Ranger4 DevOps Blog

Scaling Agile and Making Friends Part 3: HR & Tech Shared Challenges

Posted by Philippa Hale on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 @ 17:02 PM

I have just had the luxury of some ideas-sharing sessions over a coffee this week, with some trusted contacts in both HR and Technology. We kicked off the conversations using a line from one of the articles that I linked to Part 2 of this blog.  

'Often, HR teams are left straddling the needs of the legacy organisation while planning for the needs of the future’.   

What are the HR needs of a Technology community that is also ‘straddling the needs of the legacy organisation while planning for the needs of the future'?  We discussed how well we (Tech) share our legacy and future needs with HR.  How good a ‘customer' are we to the HR community?  They are tasked with - and rewarded for - meeting the HR and L&D needs of the organisation, including Tech teams and Tech leadership.   Do Technology communities share a good enough level of information and experience - both qualitative stories and also the quantitative data - for HR to be able to make informed decisions on investment priorities?  It seems that in many organisations the CIO has his/her own training budget, separate from the central L&D budget,and that this is judged to be better by the Technology community, as it avoids 'L&D bureaucracy'. 

From HR and L&D's perspective, they have expertise in organisation change and could advise on what L&D and HR support could be provided for the agile or DevOps journey to be successful.  Typically, Tech communities underestimate the amount of training needed to make a culture and ways of working change successful.  They also tend to focus on the technical skills at the expense of what are often called 'soft' skills. Coaching, influencing, facilitation, negotiation, managing change, conflict handling, mentoring, leadership ...

Here are some of the ideas we touched on for how HR and Technology could make friends and better understand and support each others' legacy and future needs. Each of these opens up more questions of course. 

IT Requirement from HR HR for Legacy IT  HR for Future IT

Making sure we have the people who know the old systems and can maintain them.  Key person dependency danger here as the legacy systems usually support the majority of the organisation and key customer services! 

Stories of bringing people out of retirement, as consultants, at great expense, while current employees with some of the same skills are made redundant.

How to attract the talent to manage the legacy systems, from the next generations of IT people?  They will be more interested in the future technologies.  HR can help to create a career path that will involve opportunities to retrain in new systems but supporting the legacy for now?

Many organisations now recruit people who are more 'agile' in their thinking, attitudes and ways of working rather than just for their technical skills. DevOps is being introduced but not often well understood - HR is being asked to create new roles: DevOps Engineer, multiskilled people who can join multifunctional teams. 

The skills and knowledge needed are extremely scarce and expensive. Many in the IT world with this profile are contractors.  Growing own talent is the only sustainable way forward but this requires IT leadership and HR to collaborate and TRULY understand the % of people's time that has to be spent learning, for the organisation to be/stay cutting edge. Expertise in all the new tools for example.

Coaching, Learning & Development 

Formal training is always going to be important but it lays the foundations for future learning. It is not the whole solution. 

On the job learning and knowledge sharing has to be continuous. Coaching and mentoring skills are needed among the community managing the legacy systems and infrastructure: managers teams and senior subject matter experts.

Are leaders across the organisation trained to fully understand how to support the scale and pace of technology change? Do they understand enough about value chain management both in legacy and future technologies?

Agile coaches are often  technically strong, but not 'coaches' in the true sense of the word.  They don't often have formal coaching training and so tend to 'tell' rather than coach for real learning. HR and L&D have great coaching expertise to share but don't always understand enough of the IT context. A great opportunity for pooling knowledge and experience there! 

The HR community sees an explosion of tools and related skills/training needs. How well is this explained to them?  Risk that this is seen as IT just wanting more shiny things and not understanding the business value that can be delivered.

Organisational change 

Who has the most to lose in all the disruption?  HR are there to support the people as well as the organisation as technology and job roles change.  They have to, for the company to stay ahead of the market, or at least to stay competitive.  

Career management, training and guidance is sorely needed, for people who are afraid that their skills set is becoming obsolete.  They need the confidence to change too, rather than clinging - not unreasonably - to their current role and knowledge base.

Organisations have a duty of care here, and social media soon picks up the organisations that don't address this.  Being an employer of choice takes investment.

OD = Organisation Development in the HR world. OD is an HR related discipline that focuses on Strategic change.  The HR equivalent of the IT teams concentrating on creating future functionality and handling disruptive change.  Interestingly there are two books called 'Accelerate' - one from the IT community by Gene Kim et al, and one from John Kotter, both advocating creating a small experimental, pilot, organisation within the larger organisation to initiate changes and then scaling through the rest of the organisation with the 'evolutions' selected and sponsored proactively by senior leadership.
Performance measurement & Reward

Old style KPIs, often measuring to target and individual-level objectives rather than for learning and organisational development and for teams, are often still in mainstream use.  These are often written in generic language that doesn't mean much to the Tech team - doesn't describe the world they recognise. 

Some coaching and ongoing feedback is needed but the new generation of employees are looking for authentic, ongoing communication with their manager, so they can be mentored and grow.  While pay will always be a motivator, comparison or competitive pay awards are a much more significant DE-motivator, drain energy and are easily gamed.

Micro-bonuses, peer-to-peer rewards, business value related outcomes rewarded - e.g. total cycle time improvements, customer feedback - few Technology organisations use the right metrics for tracking how effectively the organisation is building and improving strategically, and encouraging managers to regularly show their people they have made a contribution that is valued. The behaviours we reward - we get - so if we want autonomy, mastery, confidence in decision making in the face of complexity and collaboration, we need to reward it.
Redundancy and career management HR are traditionally the team who deal with the real challenges of reducing headcount as legacy systems are phased out, or during restructures. However, it is the IT leadership's role to lead this and they can reduce or remove some of those challenges.  If the IT team leaders and managers encourage open and transparent conversations around organisational skills needs, this helps individuals to manage their own careers effectively.  There is deep distress and hardship, for employees and their families, in many redundancy situations when HR and IT leadership make the necessary decisions but don't involve people appropriately. This is needless and unforgivable in this day and age.

How well are leaders trained, mentored and coached in supporting their people through the organisation changes they make?

Do they help their people evolve their own careers?  Future and strategically focused HR and IT professionals know that the organisation - and the whole ecosystem the  organisation is a part of - is continually evolving; That much of the future is unknown. Therefore the best approach is to evolve a culture where people are resilient to change, own their own destinies and know how to maintain their employability.  A more 'adult-adult' transaction and proactive psychological contract between the organisation and the individual.


One final thought.   SOME HR and Technology functions are invited by their senior leadership to contribute and collaborate at a strategic level to help to shape the organisation’s future.  Others are not just having to manage the ‘legacy organisation’ - with all the pain, delay and cost/profit reduction that brings - but are actually seen AS part of the legacy organisation: a cost-centre, providing transactional ‘services’  that could just as easily (and often are) outsourced.  

Imagine the situation: an employee, working in a 'legacy' culture. Through exposure to new ideas, They have personally shifted their focus up and out from the detail of their specialist field to its strategic potential for the wider organisation and its customers.

A potential rising star?  Or someone to be kept 'in their place'?   If the HR and IT leadership don’t get this right, they can do all the educating and positioning they like.  The very talent the organisation desperately needs to retain and nurture is on Linkedin right now, looking.  

Can you explain this to your C-suite?  They need to believe HR and Tech CAN deliver more value if they collaborate strategically. Provide them with the data/metrics/evidence of this, and demonstrate your own, strategic level, future-focused thinking.











Topics: Ways of Working, Transformational Leadership, Agile HR, cross team collaboration, Technology & HR, HR technology business partner, HR Product Owner, coaching, agile coaching, career management, agile at scale