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Recruiting to Enable Enterprise Agility

How do recruitment processes need to change to enable an Agile organisation?

The more volatile and ambiguous the business environment becomes, the more the Agile movement grows. Agile has been spreading outside traditional software development circles to other areas of the business with profound impacts. In a previous blog post we have discussed the importance of creating the right environment in your organisation for people to be Agile. However HR can play a larger role in creating the right environment for people to be Agile by recruiting and retaining the best.

In this post, we look at how recruitment can enable an Agile organisation. This can be achieved in three key ways:

  • Using Agile principles to accurately identify Agile talent,
  • Attracting the right Agile talent, and
  • Changing the decision criteria so Agile talent is prioritised.

The result being a recruitment function that moves faster, driven by Agile’s speed in delivery. Selecting candidates with strong alignment with the organisation’s values, through the transparency embraced by Agile. Finally, if you’re building an agile organisation, it aligns the selection of candidates with the focus of your organisation; becoming Agile.

Organisations can ensure their recruitment supports an Agile organisation by breaking apart the classic hiring processes, and employing an Agile approach themselves. Traditional recruitment structures involve a fairly static process: application, response, initial interview, second interview, and then offer. In seeking to hire Agile talent, we’re leveraging none of the benefits of what Agile talent, and an Agile organisation, give us.

One of the ways this can be achieved is by embedding transparency in all recruiting transactions. Providing candidates with deep insight into the company: What does the company’s culture look like? How do its people work? What are the norms they work by? This sort of insight isn’t difficult to give; often it’s packaged in your recruitment marketing material. The change is in the focus on the person, over the documentation. As you guide potential recruits to the interview room, why not highlight a team stand-up nearby, or re-route so you pass a scrum board? Small gestures of transparency provide candidates a lot of insight into what your organisation values. Remember, transparency is a two-way street; the more the candidate knows about you, the more you’re likely to know them. In this way, you’ll be better able to identify whether they are suited to your corporate culture, and an Agile environment. Transparency is even more crucial to getting the right candidate when you recognise that around 23% of applicants exaggerate the truth on their resumes.

Uber has introduced gamification to their recruitment process through an app called UberDrive, giving applicants immediate visibility to the flexibility and perks of working with Uber. The app allows users to drive around San Francisco, earning points for the shortest route, and providing handy tourist tips along the way. It provides a completely transparent, virtual experience of what working for Uber might be like, even showing users how much actual money they would make. With links to the recruitment process embedded in game, Uber is successfully promoting rolling recruitment, while also giving candidates unparalleled transparency into their work.

From the beginning, HR needs to be targeting the right Agile talent through key recruitment drives and branding exercises. Agile talent is exemplified by people with comfort for ambiguity, flexibility, and a growth mindset. The ScrumAlliance supports this, writing that “The focus should be to get the right individual, one who fits the organisational and team culture.” However, HR must go further, past simple branding exercises, to look at customising the actual application experience.

Recruitment is often the first direct exposure an applicant will have with a company, and as the Agile Manifesto stresses, it’s about “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Recruitment becomes a marketing tool. It is the face of the organisation, and becomes an advertising channel for future hires. If you’re looking to hire Agile talent, and enable an Agile organisation, your HR department will be a key enabler of this. If HR is slow to respond, gives little insight, and demands several manual forms be filled out, what sort of impression are you leaving an applicant? All of your development teams may be running scrum, but to top talent applying, it may look as if the organisation has been left in the dark ages.

ESPN has done fantastic work in this field in their effort to ensure they get the best millennial talent. Supplementing careers fairs with pizza parties, replacing long application forms with LinkedIn data extracts, and reducing marketing around compensation, instead focussing on the firm’s flexibility and diversity. Targeting the right talent requires an active and Agile recruitment function, whose external branding communicates the behaviours desired in applicants.

Finally, at the core of transforming recruitment, should be the Agile principles. By changing the decision criteria for how you select a new hire, you can prioritise the talent you want most in the organisation. This gives you a workforce of individuals culturally aligned to your strategy and ways of working.

Changing the decision criteria to be Agile involves re-writing position descriptions to be light and flexible. This ensures that you don’t become locked into hiring for a position that, by the time you fill the role, is no longer relevant. Research and Sensing by Deloitte wrote, in a piece titled ‘The end of the job as we know it’, that companies should be hiring “for values, innate skills, and fit, not for experience.” This means replacing your traditional job description with value descriptions instead, speaking to the inherent Agile cultural attitudes required in the position, like agility and comfort with ambiguity. In the Agile Manifesto, this is best denoted by the value of “Responding to change over following a plan”. The focus of good Agile job descriptions, should be on flexing positions, so that HR is building complete teams, rather than attempting to hire the ‘every man’ candidate.

The best example of this is the technology giant Google, who openly targets individuals for a quality called ‘Googleyness’. Head of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, defines this as:

  • “Attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn’t),
  • A certain dose of intellectual humility (it’s hard to learn if you can’t admit that you might be wrong),
  • A strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees),
  • Comfort with ambiguity (we don’t know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and
  • Evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.”

None of those elements would make a classic job description, but they do focus on what Google treasures most, a person’s values. They search for the right fit, not the right set of functional skills.

Applying an Agile mindset to recruitment is not simple. It spans a range of elements from redefining selection criteria, to re-inventing the hiring process. However embedding Agile within your recruitment practices is crucial in supporting an Agile organisation.

Our challenge to you is to look at how your recruiting currently operates, and determine where you can leverage Agile principles to improve the process. Even if it is as simple as giving new hires feedback forms so they can reflect on their experience of the hiring process, you’ll see the benefits that greater transparency and Agile provides.