5 Reasons HR Teams Should Adopt an Agile Mindset

Two years ago, Paycor’s HR team began experimenting with an agile approach to project management. Agile is a term you’ve probably heard of (Amazon lists more than 1,000 books on the subject), but it has yet to be widely adopted by HR departments.


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Agile is an approach to traditional project management that overturns the apple cart in many ways. For example, if your HR team wants to reimagine the onboarding experience—as Paycor did recently—you might kick the project off and return months later with an onboarding product that falls far short of expectations. But imagine if, instead of just “going off and doing,” your HR team partnered with cross-functional teams—say, IT, marketing, and perhaps a few key user groups.

Every day, members of the core team would meet, share progress, talk through obstacles, and incorporate feedback along the way. By the end of your journey together, your team would arrive at the same destination—the launch of your new onboarding experience—but the journey itself would be fundamentally different—more iterative and collaborative. That’s the essence of the agile mindset. From Paycor’s experience, it can be a very effective way to approach HR initiatives.

Here are five reasons your HR team might want to consider an agile approach to your next project:

1. You’ll Learn to Communicate More Effectively.

A core component of the agile mindset is a collaborative work process called the “Daily Standup.” It consists of three questions: “What did you complete?,” “What do you plan to complete?” and “What is getting in your way?” This short conversation (standups should never last more than 15 or 20 minutes) affords a whole new level of transparency.

Team members get insights into what others are working on, and they help each think differently and solve problems. This simple approach to meetings, in and of itself, was beneficial to Paycor’s team in that it gradually broke down siloes and led to the kind of epiphanies you seldom experience when teams don’t share out their progress in an ongoing, formal way.

2. You’ll Find That Small Problems Don’t Get a Chance to Become Big Problems.

In retrospect, this was another benefit of a much more open and collaborative approach. By sharing progress, or surfacing obstacles, every day, nothing had a chance to stagnate or linger or become a big issue.

By addressing small issues or snags along the way, Paycor found that its teams were able to avoid some of the bigger problems they had encountered in the past when they were less formally collaborative. (I’m calling Paycor’s collaboration “formal” not because we were always buttoned up, but rather, we met every day, even when we didn’t have all that much to share. Success at the agile approach calls for a certain respect for ritual.)

3. You’ll Get Further, Faster.

Engineers and coders call it “rapid iteration,” but Paycor just calls it “getting stuff done.” There’s a certain HR personality that tends to be perfectionist. But the old adage—that perfect is the enemy of the good—is true.

An agile mindset allows for quick wins. It’s not about completing the project today. It’s about making progress, one step at a time, and sharing results to get feedback from a variety of people representing different disciplines and interests. You’ll find that when you set aside perfection and instead aim to complete just one piece of the puzzle in time for your next standup, your team will move faster to completion than if you wait to unveil the perfect solution.

4. You’ll Learn to Listen and Incorporate Feedback.

Revamping the onboarding experience for new employees was one of our agile projects. The HR and IT teams collaborated, and along the way, we received feedback from other internal departments.

Receiving feedback on a draft sketch or just one piece of a larger project is much easier, both logistically and psychologically, than asking for feedback on a finished piece. It’s easier to hear and react to negative feedback when you know the project is ongoing and there will be time to make improvements.

5. You’ll Learn How to Make It Better Next Time.

Postmortems are not a new concept, but how many HR teams actually take time to sit down after a project is over and ask: “What worked?,” “What didn’t work?,” and “What would we do differently next time?”

As I said earlier, there’s a certain amount of formality and ritual to the agile method, and the postmortem sit-down is an example of that. It forced Paycor’s team to have conversations they might not have had otherwise, and gave them a rare opportunity to be introspective as a team.

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about agile, there are a ton of resources and online tools out there to help. But really, you don’t need an advanced degree in agile project management to get started. Pick a project, pick a team, and try it out. In addition to being a far more effective way to run a big project, it can also be a lot of fun. Best of luck!

Over the last 7 years, Karen Crone has helped human capital management company Paycor grow from 400 to 1,500 associates, and now, as it is fast-approaching a quarter billion in revenue, Crone is focused on developing future leaders. Before Paycor, Crone sharpened her executive leadership skills at American Modern Insurance Group, Kendle International, and Convergys. She’s a graduate of Miami University and the University of Cincinnati.

Crone serves on Advisory Boards of the Freestore Foodbank, Centennial, Inc., and the University of Cincinnati’s MHR program. She is an executive sponsor for Paycor’s Community Partner’s program and volunteers for the Freestore, the Flying Pig Marathon, and a host of Associate-driven events. Crone was recognized as a 2017 HRO Today Superstar, LEAD Magazine Champion of Human Capital, and a 2017 Finalist for HRO Today CHRO of the Year.

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