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AGILE HR: A New Way Of Working
Farid Basir, Chief Human Capital Officer, Telekom Malaysia
Farid Basir, the Chief Human Capital Officer at Telekom Malaysia shares what is required by HR to truly become an agile organisation and what it really means to be agile in today’s world.
1. What is Agile?
Agile is an iterative approach to developing initiatives that are structured around experimentation, integration, and review, and supported by a trusting and collaborative culture of self-organising cross-functional teams. The term ‘Agile’ has predominantly been used in the tech arena, to describe software development and the ability to execute your go-to-market strategy faster by creating a minimum viable product rather than a fully-fledged product that encompasses every user requirement identified. The ultimate value in Agile development is that it enables teams to deliver value faster, with greater quality, predictability and greater aptitude to respond to change
2. What does Agile mean to HR??
As many organizations look to become more agile and customer-centric, HR risks being seen as an internal hurdle to value creation. HR professionals have been searching for a way to meet this challenge.The answer is a more agile HR. Agile has its roots in the software development world, but the mindset and principles of agile are increasingly being tested out in the world of human resources. The implementation of agile methodologies is definitely impacting how organisations work and doesn’t just relate to the tech industry anymore. Agile HR is about reimagining how organizations attract, select, develop, engage and retain talent.
A lot of HR professionals use the term “Agile” metaphorically. They don't really understand that there is a specific methodology that is associated with it and there are some tools that are enabling agility in organisations that need to be introduced before we even start talking about agility. So, agility for organisations and HR means a lot more than just being nimble and responsive. Scrum and Kanban are two of the most widely used Agile methodologies, and ones we’re beginning to see more frequently used in HR.
As businesses continue to move toward more challenging and unprecedented times as we experience by COVID-19 Pandemic, it is critical for HR functions to be able to adapt and embrace the changing needs of the business and the talent market. And as we know, having an agile HR model not only enable the allocation of resources to business priorities but it also increases business focus, efficiency and effectiveness.
3. What was the key business driver in the implementation of an organisation-wide Agile HR model?
Operating in a highly competitive and dynamic telecommunication industry, TM is undergoing a transformation in its business and organisation. This transformation demands HR to play an active role and in order to drive HR’s capability to support the Company transformation, in October 2019 we embarked on a new operating model based on the Agile way of working. This also gives us the ability to be more customer centric, fast to adapt and learn.
4. What does the term agile HR mean to you and your organisation, in terms of the objectives or pillars that you set out to achieve?
Agile HR to us means three things, namely a new way of organising, a new way of working and a new way of decision making.
A new way of organising
Instead of purely separated by functions, there are now many more cross-functional teams (squads) aligned to business priorities. These squads are accountable for the outcome, and are evaluated on customer centric and business measures.
A new way of working
During daily huddles, the squads review progress and identify roadblocks. Initiative delivery takes an iterative approach, where iterations are continuously improved based on customer feedback.
A new way of decision making
The squads are empowered to make decisions that are customer- and business-driven. This accelerates initiative development and delivery. Additionally, leaders play a critical role to debottleneck any obstacle faced by the squads.
5. Implementing agile HR must have included a complete rehaul of your models – in terms of agile mindset, structure and methodology. Tell us what changed, what needed to change, and what continues undergoing change?
You’re right, a thorough #AgileHR implementation should cover the three elements- method, structure and mindset.
Firstly - Agile Methods, which is about managing projects in shorter, interactive work cycles and constantly collecting customer (employee) feedback.
Secondly, Agile Structure which involves organising the HR function around customer-centric teams with greater empowerment & decision-making authority.
Most important but perhaps most challenging is Agile Mindset, which requires us to think of HR’s role as providing products that evolve rather than resources that are final.
In our case, to kick-off our Agile HR journey, firstly the squad set-up needed to be in place. This is the ‘structure’ aspect of Agile. Mapping against our priorities, each squad works on delivering the key outcomes of the key strategic pillars. Each squad hasclear missions, measure of success and workstreams. They are arranged cross-functionally, with customer as the core of the effort.
Agile is new to almost all of our staff, so squad members underwent a crash course in Agile to learn its methods, ceremonies and philosophies. This was when the Agile mindset was first inculcated, and the Agile methodologies introduced among the members.
