Can Hr Business Partners be “Agile Champions” in an Organisation

Spoiler Alert! The answer is an emphatic 100% – yes. Yes, they can.

I have recently spent two days locked in a room with 11 HR BPs & Eduardo, challenging my own pre-conceptions that HR are too regulated by legal and privacy requirements to embrace an Agile way of working. I distributed the post-it notes and sharpies and braced for impact.

Having worked with Agile for a few years now, I’m ashamed I had any doubts to begin with.

HR Business Partners at their very core, in their nature are already coaches and people champions. I’ve been lucky to have worked with some great HR teams in my time as a People Leader and they have never failed to have my back, to give me guidance and to challenge a direction I was taking if it needed challenging. When you hear about the Agile Mindset being made up of 5 key behaviours (Respect, Communication, Trust, Transparency and Collaboration) – can you think of any other department in an organisation that lives and breathes these behaviours more than an HR team?

This team had it. I knew in the first couple of hours that I was witnessing a revolutionizing of a People & Culture team.

Let me quickly go off-tangent to explain what I was doing there. What I mentioned earlier about distributing post-it notes and sharpies, that was my ticket into the bootcamp. I didn’t want to pass up this opportunity to see Agile in HR and hearing Eduardo try to say “ideation” in his Spanish accent is always a good time. I had worked with Eduardo for a few years at REA Group but have only just recently started working for him again at The Agile Eleven. Watching him facilitate the Agile Bootcamp for the P&C team brought back a lot of memories of my Agile introduction. Not all of them good.

Agile feels unnatural. It goes against everything that we have been taught as children, as teenagers, as adults but especially as Leaders. A lot of people will embrace the philosophies but we revert to habit and conditioned behaviours as quickly as we forget about New Year Resolutions.

It's inevitable. We do what we know, we do what makes us comfortable.

I shared a story with the group that while working for a non-Agile organisation I found myself staring at a spreadsheet. It was 11pm and I was into my 15th hour in the office. I knew better. It took that self-reflection (and a coaching conversation with Eduardo) to reset and the next day I built a wall to visualise the work.

HR Business Partners are focused on amazing initiatives around building people capability and talent, they care about people fulfilling their potential, being happy in their jobs, they want engagement in the organisation. I can’t think of a better group of people to be Agile Champions. However, on the flip-side, I also can’t think of a department that is more bogged down with processes and policies and regulations – a team that is at a great risk of reverting to conditioned and traditional ways of working. They are consumed and some will say they are overwhelmed by everything within the system that they can’t always see the system is broken.

This team of 11 got it. They saw that their own team required some Agile TLC. The conversations that were had were inspired and for me, inspiring.

Can HR BPs be Agile Champions? They absolutely can, but first they must adopt and imbed an Agile way of working for themselves individually and as a team. By that I don’t mean throwing cards up on a wall, but rather looking at the whole system of work, removing waste, collaboratively and continually improving and simplifying processes for themselves and then the wider organisation.

If that’s the future of HR or People & Culture teams, I need to go google how to become an HR Business Partner.

Written by: Marta Garbarek
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