Creating Inspired and Agile HR Teams

Tom O'Shea |

May you lichinese timesve in interesting times” … this often used saying normally attributed as a Chinese proverb turns out to be an English saying after all. According to Wikipedia, the closest Chinese proverb goes something like this, “Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a man in a chaotic (warring) period” written by Feng Menglong in a 1627 short story entitled Stories to Awaken the World. Well, like it or not, there is no question that we are living in highly chaotic period with more to come as we look ahead to new iterations coming in 2016. Stayed tuned.

The first half of my business career involved operating in or leading HR teams of different varieties in mid to large global consumer products companies in the US and Europe. Throughout my business career, I was also fortunate to been actively involved with or more often responsible for guiding strategic planning. This fusion is greatly responsible for shaping my perspectives around organizational agility and the factors that enable real, meaningful agility. My take on the proverb above, whatever the real origin, is loud shout-out to all strategic HR business leaders … “should you be so lucky as to live in interesting times” … and you do.

These are definitely interesting times for those involved with shaping the futures of organizational talent, leadership culture, strategic capabilities and total workforce engagement – likewise it is time to shape the stories that Awaken the HR World. We have been writing about the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world for almost ten years now. It is abundantly clear that we all now recognize and readily see that moniker for the chaos and turbulence in our operating environments. Many senior HR leaders are stepping forward to join forward thinking strategy and business leaders in mapping the transformations needed.

Key question for the day … How can senior HR leaders inspire and invigorate their teams to see their roles as Agility Champions and begin building their own strategic roadmap for creating the AGILE HR function? Naturally, it begins with engaging our teams to discover and declare some CLARITY on core fundamentals. You can use a framework Simon Sinek has now made famous in his dialogue around START WITH WHY …

WhyJust as with inspiring leaders, inspiring teams benefit from the occasional re-grounding around the three simple questions … “why are we here, how will we be successful and what does that success look like to our stakeholders”? It is very easy for teams to do this in a “go through the motions” fashion … we have done this before. This can, however, be very powerful when done in a climate of real hopefulness and possibility where the conversation is actually connected to the schematic wiring of an enterprise success model.

melting potTeams of all kinds get inspired and energized when they see and feel alignment to a success model and leadership climate building learned hopefulness and not the kind of learned helplessness Martin Seligman profiled for us years ago – but still prevalent in too many corporate environments. We see this learned helplessness also infecting many HR teams where the corporate rhetoric of people-centric culture does not match up with every day corporate practices. Goes almost without saying that the “LR” climate is incongruent with creating real Agility Champions.

Just imagine your HR team as fully engaged Agility Champions – focused, fast and flexible. That vision can and, frankly, needs to be your reality if your HR function and team are to be full business partners contributing to the transformation needed in organizations facing the VUCA world. Let me outline some of the capabilities that exist and operate in AGILE HR TEAMS using our AGILE MODEL® framework.

Anticipate Change
  • They have established good HR team clarity in VISIONING the why, how and what success looks like for the team at all levels throughout the HR organization.
  • They have identified the internal and external HR stakeholder community and mapped the forces of change that helps them become proactive in SENSING change early.
  • They systematically MONITOR key internal and external factors to recognize patterns and trends on critical factors potentially impacting organization and HR team success.
Generate Confidence
  • They continuously reinforce line of sight within HR team and stakeholders to energize and CONNECT all team members into a positive community of practice and expertise.
  • They insure close ALIGNMENT with vision, values, priorities, behaviors and resources actively percolating across the team to build highly credible HR team brand value.
  • They expect, create, support and value highly ENGAGED levels of individual and team ownership and involvement with all levels throughout the HR team
Initiate  Action
  • They expect and promote a positive BIAS FOR ACTION and sense of urgency for doing right things throughout the HR team as well as catalysts for positive change beyond.
  • They have built HR team skill, accountability and trust through better and faster DECISION-MAKING encouraged and expected at all levels within the team.
  • They are champions of COLLABORATION and skillful in building cooperation and commitment in everything they do within the team as well as with stakeholders.
Liberate Thinking
  • They have built a climate with a BIAS FOR INNOVATION valuing and always promoting fresh innovative solutions to match the growing complexity in business issues.
  • They are driven by a CUSTOMER FOCUS orientation that recognizes superior customer experience naturally starts internally and must be modeled at all HR touch points.
  • They actively understand the power of IDEA DIVERSITY and find ways to reach out and incorporate involvement and ideas from stakeholders at all levels.
Evaluate Results
  • They have CREATED EXPECTATIONS aligned with the enterprise success model, tied them to satisfying stakeholder requirements and with goals linked across the HR team.
  • They have an active and progressive conversation flow providing REAL TIME FEEDBACK on things that matter with all stakeholders and HR team members.
  • They have established and pay attention to FACT BASED MEASURES in their HR Team Success Dashboard which helps them triage team vital signs, monitor key agility indicators in order to recognize improvement priorities and critical success factors.

AgileModelThe capabilities outlined above apply to all teams across all functions indeed. The framework here also provides a structure you can use to examine, evaluate, discuss and determine your own priorities for building more inspired and agile teams in every discipline and area of your business – but especially starting with your HR teams.

FFFbook4The VUCA context for future success in all arenas and functions requires teams built for speed, adaptability, fresh innovation and unknown challenges. AGILE HR teams can inspire confidence in many of these attributes for others to follow. Our new book FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World will assist you greatly in mapping your journey.

I hope you will also join us at the Human Capital Institute Summit 2016 in New Orleans in March 2016 to learn more and discuss these topics further with my partners as well as a large collection of other thoughtful practitioners and colleagues … Creating an Agile Talent Ecosystem. See you there!

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Nick & Tom's new book, "Focused, Fast & Flexible: Creating Agility Advantage in a VUCA World", is now available for purchase on amazon.



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