Why is HR not agile?

The title of this blog post triggered you: Either you agree, or you disagree.

Let me first explain in a nutshell why you need agile, and then how it relates to HR.

I have a background in software development. Many frameworks in software development assume they can predict the future. In other words, they think projects can be managed entirely by making big plans, introduce hand-over moments, etc.

In the nineties, we had the Software crisis, the software was always too late, and quality was too low. The industry had to do something. There were two ways to go: one that would introduce even more frameworks, steps, documents, etc and the other is what we now call agile. To me, agile proved about realizing that you need to use an empirical approach to manage complex projects.

What makes those projects complex? I could name a wide variety of things here, but one of the most important factors is the fact you work with people. You simply can’t manage people like a machine. Nowadays we call this management 1.0, and you can read all about it in the works of Frederic Taylor.

In my career, I worked with many people from Human Resources, Human Capital and probably there will be more different names for this department. I don’t like it when people talk about ‘human resources’, but in this blog post, I will refer to HR as the organization who in most organizations needs takes care of hiring, career development, salaries, firing, etc.

All those organizations had one thing in common. They worked with corporate models for personal development and reviewing people. At every organization, HR created a framework to help people grow and to help managers to review people. In most cases, HR headquarters created it, sometimes assisted by a fancy consultancy company. The HR department then would develop this model further for all employees, and because they realize they have different functions, they described a lot of skills, competencies, levels, etc.

When we execute technical projects, we use an empirical approach. We are transparent and inspect & adapt. We understand that we need to be flexible, that we need to embrace change and realize that every project needs a different approach. We come to understand that there is no magic approach that will solve everything.

So why does HR still believe that they can develop a framework that can cover everything related to people? Why do they develop one size fits all frameworks that all departments need to use? Why do get agitated when a manager decides to disagree with the HR model?

I think the time has come for HR to use a different approach.

HR has a lot of knowledge about local employee laws, skills, competencies, and people. I am not saying they are prutsers. Definitely not! I am just saying they are using the wrong approach.

Why not create some guidelines, or principles on what you expect managers or teams to take care of? I think it is very useful to use a model in some cases. Nothing wrong with that.

HR should ask teams and managers to think about how they are going to help people develop themselves. They should offer their expertise when asked for by teams, tribes or departments. They should give teams and or departments the freedom to develop their own approach.

Isn’t this very ineffective or inefficient you may ask? Perhaps, I am not saying you should not talk to each other and learn from each other. However, I believe it should mostly be a bottom-up approach. When a manager does not know where to start, HR should definitely help that manager. They should help the manager develop a framework that fits the manager’s department or team. In doing this, there is nothing wrong to be inspired by frameworks that are used by other departments or teams.

So why is HR not doing this?

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