Creating Agile HR, Part 1: What HR Does

One of the challenges as an organization becomes agile is what to do with HR and Finance. How can HR and Finance become more agile? In this series, I’ll address HR (Human Resources). (I’d actually started drafting this series a few months ago, but Diana Larsen pinged me with her note of Human Resources Is Dead. Make Way for Employee Experience! I decided to write and finish this series.)

Here’s what HR does now:

  • Administration and Benefits: Forms about employees, policies about people, healthcare (in the US), retirement fund possibilities. I don’t know about other countries, but in the US, almost every company greater than 9 people needs one person to do this. There are many things I love about the US. Our forms and policies are not one of them.
  • Compensation and rewards: What does the career ladder look like? What is fair compensation? How do you help with parity? Some people call this “Managing Performance.” I’ll discuss naming alternatives in that post.
  • Education and training: When organizations bring training in, it’s often via the HR function.
  • Recruitment: I mean looking for people—sourcing—as opposed to the entire hiring process
  • Hiring: Overseeing the entire process, from the forms you fill out for a req, interviewing, and helping to smooth the way for a person to start. Diversity is often part of this function.

Let me be clear. In the US, HR exists to keep the company out of court. I wrote about this in Hiring Geeks That Fit. I am sure I wrote about this on my blog in past years. All of the Admin and Benefits work is to keep the company legal. It’s possible some of that work is to enhance the employee experience with benefits.

You might ask how many people do these disparate things? In smaller organizations, say under 100 people, there might be one or two people in HR. Those people are generalists, and often stay bogged down in administration work. These people stay in the admin area because the last thing you want is your company in court. They are not capable of recruiting (sourcing) for technical jobs because they don’t understand the different roles.

Larger organizations have more HR people. That’s where you’ll see internal recruiters who specialize in developers, testers, managers, etc. Some recruiters are more facile across the range of roles. Those recruiters often understand how the organization develops and releases product.

One of the problems agile creates when it’s time for culture change is how to create a more agile HR function with respect to sourcing and hiring activities. Let’s discuss what that means:

  • IF HR is stretched across the bandwidth of possible functions, they are overloaded. We understand what happens to overloaded people. It’s the problem of multitasking.
  • Does your HR person understand sourcing and hiring? For example, when a client compared my hiring workshop to HR’s, they said, “You understood the specific issues we see every day. HR did not.” HR might be able to deliver general training. They don’t work with developers, testers, other technical people every day. They can’t know what you know. That means they can’t help you learn how to interview. (Possibly, they can’t help you source people either.)
  • Recruiting is an art, all by itself. If you have to file forms to keep the company out of court now or recruit for the future, what will you do? (It’s the problem of the strategic vs. tactical work.)

Now we understand what HR does. (Let me know if you see more HR responsibilities than I’ve included.) The next part is about a more agile approach to hiring.

As I add the posts, I’ll link to them here.

I am done with this series, at least for now.

3 Replies to “Creating Agile HR, Part 1: What HR Does”

  1. Off the top of my head: employee relations (those union contracts don’t negotiate and administer themselves), safety and risk management, compliance management and reporting (depending on the industry and operating jurisdictions, this can be enormous), performance management and disciplinary actions, succession planning, license and credential management, and a basket-full of strategic HR functions, from staffing and utilization to assisting in the valuation of an acquisition candidate to budget projections and alternatives. And if Payroll isn’t reporting up to the CFO, then add all of those functions, from gross-to-net to tax reporting to garnishment processing and on and on …

    While there are some HR functions that might benefit from Agile methods, generally HR, Benefits Administration, and Payroll are not the soft of jobs place where you the workers to fail fast, slow, or even motionlessly because their mistakes impact real people and they can’t test in a copy of the production environment. You need precision, reliable execution, and reproducible results. It’s not a creative gig, and the sheer volume of legislation at all levels has created several specialties among HR attorneys.

    1. Dave, oh, nice catch. I have more often seen “Administration” take care of union contracts (white and blue collar employee relations were handled by different people), and safety and risk management. I am planning to discuss performance management.

      While HR should be involved in succession management, too often, the people in HR don’t know enough, especially at a smaller company. I will address this in a later post. It’s especially important in agile organizations, where the org tends to be flatter. I agree, succession planning is not someplace you want to “fail fast.” However, it is a place you might want to try some small safe-to-fail experiments.

      Thank you. You’ve given me more food for thought.

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