Where Art Thou….Talent Enablement Coach

My company (Orion Health) and team mates are revolutionising global healthcare so that every individual receives the perfect care for them.  Want to play your part?

We’re looking for a unique and experienced OD Consultant to be based in our New Zealand office (Auckland) but with a global remit.  If you’ve been wanting to revolutionize the OD space and genuinely make an impact with your fresh thinking, then look no further!

  • Rare opportunity to join our People team as a Talent Enablement Coach, specializing in leadership development
  • Are you a champion of the employee and customer experience? Wanting to be instrumental in creating a coaching culture?
  • We’ve spelled out the opportunity further here….

Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. That’s why we’ve decided to do things differently – fresh thinking being an intrinsic part of the Orion Health culture!

We’re looking for a progressive OD practitioner to join us in a role that we’ve created especially for where our journey is taking us: “Talent Enablement Coach”. This role is key to supporting organisational effectiveness through building capability – specifically, our Leadership. We need your specialist knowledge, and ability to ‘make things happen’ so we can move the dial on key business drivers.

There’s a lot more to this role and opportunity which you’ll find here.  If you’re a fresh thinker, creative and looking for an extraordinary career opportunity, then read on…

* Role no longer available *

International Women’s Day – #BeBoldForChange

IWDI woke this morning to a lovely message my parents had sent to my sister and I.  A brief message acknowledging International Women’s Day (March 8th), and sharing a message of love and appreciation for our achievements and character.

My sister and I have been extremely fortunate to have had an amazing upbringing with great parents and a wonderful extended family.  Going to the Library each Friday and choosing our books for the week, was a particular treat.  The smell of the books, the reading of new ideas and adventures, the belief that one could do anything.  Through that we developed a thirst for learning and reading, as well as loving the precious time we got to spend with my hard-working father.

The entreprenuerial Uncle and godfather, driven and successful in his own business, who was so hugely important to me in my formative teenage years with his words of “you can achieve anything” still ringing in my ears today.

That upbringing set us in good stead for building our own happy family units, careers, financial independance and strong friendships.  If I personally hadn’t had that upbringing, and those amazing male role models, I sometimes wonder if some of the situations I’ve experienced or been exposed to throughout my career could have derailed me.

Would I have responded differently for instance, when at the Asia Pacific leadership meeting for an international company, I was advised (along with my female colleagues) by a senior executive that “..it was best you girls go shopping rather than come out on the boat, as there will be ‘certain’ female company coming”?

Would I have responded differently to the executive who loudly stated that he and his male team members welcomed the hugs they received from certain female employees during a national disaster recovery operation, due to the size of their physical attributes?

Would I have responded differently to the executive who was late to an important meeting, and said “come on girls, let’s get this over with” to the female executive and senior leader waiting for him?

IWD #5

From the extreme to the less obvious, every Gen-Xer woman that I’ve spoken to has experienced, at some point in their careers, some form of discrimination, belittling or the like.  Some have only had mild instances whilst others have experienced things that you wouldn’t think would be happening in this day and age.  But they are.

I’ve come to realize how my experiences, and those of my friends and colleagues, have come to influence me.  I have a particular passion for developing young women; for setting them up for success in their careers, mentoring and helping them to navigate the pitfalls and roadblocks one can experience as a women in the world of business.  As a rule, every women that starts working in my extended team, gets a welcome pack that includes material such as ‘Lean In: Women, Work and the Will To Lead‘ by Sheryl Sandberg, and ‘Playing Big‘ by Tara Mohr.

It is important to note that I’ve also had the privilege of working with very progressive male leaders.  Advocates for equality and fairness, they play with a big bat in the world of progressive leadership and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo to achieve that.  Fathers, husbands, uncles, or simply those who have an innate understanding of what needs to change.  One particular executive actively tackled the obvious pay disparity he saw between women and male executives at his organization.  The integrity and values he displayed were an inspiration to his team and colleagues; qualities I’m sure his own young boys will benefit from as they grow up and head out into the world.

