Agile HR: Highly Skilled vs. The Team Player

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I worked with an Agile Coach who used to be a development manager and was famous for telling people he could expect a 5-10% attrition of his employees when Agile was getting introduced. It begs the question of why in the world an organization would be willing to undergo such a disruptive change in how they work, knowing that such a large portion of their current staff will consider leaving because of it?

For many organizations, the answer became self-apparent. They have recognized the need to be faster, more adaptive in their market. They became self-aware in knowing that, without such a change, they would quickly become an afterthought.

So, the need for change is apparent but how does an organization deal with the inherent personnel issues that could come with adopting an Agile culture? By not taking this part of the change into serious consideration, you could be inadvertently undermining your entire transition into an Agile organization!
Human Resources departments are scrambling to find ways to not only keep the good people they have, but hire “Agile” people. It comes down to more than simply scanning resumes by keyword. You are undergoing a disruptive cultural change. For years, people have been groomed to work the same way. Start with grade school; you sat at your desk, were handed your work, asked to complete your work, hand it back in and get it graded.

What has changed? The answer in many cultures is not much.

People sit at their desk, get assigned their work, asked to complete their own body of work, hand it back in and get it graded. It’s been that way for years.

But now we’re asking people to work in a completely different way than they have been groomed (and in many cases educated) to work in. It feels foreign. We want them to get out of the cube and talk to people. We want them to work on a team, collaborate with other people of different skillsets, debate concepts, adapt to other cultures\generations and deliver based on the constantly changing needs of customers. Finally, the thing that pushes some people over the edge…they are asked to abandon the safety of their office or cube and sit in an open environment where they can actually see and talk to other people who can see and talk to them!

The dynamic created is a disrupted work environment forcing people into a change they are either very uncomfortable with or unwilling to even consider. But if we don’t change, we won’t survive.
From a leadership and HR perspective, here are some things to consider.

Change is difficult. Help those going through the change understand that they are not expected to simply maintain a stiff upper lip and get over it. Allow everyone to voice their concerns openly, which will help them to feel a part of the solution and not segregated out.

Make sure leadership understands their role in the overall strategy. From middle management to executive leadership, everyone has a much needed role in an Agile transformation. But the role is different from what they knew before. Get them the education they need on how it changes and why.

Stop trying to hire based on keyword scanning.

Some organizations have figured this out already. While they want people who obviously understand what we are trying to do, matching up to the organizational culture we are trying to achieve is more important. It makes no sense to hire a developer someone with fantastic technical and architectural skills when they won’t share what they know and don’t like working in groups!

I would personally rather have a team of so-so developers with a great attitude toward teamwork and collaboration who are willing to figure it out together, than one lone guru who is ultimately a single point of failure.

This concept fundamentally changes how you hire in an Agile organization. Previously we were willing to overlook various personality nuances in order to get the skillset in house. Now, we are willing to overlook a lack of skillset (which can ultimately be trained anyways) in order to get that person with a great attitude and willingness to work with others while continually improving.

Ideally, you get both right? Hopefully we are able to find that person who is highly skilled in development, testing, analysis, facilitation, etc. AND they are a great team player. If you find them….congrats! Pay them well or you will lose them quickly.

In other cases, remember this mantra, “It’s easier to teach someone with great personal skills technical things than it is to give someone highly technical inter-personal skills.” It’s simply a fact of life.

In the Agile world, it’s great to have both. But, in those instances where you can’t seem to find both, don’t kill your Agile transformation by hiring the wrong people. When you clear out a sand pit in order to plant a garden, you don’t fill it back in with sand and hope it grows. You put good soil in it for the best possible chance for success.

Stop hiring based on skills and resume keywords alone! Hire Agile people and watch your Agile organization grow.


Ankit Tara
posted 5 years 35 weeks ago

They most likely would have

They most likely would have been destructive. It is breathing new life into our organization! The downside is that we have a few employees that have been with us for a long time, who are truly not a great fit.
Ankit Tara
posted 5 years 44 weeks ago

Excellent piece! We have

Excellent piece! We have recently adopted a test that measures skill as well as attitude. It has saved us several poor hires of well skilled people- with no team attributes. They most likely would have been destructive. It is breathing new life into our organization! The downside is that we have a few employees that have been with us for a long time, who are truly not a great fit. As we build more collaborative team efforts, they are not embracing the shift. The transition does not come without some pain.

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