Adventures In Agile – The Mad Hatters Tea Party


I’ve read Joakim Sunden’s article on the role of Agile Coach at Spotify. This is a role I played in addition to HR Business Partner and Change Agent in the Agile Transformation at the contact centre.

The blend was unusual and it did give me the unique ability to change some of the approach to people practices, realign the cultural dimensions as well as implementing Agile practices and methods, but sometimes I felt I was the mad hatter at my own tea party.

This mix of coaching a leadership team towards Agile, driving organisational change, implementing Agile practices and methods and working to change mind-sets to Agile and HR meant I wore far too many hats.

In hindsight I should have better leveraged the people and resources that were there instead of trying to do it all myself. My biggest issue was being too black and white and too quickly attaching a label of whether someone was of an Agile mindset or not.

I was simply being protectionist – which isn’t collaborative or transparent. I wasn’t being completely Agile.

If someone offers you help – believe me its better for you to educate, coach and help them see the this better way of working. Let them be the judge.

Better for you, for them and for the people your serving.

Having worked as an change consultant for many years and HR practitioner, I was converted to Agile and did my scrum masters certification. Like Joakim I longed  for an opportunity backed by strong sponsorship for Agile and continuous improvement.

I knew agile could work just as well in a non technology function.

And it does!

Its not exactly the same as you’d find in software development but it has all of the elements of Agile and Scrum.

I remember writing about the challenge of trying to implement Agile when the rest of the organisation is not Agile. I’ve changed my views there too. Micheal (Doc H) from ACI Agile talks about this. If you’ve read Frederic Lalouxs Reinventing Organizations you’ll know about the color codes for each stage of an organisations evolution. Teal is where you might find Google or Zappos for example, most Fortune 500 are amber, some are green. And its quite possible to be amber with teal or green pockets.You’ve got to learn to give them want they want – if they want a GANT chart why not give it to them, it might serve as a backlog of sorts for you.

We have now implemented Agile as a new operating model for the  Customer Experience Contact Centre. While we started this journey last year with a concept called Network Judgement (team rather than individual working) it morphed into Agile and accelerate again recently to new deeper levels of systemic change across the people and coaching frameworks.

We’ve recently got Eduardo Nofuentes to help us who we have been talking to for some time and who also led the REA Agile implementation.

People in the contact centre get it, we don’t work with Scrum exactly as it says to in the book, we have adapted the approach in each team to fit the work and cadence of the team.

We are experimenting. The main objective is to uncover improved ways of collaborating and developing into high performing teams.

All the core principles and practices are still there ie stand ups, Kanban Boards, sprints, reviews and of course transparency, adaption and inspection.

The agile mind-set and adoption of Scrum has been spooky and I probably take it for granted now. Guide to Scrum can be seen on peoples desks, people are talking about sprints.

People are excited and energised

Its not been all plain sailing, this massive paradigm shift has brought about freedom and with that increased accountability.

I have personally felt like I have been on a roller coaster, other team members have described the same feeling some time ago.

It has been bizarre, rewarding, scary, exciting, frustrating and terrifying.

He aha te mea nui?
He tangata.
He tangata.
He tangata.

What is the most important thing?  It is people, it is people, it is people.


50 ways to leave your lover


“Problem is all inside your head”, she said to me

“The answer is easy if you take it logically

I’d like to help you in your struggle to be free

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover”

She said, “It’s really not my habit to intrude

Furthermore I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued

So I repeat myself at the risk of being crude”

There must be fifty ways to leave your lover

Fifty ways to leave your lover

During and after the HR Game Changer conference in Auckland I reflected on the energy, enthusiasm and commitment to change for HR of the people that attended. I read with interest the blog posts that followed and noticed a growing tone of frustration – change is hard – post conference blues had set in.

I think I know why – I’ve been down that road before

While there’s is a growing sense of the need for change by some members of the HR community its not really widely shared and just what we might be changing to hasn’t yet been defined.

The answers are hidden in plain sight

This morning I jumped on LinkedIn to see what topical conversations were occurring in the HR community, especially in the aftermath of HR Game Changer, Unfurling HR and Ram Charan’s recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “It’s Time to Split HR.”

Here is a list of conversations today on the NZ HRINZ LinkedIn group

  • Signing HR policies
  • Induction
  • Is HR the same after the quakes?
  • Disciplinary over a conference call
  • New drink driving limits – should employers provide taxi chits?
  • The business case for health and safety

Business as usual

In contrast here is a list of conversations on the Stooz Network LinkedIn group (non HR)

  • What trust does
  • 5 essentials of senior leadership
  • The post hierarchal organization
  • From Manager to engaging leader
  • Fearless leadership
  • Agile leadership

And then it hit me – while there is lively debate happening on #NZ Lead, led by the lovely Amanda Sterling, our friends and colleagues in HR Game Changer and the talented HR bloggers – for the majority of HR folk in mainstream social media aka HRINZ there is little evidence of awareness or desire to change

Many of you will be familiar with ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement). You’ll know that in order to change you must first know why the change is necessary – Awareness. Then you must have a reason to change – Desire. What follows is then what is changing – Knowledge and finally how to change – Ability and making the change stick – Reinforcement.