As a mother of a young boy I’m particularly aware of the above example.  To strive for fairness and equality, to role model and mentor other women whilst also raising my son to take his place in the world with confidence; to know his own value and self-worth, is hugely important on so many levels.

The International Women’s Day site states today is a “..global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. [The day] is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action”.

IWD #4

So “thank you” to those key figures in my life who have displayed and pushed for this unity, reflection and action.  IWD ask for us to “do [our] bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.” Those key figures do their bit, and continue to do so.

I’m in.  Are you?

Different Hats, Same Headache…

I was recently invited to talk on the HR Leadership panel of the NZAGE 2016 Summit.  The NZ Association of Graduate Employers is a body that adds real value to many organizations and one I am happy to support in any way I can.

graduate-2The NZAGE plays an important role in our talent economy, by bringing together like-minded organizations that need to attract, recruit (and retain) graduates.  At this year’s Summit, the theme was ‘Selecting Superstars’; a theme that was bang-on-the-money in terms of what was uncovered at the Summit.

We identified that many of those attending had the same problem – yet we were from varied industries and sectors.  The challenge uncovered was that we’re all struggling in not only getting enough graduate talent, but finding the required level of skill in graduate talent.

Technology…insurance…construction…software development…builders… government… the common theme was despite focused efforts and a real desire to recruit graduates, there is often a gap between industry need and graduate skill level.  I’m not talking work experience, or skills you can learn on the job – those are to be expected.  I’m talking important gaps in technical expertise and knowledge as a baseline requirement in their respective fields.

So what does that mean?  We have a clear need for New Zealand to better provide an education system that can prepare our youth for careers in both the local and global market places.

We’ve long had challenges in New Zealand in being able to find all the talent we need in the technology sector.  According to my peers in industry, this is not a unique problem to my organization.  Technology is emerging as the number two export sector in New Zealand and jobs are well paid and provide an exciting career path.  Yet numbers, and quality of graduates from tertiary institutions have not kept pace with the growth of the industry.  As Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce stated in a NZ Herald article “It is crucial New Zealand lifts significantly the number of people with high-level…skills and knowledge so they can help drive innovation…and build a more productive and internationally competitive economy”.  We’re fortunate to have onboard some wonderful graduates with terrific skills and abilities…..we’d just prefer to see more of that calibre coming through.

There are initiatives underway to address the issue.  Some in the education system, including education providers, are actively looking at the gap between skills needed now and in the future, and recognizing the critical role they must play.  A particularly exciting venture that I keep close tabs on is The Mind Lab.  This is a “…unique education collaboration between a public education provider and a specialist education lab dedicated to enhancing digital literacy capability and the implementation of contemporary practice in the teaching profession”.  The work that Francis Valentine and mind-labthe team are doing is exciting and I encourage you to check it out if you haven’t already.

The University of Auckland is playing their part too, including a partnership with the University of Waikato in launching a Postgraduate Certificate in IT at a new ICT Graduate School.  Their focus is on addressing the gap between the technology industry and the talent shortage problem.

Changes in the education system are desperately needed….but what should we (industry) do in the interim?  We could sit around, wringing our hands wailing ‘woe, is us’.  Or we could get on and play our part in pushing for change.  The organization I’m fortunate to work for, Orion Health, does just that.  We invest a significant amount of time, energy and resource in addressing the issue at source. That is, primary and secondary school.  That investment of time includes sponsoring, presenting and hosting key events and initiatives (think Girlsinnov8 Geek Camp; She#, Shadow Tech day, GirlBoss NZ, Accelerating Auckland, Auckland Tech Week, JHack……and more).

Our incredibly dedicated and passionate team members invest their time and energy in mentoring students, running coding workshops and hosting over 250 university students and 790+ high school students in our offices each year.  The effort it takes to do this is significant but we have to play our part in ensuring our up ‘n coming youth are prepared and ready for exciting careers in tech.  We want to ensure the right skills and questioning minds are coming through the education system…and we also get the opportunity to make tech more appealing to youth in high school so that they choose the right (!) path in university.  Double win!

