ways in the organization to encourage Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose?

Minimize Titles, Promote roles instead. All organizations do need some sort of internal numerical systems, which should only be used for salary purposes. In some organizations, these levels are given so much importance that it ends up killing creativity


It’s easier to hire new employees but tough to retain them. Each person has many reasons to work. Most of us work to get paid. But beyond that, we work to use our creative mind and make a difference to the community around us.

People leave when they have a bad boss, and when work does not motivate them anymore. This is where leadership role is critical in creating organization systems where people have the freedom to work, but are working towards clear goals for the group that they are working on.

A big part of retention is the ability of an employee to feel like they own the organization.

There is a difference between happy employees and engaged employees. What you want are employees who are engaged in what they are doing and hence happy doing it.

HR can play a critical role in creating 360 feedback systems, happiness surveys, enabling organization-wide collaboration tools. video conferencing systems, work from home policies, timesheet only for billable work, open PTO,


When people decide to leave, support them. Don’t try to stop them. There is a reason they are leaving. Treat them as future customers, future employees. Ask them in the exit interview what the company could have done differently . In some cases, employees do leave just because they are following the money, and those kinds of employees who are only motivated by money are better off to leave.

What you don’t want to lose are those dedicated employees who would not have left, if they felt they had been heard, they felt their work mattered and when work gets fun, people often don’t leave.

In all of this having even one strong leader in your HR team who understand that can bring agile values to the work they do, they will make a huge difference to your workforce. Find the right leader to lead your HR group. And as you do so maybe call it Resources for Human not Human Resources.

Looking Beyond Large Scale Agility

After being involved with a group that is probably the most Agile anywhere in the world, seeing hundreds of companies over the last decade trying to become Agile and so miserably at that, or after having taught Leadership, Kanban, Scrum and Agile Engineering workshops and finding that the same problems exist in organizations that existed a decade ago, I am really starting to wonder if its time for us all to really Look beyond Large Scale Agility.

If you are in an organization that is busy implementing Agile Change frameworks like SaFe, Less, Dad, Nexus etc you may be wondering

  • How all of this is going to improve your life. ?
  • What is going to happen to all the hard work you have put in this organization over the years. ?
  • Is your company getting better or worse?
  • How are you going to make more money and be happier?

You are not alone. The issue I have come to realize more so lately is one of Scale. Agile is heavily dependent on people, less in the process. Yet most companies we work for are heavily driven by the process and profit  Have the meeting madness. Leaders are incentivized to drive down cost. The pressure of shareholder satisfaction makes things tough to change.

Agility tends to work well in smaller groups. If your organizations are really small say 50 people, it’s really tough to implement Any kind of Framework. Pretty much the culture is one of “Get it done”. From 100 to 150 People scale All these things work beautifully. More than that you are in the “I am not sure this is working Zone”.  Dunbar’s Number posits that 150 is the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.

What we need is

  • Sess – Small Scale Scrum  NOT Less – Large Scale Scrum
  • RaFe, Right Agile Framework NOT SaFe Scaled Agile Framework

The fundamental issue in scaling beyond 150 to 200 is a simple one of coordination and one of leadership mismatch. At a scale of 150, you often have a group leader of some sort. The culture of this unit really depends on this leader. See this HBR Video that talks about 8 kinds of company culture.

If you see the video you would see one of the top kind of culture is Results Driven.

I would expect every profit driven organization is results driven. See the video above.

Every kind of organization should be results driven. So that means leaders are incentivized to get results.

Shown below is a typical organization where leaders are incentivized to get outcomes. Most of our organizations look like this. Broken by some sort of functional groups. Here shown are two Blue could be Sales and Marketing and Red – Could be Products. L (A) who is the leader for both the groups has to make sure the L(B)’s are incentivized correctly in  order to extract maximum results from the six leaders who in turn, so on and so forth

The book Leadership BS from  Jeffrey Pfeffer, a well known Stanford professor calls our many of the issues with leadership today. He goes at why leaders are actually not honest, not authentic, and not modest, do not often tell the truth, doesn’t build trust, and do not take care of others. In organizations such as the one above where top-down leadership is practiced, there is more of order following rather than ownership. Even if leaders really want to be Agile, The system is set up against them.

People who actually do the work are so far away from the real customers that they don’t have a clear understanding of what problems they are trying to solve for customers, are not empowered to decide anything without explicit permission from the leaders. In such organizations meetings is the norm as the person above has to delegate the work down, coordinate across different groups. Hence the normal problems of excessive meetings are seen in these organizations.

See this amazing Ted talk about what happens when leaders create an epidemic of meetings in organizations.

So how can we be Agile? Really agile. Agility is really about
– profitability of the business,
– Engagement of employees where they are empowered to solve and innovate for customers

It starts with three simple practices
1) Small groups that are direct customer facing creating a startup like a mentality in these groups
2) With a heavy focus on good solid agile engineering practices and a culture of teamwork.
3) Where leaders are elected by those they serve and are now serving than leading.

It’s really about Product or Service Agility. Are we creating products or services that delight our customers? We really cannot change org culture esp if your organization in more than 1000 people.

But we can do a lot of magic in the 125 range.

You can make a huge service to your organization by creating worthy leaders who are trained to lead from the side. The leaders can create a culture where truly the time of the team is protected so that they do not waste even a minute of their time in meaningless meetings, instead of by working together to creatively solve customer problems.

Share your thoughts and experiences on success or failure trying to implement large scaled Agile.