And if those LinkedIn conversations are representative of things that matter to the people in HR right now – that’s our starting and end point

Dave Ulrich in his commentary on Charans HBR article; says more is now expected of HR professionals. Charan lambasts the entire HR profession which he says is both unfair and simplistic. It ignores what Ulrich calls the 20-60-20 rule.

“In HR (or finance or IT), 20% of the professionals  excel and add the value that helps organizations move forward, 20% of HR folks are locked into a fixed mindset and lack either competence or commitment to deliver real value, and 60% are in the middle. It is easy and fair to critique the bottom 20%, but it is not fair to paint the entire profession with this same brush”.

Ulrich says he doesn’t focus on either 20%. The top 20% are exceptional and don’t need help. They should be role models for others. The bottom 20% won’t take help. He advocates teaching the 60% what they can do to deliver value.

Upgrading HR he says requires more rigorous redefinition of how HR can deliver value, how to develop HR professionals, and how to rethink the entire system of HR.

Spot on

But I disagree about what to do with the 60% – sorry Dave

Josh Bersin in his article – Why Does HR Get Do Much Grief says the problem is one of structure and roles, and today there is a new way to optimize HR.

“We’ve been doing research on this topic for 3+ years and discovered that we are in the early stages of an epic transformation of the function”

Lets revisit the fundamentals of change management – change won’t happen if you have no awareness or desire to change.

So how can there be an epic transformation for a function which in the main doesn’t see the need to change?

We have all had situations where we have tried to shift mind sets. Where there is no need for the change or to think differently – building awareness may have no impact at all.

I also know that acknowledging there might be another way requires a certain level of introspection. Without that there can be no adaption and no change. This will often happen incrementally.

That’s evolution rather than disruption

So I see some go forward options

Those that understand the need for change fall into the aforementioned top 20%. You are innovators and early adopters.

But it is not merely enough to know one needs and wants to change (A & D) we now need to collectively work on the what and how (K&A) as Ulrich points out the rigorous redefinition of how HR can deliver value and rethinking the entire system of HR.

For the 60% – the late majority – we can build awareness through role modelling, being creative networkers and redefining the conversations.

And this is our collective leadership responsibility.

But we wont change the world by spending our efforts trying to get ‘buy in’ – we don’t need to.

Its ok I think for HR to morph into something else all together. I don’t believe this is a reinvention, a new face and not even a transformation.

Something completely new, redefined and repackaged and renamed.

We can leave ‘HR’ behind just as we left ‘personnel’ behind

There must be 50 ways to leave your lover

 “Slip out the back Jack ,

Make a new plan, Stan, don’t need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me

Hop on the bus, Gus, don’t need to discuss much

Just drop off the key, Lee

Get yourself free”

We Are Done


I want you to know
It’s time to go
Yeah we are done
I want you to see
That I need  to be free

HRMANZ  (Up the Down Escalator) inspired this blog; stemming from his excellent article Walking Towards the Light.

There has been much talk lately in the HR community being at a cross roads – and debate about what this means.

Lets be be  more commercial! more business focused! its about results and bottom line!  That will fix it!  I don’t doubt these things are a core competency for anyone in business – but if this is where we think we’ll get our redemption – then we are done.

I used to think singularly about driving for results, bottom lines and managing the people. That was my job

But I forgot that work is a complex social organisation with individuals and groups of people – work is not a thing. I forgot that as people we have an instrinsic desire for self determination,self actualisation and creativity.

Its why we aren’t lizards. I forgot that.

I forgot that my role as a manager wasn’t about managing the people – because deep down people dont like to be ‘managed’ it dumbs us down – we like to think for ourselves.

But I was too busy – I had results to achieve!

I forgot to support the people to own their own work and outcomes, to decide for themselves how they achieved it and that I would work with them collaboratively to set the goals and the timeframes.

I forgot to cultivate a workplace where failing fast was ok and where curiosity and learning was priceless.

But I was far too busy managing the people, recoverables and measuring the productivity

I forgot that employee engagement came from facilitating a work environment where peoples instrinsic needs for self determination, creativity, problem solving and self actualisation were met – not through engagement surveys where I would try to then fix the ‘problem’ without really understanding the real problem lay systemically with the way we were organised to do the work.

But I was too busy managing KPIs and performance.

I forgot that managing a ‘poor’ performer was in most cases actually my failure

But I was too busy setting performance improvement objectives

Really I sucked

As an HR person I prided myself on having deep commercial acumen and understanding the financials.