We also have other potential irons-in-the-fire around how to creatively address the issue….watch this space!

This is a call to arms for all of us experiencing the same issue.  Our combined efforts in continuing to highlight the challenge with education providers and the Ministry is critical; that must continue (or start for those who haven’t ventured there yet). In addition, let’s all get stuck into addressing the issue at source.  Help our youth be better prepared for the exciting careers that await them in a variety of industries.

We wear different hats.  But let’s address our headache with a collective effort.

High Performing Teams: Interview with Emma Kirkman – Global OD Manager, Orion Health

We’re here today to talk about High Performing teams, which I know you’re passionate about.  Before we start, can you give us an understanding of your background?

Sure.  So I have a very non-linear career background I guess.  I was a late bloomer academically.  Didn’t really go to school that much for the last two years of high school.  I ended up having to repeat my final year and then went on to [university] as I thought that was what you were meant to do.  So I went on and did a couple of years of psychology and [it was when I] had to do a stats paper again when I realised that this probably wasn’t for me.  So then I went out into the workforce for a year, and crossed paths with someone who went on to be a fabulous mentor for me in my life.  She suggested that I get into HR.  I went and did some HR study and realised I had a real flair and passion for learning and development.  I excelled at those topics and that’s what I ended up doing my degree in, majoring in Human Resources Development.  I then came up through the ranks via generalist roles and L&D roles, and then of course OD evolved out of that space.  I have a flair for facilitation and coaching, particularly around high performing teams.

In terms of hot topics, there is a lot of material and discussion around about high performing teams.  From ‘how to build high performing teams’, through to sports analogies where we should look at sports teams, through to military forces.  Are high performing teams a myth, or rather a lucky grouping of people?

That’s a really good question.  It’s certainly a ubiquitous term.  You only have to plug it into Google to see the 45 million search results that come out of that.  I think even, there’s one article that says you can build a high performing team in 30 minutes….which is quite impressive.

I guess from my point of view there are some themes that make up a high performing team.  They always know what good looks like, they always feed forward and learn from their mistakes and overcome challenges together.  They have a very clear understanding of where the boat is being rowed.  Very autonomous.  There will usually be a leader, a figure-head but it’s usually a very self-governing group.  Fredric Laloux probably articulates that very well as part of his definition of a Teal organization.

It is a really nice time for me as an OD practitioner as I’m certifying to be a Coach at the moment, which is what puts fire in my belly.  So having looked at the research and my own experiences, and going through the certification experience, I have formed my own view on what makes up a high performing team.  I believe it’s to do with three things:

  • Identity
  • Trust
  • Focus, or Delivery

I think if teams can align around those three things, then that is actually what makes a high performing team.

In terms of Identity, I’ve borrowed from coaching ethos there in that high performing individuals tend to have a very strong sense of what they will fight for…what’s their driving belief, what’s their aspiration, and so I believe through things that I’ve piloted that if you can get a group of people to harness that, understand that and align around it, it helps them move forward as a galvanised unit.

So there’s Identity, Trust and Focus.  Tell us more about Trust…

There’s a lot of compelling research out in the market place around Trust.  I think fundamentally the neuroscience tells us that teams that believe in each other and can have open dialogue will be able to make decisions better, can be more creative, are more responsive to change or resilient to change, and can make great decisions.

The psychology of the kind of exchanges that need to go on in those teams needs to be very good.  I think Tim Keogh from April Strategy mentioned this very well at a workshop run at Orion Health around values based leadership.  The brain actually triggers the release of a hormone called oxytocin when trust is present in groups.  So, by sheer biological nature a team is more likely to achieve better outcomes if that trust is there.