It was also important for us to understand the customer. Therefore, customer reach out programs were done, including design thinking empathy sessions, surveys and so on. From there, the squads carried onto deliver their mission, using the Agile methodologies.
Efforts continue to be made to inculcate business and customer centricity into Agile HR practitioners, so that they are able to relate HR outcomes to business value drivers. This is to ensure the initiatives are always contributing to business objectives. Additionally, we continue to explore ways to flip other functions in HR to be run in the Agil
6. What are your secrets to managing such an in-depth project, in terms of getting stakeholder buy-in and involvement, on-ground execution, pilot testing, and more?
A key success factor in a project like this is change management, both at leadership level and squad level.
Leadership support and buy-in go a long way in ensuring adoption by the organisation. To do this, immersion programs were held with key leaders, to share success stories. Regular Agile showcase are also done so leaders a kept abreast of the squads’ progress and challenges.
At the squad level, the members were trained in agile way of working, agile manifesto and principles. Sprint planning, daily huddles, backlog refinements and retrospective to ensure that executions are delivered by sprint, tied to the mission of the respective squads.
Agile coaches (scrum masters) guides the members in Agile methods and facilitate the running of the squads as well as resolve obstacles. The coaches also measure the Squad Maturity Index in every sprint, to ensure the squads continue to make improvements towards full Agile way.
7. What were the challenges that your team faced in planning and implementing this initiative? How did you overcome them?
One of the challenges faced, especially at the very beginning of our journey, was the lack of interest from staff to join the Agile squads.
To address this, we conducted a number of engagement sessions, spearheaded by CHRO to share on the purpose of the squads and how it can help drive value to the organisation. Answering the ever important “what’s in it for me?” question, we also shared how their participation will help to add value to each individual – from improvement of work, gaining new knowledge and working collaboratively. As a result, currently almost 120 HR staff participated in the 13 squads that we have, under 5 tribes.
Another challenge was the lack of clear understanding of what Agile is. For this, we conducted training on agile way of working, sharing sessions on best practices, and hands on experience with the agile way of working while in the squad. As a result, they are able to deliver amazing outcomes that contribute towards business goals.
8. Tell us about the milestones and success stories that you’d like to share on your agile journey?
We are happy to have seen positive outcomes from our HR squads.
For example, under our Reskilling squad, we train non-sales staff so they have the skill and interest to be the Company’s sales and service ambassadors. As at August 2020, we have managed to increase over ten-fold the number of staff trained as compared to before Agile. More importantly, these staff have contributed over RM60 million of new sales to the Company.
Under the Future-skilling squad, again the number of staff trained has increased dramatically, this time over 20-fold.
As another example, the Wellbeing360 squad was able to redesign our employee engagement programs to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, at the same time multiply the number of participation, as well as maintain a consistent satisfaction level of 4.6 over 5.00 from the participants during all programs.
Our Single Employee App (SEA) squad has developed an in-house app within 2 months each for Career Conversation and Talent Calibration. The app enabled more than 10,000 career conversations during COVID-19 Lockdown that resulted in more than 30,000 70/20/10 development plans. Through in-house app development, we have saved almost MYR2 million.
9. Could you tell us about one best practice that you would recommend to other HR leaders looking to go down the same path, and one pitfall all leaders should avoid?
Apart from effective change management, the role of leaders cannot be understated in this transformation. They must provide clear insights to drive high value outcomes, participate in Agile rituals, provide empowerment, embrace uncertainty and debottleneck large obstacles.
Organisations must avoid embarking on this journey without clarity of purpose and exhaustiveness in squad design. The squads must have a clear mission, tied to a specific organization value driver. The workstreams and composition of squad members must be exhaustive to ensure that the squads can deliver outcomes more effectively. Squads should follow MECE principle – mutually exclusive (ME) and collectively exhaustive (CE), while at the same time the squads composition should not be too large or too small, around 5-15 people.
A note before we end. Agile HR is still new in Malaysia. I believe HR practitioners with #Agile skills will be in high demand as more and more organisations start to implement this new way of working. So, getting involved in Agile now is one of the best ways to gain a unique advantage for our personal career-growth.