But I forgot about the people – I may have left them behind the fridge. I set policies and procedures that were compliance and risk focused – but I forgot about the people – I was too busy being a hard arsed business she-warrior

Now I am neither a manager or a traditional HR person – I am a change agent, design thinker, creative networker and I am focused on agile culture and the new practices of Holocracy, agile leadership and servant leadership.

These principles throw on its head our management structures, beliefs, styles which are based on 100 year old military notions of pyramid command and control, where we assume that the people at the top are best qualified to make decisions,where leadership is really follow ‘me’.

This is what I believe to the core of my being

Focus on the people – you’ll deliver great customer experience

Focus on the people – you’ll deliver great products

Focus on the people – you’ll deliver profits

HR and line management is ALL about the people – if you focus on the people, focus on provding the best employee experience (EXD), combined with working on the right things with the right leadership through all levels of the organisation then this will result in the right results.

You – line managers – if all you do every day is show your people what good and done looks like, remove barriers and give your people what they need to work it out for themselves – how they get the work done – then your a legend

If we just employed people to be really good people, what value would that add to the business? It would be priceless and we would all be rich !! Look at Zappos, Google, Base Camp, Vend & Xero

What I think is fundamentally wrong with HR and line management leadership is that we are still trying to make stuff happen within organisations that are systemically wired based on 100 year old operating models. I’ve blogged about this before – its like putting water into a car – its just not going to go.

So here is the challenge for HR and line managers– understand the systemic nature of organisations, look at companies like Zappos and Google and Nitrix and understand how they are different, understand deeply the psychological and social nature of work, critically examine how work is structured and how gets done – understand the why businesses MUST be employee centric and why the new HR is a design thinker, systemic thinker, organisational architect, business consultant and work psychologist

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!

The New Face Of Recruitment Knows People


Yesterday I hung out with a bunch of recruiters, a brief visit firstly with Jonathon and Sean from Rice Consulting at the Generator, Johnny B from Synergy Consumers and bumped into Laura Burton from Progressive HR.

In talking to them I got an insight and a new perspective. These folk have specialised in their respective industries (recruitment, FMCG, HR) they know people. They really know the emerging and top talent, where they are, who wants to move and who doesn’t. They collaborate and creatively network beyond the next job  – they know their stuff and it’s impressive.

This is the new face of recruitment.

We talked about some of the challenges facing internal recruiters, which technology hasn’t solved for. Starting with applicant tracking systems, job boards, recruiting websites, and now an array of social media tools. There’s talk of some bigger organisations taking down job boards because internal recruiters can’t deal with the number of applicants, feel overworked, and are deluged with unqualified candidates.

In this model of recruitment there is little room or opportunity for tailoring the candidate process and the funnel approach to recruitment may be simply the best method to sift through the sheer numbers.

The business model for most internal recruitment departments (and many external recruitment agencies) is not predicated on knowing people. How can you tell? Because the most common recruitment process is candidate sourcing via job boards i.e. SEEK. The model is reactive, job by job. But recruiting is the business of knowing people and with many variables between each person, creating systematic processes to find/screen/interview/assess/close and giving it a fancy new name (Talent Acquisition) will never be sophisticated enough to deal with millions of variables of people and market influences – that’s chaos theory.

Google has taken the business of knowing people a leap forward and has better than anyone else developed a recruiting culture. Recruiting and the need for it permeates the entire organisation. Not just the recruiting function or the HR organization, but the entire company. As a result of this culture, Google funds recruiting to the point where the function is in a league by itself.

Google recruiting has the best-funded recruiting function in any major corporation. Dr John Sullivan in his case study of Google Recruitment Practices Dec 2005, indicates that, at times, Google recruitment has a ratio of 1 recruiter for every 14 employees (14:1). He states

If on the surface this ratio doesn’t impress you, I might suggest that you compare it to the typically much larger ratio of employees to all HR professionals, which is about 100:1. Because “building a business case” is an essential factor for building a recruiting culture (or even for having a strategic impact), their funding level puts Google in a class by itself


So to my point unless organisations are willing to really re think their internal recruitment business models, rather than playing around with the geography then it’s a bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. You’re not solving for the right problem. By this I mean enabling internal recruitment to build talent communities in partnership with talented professional recruiters whose business it is to know people, ensure its funded and the right people are leading – otherwise you may as well automate or outsource it all together.

Great recruiters internally or externally are made up of great people – they and they alone make the difference. Great recruiters care. They care about their delivery promises to their hiring managers and candidates, whether it’s sourcing/following up when you say you will, caring about how this may feel to a candidate, caring enough to stay creative and explore every way to find a great person – and that care is what makes great recruiting departments.

Great organisations cultivate that care, they know how to hire and keep great recruiters, and be quick to let go of senior executives who just don’t get it