Tell us about Focus…

Focus is strongly around delivery.  Part of that will be, “what are our strategic goals?”, “do they link to what the Executive need us to do?” [and] “what will be our tooling and process?” – for example, at Orion Health we adopt the OKR process, but other organizations have KPI’s, MBO’s…whatever you call them, the purpose of that kind of goal setting process is to bring focus to what you’re delivering.  So output is something that is important, and in terms of high performing teams, it’s all good and well to have a strong identity and trusting environment, but if you’re not actually delivering then there’s a problem there.

Does fun feature anywhere?

So as part of my research and developing of this model, it’s not an absolute list of things.  I’m calling it the Foundational piece, basically almost hygiene.  I blogged about it recently (myinspiringgarden/wordpress).  This isn’t an all-encompassing formula.  Wrapped up in that is of course stuff like commercial acumen, negotiation, whatever…there are a whole set of skills that a team will need to have.  What I’m saying is basically ‘don’t pass go and collect $200’ unless you’ve actually sat around, together as a team and worked out what’s important

What about diversity?  In terms of your thoughts around this model and obviously your own experiences, research and so forth.  I watched an interesting Ted Talk by Margaret Heffernan around how studies are highlighting diversity.  This particular Ted Talk was talking about gender, but I’m referring to broad diversity.

What are your thoughts on that in terms of high performing teams?

Absolutely.  So, as part of the Trust piece, the values of that team are very important.  What’s our operating culture going to look like?  I think any high performing team in the world now will need to have diversity inclusion as part of their operating culture.

Clearly when you’re talking you’re passionate about this.  It comes through as you’re talking to me.  Why?  What is it about high performing teams that grabs your fancy?  Why are you so passionate about it?

I think it’s just a collection of experiences over the years.  I’ve gained a real different insight to what a high performing team looks like, being in the Orion Health environment.  It’s quite unique.  I know every organization says that but I do believe Orion’s context is very unique.

Emma 14Having been through my coaching certification recently I admire from afar organizations like LinkedIn, Facebook and Google.  I love how LinkedIn…basically how every Manager goes through Leadership training, and it brings into focus self, company, world.  And so, this idea of contributing to something that’s greater than you, and when it’s fundamentally understood and harnessed, absolutely seems to equal creativity, innovation and great output.

Facebook’s pledge to their employees is ‘this is where you come to do your life’s best work’ and I believe that particularly, on an individual level certainly through coaching, the individuals who take the time to really sit and think about what matters most to me, you know…there is a correlation between their level of performance and whether or not they have that kind of insight.  So, I’m thinking ‘imagine if you could apply that in a team dynamic?’  Imagine the power of that.  So I’m exploring that at the moment, as a practitioner.

Can people contact you about this and your experiences?  Are you open to that?

Absolutely.  I think it’s important.  These are conversations that need to be had amongst people who work with high performing teams.  There is this whole trend around ‘whole person’ coaching, and so there really should be ‘whole team’ coaching.  So those people who go off and have coaching and others in the team don’t for instance, [there] can often be a bit of a disconnect.  But if people can go through that experience, that discovery and exploration, on their own, then that’s amazing.

I recently read…and he’s on my hit list of people to meet this year…Gilbert Enoka, who is the mental skills coach for the All Blacks.  So we talk about examples of great leadership and high performing teams, and…I mean…I challenge anyone to not put the All Blacks up as that (even though I’m a Wallabies supporter).  They’re at the top of that list.  And [Enoka] in this article, he talks about essentially how you can’t be a prick on the field and a good person off the field.  You have to be the same person all the time.  And that’s the same of leaders, and high performing leadership groups, is that you can’t be this great decision maker and creative person when you’re in the group and not be that when you’re on your own, or vice versa.  So I’m thinking ‘how do you make groups…that old adage of an expert team, not a team of experts’.

Out of all that we’ve talked about, and I’d love to talk to you more about it, for those reading what would be your top tips regarding high performing teams?  The top takeaways if people are thinking about how to start out on this journey in their organization?

I think those three foundation groups that I outlined are a wonderful place to start.  Certainly when I’ve piloted some material and resourcing around that Identity piece, it’s fascinating to watch…the different dynamics at play, that level of conversation reveals where your strengths are and where your gaps are.  Like how wonderful to understand that up front before you embark on a program of work, or a project…and to be able to do something about it.

The Trust piece is huge.  Last year in November Google released their research around what makes up a high performing team and at the top of the list was psychological safety, so people cannot fundamentally share ideas or give feedback if they feel like they’re at risk.  Similarly to David Rock’s SCARF model.  People constantly scan their social environment for risks to their brand, to their integrity, and how they’re seen by the organization.  And so if you can mitigate any of that, so that people are concentrating on the stuff they should be concentrating on…not worrying about their brand or their identity, then that increases productivity.

The third being Focus.  So which way is the ship going, what’s important to the organization…what will be the mechanisms, how will you collaborate with other teams to make sure you’re all working on the right stuff…People need to make a conscious decision to buy into that process.

Thanks Emma.  Let’s add a little twist as we finish…what is the current book on your bookstand?

There’s like three of them…at the top of my list is to finish Edgar Papke’s ‘True Alignment’ which is around the importance of great strategy, execution, aligning people.  He’s also got a really strong human centred approach to goal setting…and that’s that people are motivated and get a kicker out of different things, so you need to understand the makeup of your teams and the organizations culture.

Favourite place to travel to?

Um…at the moment my husband and I love Asia.  It’s such a wonderful place to remind you that you’re alive, with all the smells, the sights, the culture, everything…

…the food….

The food, the drink…it’s such an assault on your sense.  Speaking to Vietnamese and Thai people in particular, they’re just so kind and wonderful.

Thanks Emma.  It’s been great chatting to you and hearing your thoughts and experiences around high performing teams.  I look forward to hearing more from you on this topic!


Seeing the Wood for the Trees

I’m about to talk Tree’s.  Let me explain…

I love learning new concepts; new ways of thinking about things or approaching business issues / opportunities.   Sharing, discussing and learning from others is what many game changers thrive on (on that note, if you’re in New Zealand, check out the progressive HR Meetups in Auckland and Wellington).

A recent learning experience I’ve been involved in has centred around Current Reality Trees.  The reason this particular new tool, or process, has resonated with me is not so much the learning of something new (as enjoyable as that was) but rather what it uncovered. But I’ll get to that shortly.

What is it?

For those new to Current Reality Trees, they are “a form of root cause analysis that aims to find the core problem.  To build the tree we connect symptoms that are observed (undesirable effects) by explaining their causes and effects.  The current reality tree is one of the thinking processes created by Eliyahu Goldratt (see his book It’s Not Luck (1994).” (quote from a colleague).

Those who work with Business Transformation teams, or in organizations where Lean Six Sigma is second nature, will likely be actively using this tool, if not expert users already.  I’m fortunate to work with a Transformation team experienced with this tool and approach, which has greatly assisted my learning experience.

Why use it?

We had a problem that was like a tooth ache.  Niggling away at us, we knew what the data was telling us and had a general sense of what was causing the issue, but we also didn’t feel we were seeing the wood for the trees.  Did we really know what was causing the issue?  Were our efforts to date, to address the problem, really addressing the heart of the matter?

What we did

We gathered around the whiteboard.  Facilitated by our Transformation team, we started building our Current Reality Tree.  The group was a mix of Executive leadership, PEOPLE team, and individuals from certain business lines.

Sometimes leaves were added (Undesirable Effects – UDEs), and sometimes branches (Root Causes).  The best thinking and ideas flowed by naturally letting the tree come to life, rather than dictating an approach from the roots up.  Supported by data, personal experiences and social narratives, a visual picture gradually formed showing cause and effect.


What did we uncover?

It’s early days and further work on the Tree is needed, but what became apparent was that our efforts and program’s to date were focusing on what I’ll refer to as Tier 2.  With the best of intentions, we had focused on those things within our circle of influence and reponsibility, but ultimately in looking at the Tree before us, it was apparent that without addressing the Tier 1 issues (the true root causes), our programs…our efforts were potentially being built on sand not rock.

At this point, you may be thinking “surely you were aware of the root causes!”, “the white elephants in the room!”, and yes, to some extent that is true.  However in following the Current Reality Tree approach you can uncover far more than what you expected and also build a very clear picture of how everything connected together; how the root causes resulted in undesirable effects.  This proves particularly useful in building a story to share with the organization, or in building your business case for change.


We’ll continue to use this approach to become more familiar with it.  We’ll also share it with the broader team, to see what other hidden gems and issues we can uncover.  Ultimately it’s about being more effective in our efforts, and directing our valuable time and attention to the real roots of the trees.

“Red Tape, killing you, killing me”

I can’t say I’m hugely familiar with the Red Tape song however the lyrics are spot on for a key piece of work my team and I are working on.

We came together as a team, brimming with enthusiasm, creative ideas and drive to enable and accelerate the business to get ahead of the game; to develop and deliver those initiatives that help the boat go faster and better.

But what we found…

…was that our boat (from a PEOPLE processes and tools perspective) was mired just out past the jetty, struggling to get past the mangroves and requiring far too many crew and lifeboats to stay afloat and nudge forward.

The business were our passengers, wanting to quickly get moving but having to constantly ask the crew for information (“How do I…..”, “Where do I find…”, etc).  Perhaps I’ve gone too far with the boat analogy, but in short, many of our PEOPLE processes were cumbersome, heavy on the red tape,  full of waste, and even worse, not in place.  Leaving our passengers, our business, left wanting for information and guidance.

We consider ourselves progressive, game-changing PEOPLE people, so it can break your ‘HR’ heart to have to focus on the fundamentals, the foundations, rather than the more exciting, global initiatives.  However, we could not ignore what was in front of us, and what the business were experiencing on a daily basis, in trying to navigate PEOPLE processes, tools and systems.

What we did

We talked to the business, we walked the floor, and ultimately determined that we couldn’t ignore what needed addressing immediately.  So, “The Year of Foundations” it was.

Applying the Pareto Principle, we worked out where to focus our efforts to have the biggest bang-for-our-buck,  and once confirmed by the business, we tackled it head on.  The challenges were there everyday; tackling pieces of work whilst managing daily demands and keeping other initiatives on the go.  The core team of five were also geographically spread, so various actions were better served by a smaller subset of three, working together to get things done quicker.

Getting things done quicker proved to be a driver, and we worked out that the 1/2 day ‘crash workshop’ was a highly effective way to work through big chunks of the project.

We continued with our standard approach of monthly ‘releases’ to the business, and trialled a few different ways of doing so, to ensure maximum impact and understanding for the user, and widespread visibility of the improvements and changes for those who needed to know.  This included trialling ‘open forum’ and brown bag sessions around Asia Pacific, as well as other mediums such as team meetings and internal social media.

At this stage we’re still finessing the best way to share releases however the open forums (open invites in each office) seem to be hitting the mark the best.  This has also allowed us to get real-time feedback, including using tools such as Mentimetre if the group is large, allowing us to action low-hanging fruit quickly, based on user feedback.

Impact to date?

Our first release was estimated as saving the business 68hours per month in time and effort.  Our second release has taken us to over the 200+hours mark (per month) in total…..with more releases to come!

Saving Time

Through action learning we’ve also managed to condense the original timeframe we estimated the project would take, and the ‘Year of Foundations’ has now been renamed to simply ‘Foundations’, as we’ve shaved off considerable delivery time.

The feedback has been extremely positive to date, with comments such as “this is just the sort of cut-through-the-noise focus we need”, and “can you share with our team how you did xxxx, so we can do the same”.

Next Steps?

The central PEOPLE platform has just been majorly overhauled, which we’ve only just started sharing in ‘open forums’.  We also have further key processes to tackle in the next quarter, again driven by user feedback prioritization.


It may break your ‘HR’ heart to have to focus on the basics, the foundations, but if your user group is crying out for it, then the wins can be tremendous and the boat will definitely go faster and better.  Ours is.

HR: Ch-ch-changes…Turn and face the strange…

Things have to change.

David Bowie’s song ‘Changes’ resonates strongly with me at the moment.  However you choose to interpret Bowie’s lyrics, the “changes” and “turn and face the strange” are calling to me strongly.  That call is about the need to change the HR game.

There have been a plethora of articles, books and blogs on the need to change HR.  From ‘get rid of HR’ to ‘be more strategic and commercial’, to ‘base everything you do on data’….there is no shortage of views on what others believe needs to happen.  Along with most of us who consider ourselves game-changers in HR, I’ve kept abreast of these views, and have mulled and considered, gradually forming my own view.  This view is based on both my years as an HR professional and leader, as well as my earlier background in Sales and Marketing.

What is that view?  Change.  Turn and face the strange.  Look at what your business absolutely must be doing to most effectively attract, engage, develop (and maintain contact with post-departure) with what is most likely your biggest asset, and biggest cost.  Your people.

We can’t start with “this is my HR department, now how do we jiggle things to focus on the important work”.  I’m talking about starting with a blank page and clearly identifying what those key areas are for your business – and what are the key skills and capabilities needed to bring those to life.

Organisations will need to tailor this to suit their business, but from a general perspective, I see four areas clearly defined that are underpinned by a critical fifth element:

1.  Attract & Engage.

Bersin rightly points out that we need to build an ‘irresistible organization‘.   Who will be the people who’s responsibility it is to focus on your employment brand, and the employee experience (EX)?  Recruitment will naturally fall into this category but that will only form a part of this critical area.  Who will be maintaining your employment brand and focusing on this critical element?  Just as you’re already doing with your customer brand and customer interactions.

2.  Leadership Bench-strength.  Understanding what we need to be productive about (as well as connecting the organization, innovative thinking, and vision).

Who will be taking the lead in building your Leadership benchstrength?  “Yes”, this is ultimately the CEO and Executive’s responsibility (and the Boards) however who will be leading the activities and work in this critical area?  Depending on your organization’s size, either an individual or team will focus on leadership development program’s (that work!), succession planning, and overall talent management.

3.  Learning & Development.  The knowledge to be productive.

Who will focus on ensuring your organization is building core skills and capabilities?  Leading the charge to ensure all employees grow and develop in your organisation?  Whether in-house or outsourced, this should be a key focus for most organizations.

4.  Business Change.  The interface between systems, processes and people to allow us to be productive.

Restructures?  New lines of business?  New business model and methodologies?  Managing and implementing this well, and ensuring benefits realisation is, I believe, the fourth critical piece of the pie.  Those responsible for this area will need strong commercial acumen and change management experience and likely work in with a broader Business Transformation team (if your organization has one).

5.  Data & Analytics

A given.  The above four key areas must rest upon a solid foundation of data and analytics.  The most well known example of this is Google’s People Operations.  Some may not choose to be as rigorous as Google, however it is a given that any program’s of work or activities undertaken in the four key areas will (90% of the time) be based upon insights from analysis.

Change HR

Is the above a typical day-in-the-life of an HR professional now?  No.  And therein lies the problem.  Talk to any HR professional and many will understand the importance of the above but struggle to get the bandwidth to focus on much outside of operational and administrative work.  A time ‘n motion study is always an eye-opener in HR.  There is important work going on by dedicated, hard working people but the majority of it is arguably not transforming your business, or making the ship better or faster. It’s important work and often undervalued by the organization, and does need to happen….but it’s not game changing.  If that work stopped though, then it would be noticed.  Stop paying your people?  Stop assisting Leaders with managing poor performance?  Stop advising on employment legislation for xxx country?  Those important activities need to continue and would fit nicely in an operational, legal and/or finance business unit (or mixture of all).

The four areas (with data & analytics as the foundation) will change the game and will help businesses transform.  The question is ‘are the necessary skills in your organization to deliver the goods?’  Data and analytics will need analytical, business analyst skills.  Business change will need change and/or program management skills, and business/commercial experience.  Leadership benchstrength will require outstanding OD skills, preferably backed by business/commercial nouse.  Attract & Engage will need marketing, and possibly sales experience.

Do these skills exist in your HR team now?  Possibly.  But the reality is the game has changed and different times require different skills.  This isn’t a re-jig of your HR team; this is fundamentally a different business unit with a very clear focus and deliverables.

I was recently asked my advice on a senior HR role being recruited for.  My response?  Based on what they wanted to achieve for their business, I said find someone with a Sales & Marketing background.  Turn and face the strange…

Being Agile….just for software development? Or applicable to HR too?!

My team and I have been on an interesting journey.

Working in a software technology company we’ve had the benefit (and privilege) of working alongside fantastic people – knowledge workers, enquiring minds, “why don’t we try this?” type people.  For the first time in my working career, I’ve also come into contact with Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and other systems and structures relating to an Agile environment.

This started us on the journey of questioning the relevance of Agile to other areas of the business.  Could this mindset be applied in Finance?  In Operations?  In PEOPLE (HR)?  We read, we talked to many, and we researched things happening in other countries.  Seeing the common connection in the Agile manifesto with a PEOPLE approach, we thought “let’s give it a burl” and started doing things differently.

What’s been different?  Quite a few things from the traditional approach.  The way we work together as a team is now different, the way we work with the rest of the business is different, and even how we approach our overall work (whether ‘business-as-usual’ or projects).

The outcome?  Some fantastic ‘win’s.  The biggest for me has been the visibility of our work to the rest of the business, and in particular the Executive.  The old chest-nut of “what exactly do the PEOPLE team do?” has gone, replaced with clear and visible Roadmaps, and ‘product’ releases in each Sprint.  The traditional HR approach of working on an initiative until it was gleaming and a thing-of-beauty (albeit 12months in the making) has been replaced with frequently released work, iterated and improved on as we go, but ultimately released to be used in the business in a timely manner, with good feedback loops.

Another benefit of note, is the improved knowledge sharing and learning amongst the PEOPLE team.  Through a regular cadence of standups, and shared tooling, everyone in the team know’s what is happening (without having lengthy team meetings), how roadblocks are addressed, and how others are approaching things.  We’ve seen team members benefit from this shared learning through promotions into the next step of their careers.  I could also be run over by a bus and nothing will grind to a halt.

The collaboration with the business has been another ‘win’.  I’m not referring to “let’s get some feedback on what we’ve created” collaboration, but rather actively working on an opportunity or issue with key stakeholders (Leaders, employee’s) so we’re all invested and the end user has had a say (and skin in the game).  We’ve taken this approach from changing performance management and incentive program’s, through to career pathways, promotion processes and even position descriptions.

Has it all been smooth sailing?  No.  We’re still novices and learning and improving as we go.  There’s no manual for ‘how’ an Agile mindset and associated common practices should be applied in PEOPLE.  Consultancies and advisor’s on the whole, aren’t used to Agile environments outside software development either.  There are those who say Agile is a ‘mindset’ and therefore is applicable everywhere.  I understand, however the common practices and roles that have arisen from that (Product Owners, length of sprints, ability to incorporate HR business-as-usual) is different and requires different thinking on how to handle it.

I don’t believe Agile is a silver bullet, and I’m not convinced it’s for all organizations.  I also struggle with those who seem almost fanatical about Agile.  If you’re fortunate like we were to work alongside progressive, pragmatic Agile thinkers, then you’ll have a better chance of seeing where an Agile mindset could work best for you and your PEOPLE teams and organisation.

Where to from here?  We’re continuing our learning, and have started conversations with a growing group of PEOPLE Game Changers in Australasia, so we can learn together – what works, what doesn’t, and how this can practically be applied in an HR setting.  We’re ‘following’ and staying connected with those further down the track and look forward to seeing how ‘Agile for PEOPLE’ evolves.

Design Thinking is calling us now……