We recently spoke with Kate Rand, People Director at Beyond, and one of the Agile HR Community’s first Certified Agile HR Practitioners. We wanted to find out why Kate thinks Agile HR is such an important skill set to learn as an HR Director, and how she applied the knowledge and Agile leadership skills acquired in the workplace at Beyond. What we discovered was a Human Resources (HR) leader at the top of her game, revolutionising not only how her and the HR team partner with the business but transforming the people practices at Beyond through Agile co-creation. Kate’s results are inspiring and give me hope that HR will become, as Kate beautifully put it, the “facilitators of success, rather than the dictators of best practice”.
Meet Kate Rand, People Director at Beyond
Kate heads up the people team at Beyond, a rapidly growing and award-winning, design and technology ideas company. Beyond’s mission is to help ambitious companies create market value with design and technology-based products and strategies. With market giants, such as Google, Facebook, News Corp and Just Eat, as clients, it seems to be working.
As a tech and design company, Agile is part of Beyond’s DNA, and Kate plays an instrumental role in nurturing the right culture for Agile to thrive. It’s also significant that Beyond is global with offices in London (Kate’s home), San Francisco, New York, Mountain View and Austin.
An impressive HR career
Reading Kate’s CV, you quickly grasp why Agile HR as a topic might have piqued her interest. An HR leader with over a decade of leadership and partnering experience, not to mention lots of national and internal awards. With a background in Tech, eCommerce, Retail and Hospitality, Kate’s specialism is scaling start-up and growth phase tech and design-centric companies, with the aim of building sustainable organisations.
That sounds like a tough gig. One that Kate was highly qualified for with years of training and certification to her name from the UK’s leading Human Resources professional body CIPD (The Charted Institute of Personnel and Development). So why Agile HR? What does Agile HR give that is currently missing from Kate’s fantastic resume?
What motivated Kate to become a Certified Agile HR Practitioner?
Kate’s passion is disrupting the world of HR, a mission I’m finding more and more HR professionals are intent on pursuing. It’s a recognition of the need to adapt HR best practice and best fit for the modern workforce. A vital part of this is ensuring HR, or the people practices of an organisation, are user tested and deliver what people actually need, or seek out, from their employer. Only by demonstrating this value and building great places to work will HR be included as a crucial part of the business, and not just a transactional service, and in doing so justify HR’s seat at the leadership table.
Kate has been in and around Agile environments for quite some time, mainly in the Tech space. In these environments, existing HR frameworks and processes are starting to seem quite archaic and stagnant. Without knowing what we were up to at the Agile HR Community, Kate already thought it would be fantastic if there were a way to apply the same Agile methodologies, used by the software development and design teams she worked with, to HR. Once she discovered the Agile HR Certified Practitioners program, it was a no-brainer to sign up as it had everything she was looking for.
Why is Agile HR is an important skill set to learn as an HR Director?
Organisations are changing at an accelerated rate due to the impact of technology – not just in the Tech sector. Kate and other Agile HR advocates feel that many current HR practices are not set up to be adaptable to meet and support this rate of change. The training and certification from traditional HR and educational bodies are great for getting a grounding in best practice but if that is your only source of learning you run the risk of falling behind the business or industry in which you’re working. Agile HR is a fantastic cure for that and goes some way to meet the needs of businesses now and in the future. It also aims to help HR support their people and take care of the human as we move through these changes in business and society.
To define Agile HR, let’s first define Agile
In essence, Agile is a way of organising how people work to rapidly deliver value to the customer. To build customer value, Agile advocates small, networked and multi-skilled teams that self-organise and get work done through iterations – an incremental development process of test, learn and adapt.
Delivering value and taking an incremental approach to solving problems is Agile’s answer to the traditional, ‘waterfall’ way of implementing a project or designing a product. It argues that in a world of complex and rapid change, your six-month project spreadsheet or Gantt chart will quickly become out of date, as resources, markets and customer requirements shift almost daily.
Instead, set out your vision, and list all the possible things you might need to do to deliver the project or product (otherwise known as a backlog of work). Then ruthlessly prioritise what is the most important things to work on first to produce something of value for your customer in a short, time-boxed period – generally 1-2 weeks and never longer than a month. Once you have created this thing of value, take it to your customer, listen to their feedback, and observe how they engage with it, and then use this data and insight to drive your next iteration of work.
The outcome, almost every time, is not only a project or product designed and delivered at a faster rate, but a result that is validated and shaped directly by your customer.
What is Agile HR?
Agile HR transforms the fundamental principles of Human Resources into people operations leading digital, networked and of course, Agile organisations. It offers a mindset and way of working that not only helps the profession collaborate and deliver value in a more effective way but crucially, a methodology for innovating or redesigning people practices that enable more collaborative, responsive and customer-centric organisations. By drawing on the customer-centricity of Agile, it places the employee, our people, at the heart of what HR does. As a result, HR’s work becomes human-centric, with the aim of building user-friendly solutions that are driven by the needs and feedback of their people and teams.
Core elements of Agile HR
Agile HR aims to build a shared value between your customer, business and people through the principles of:
- Mindset – Embracing the Agile mindset within Human Resources and people practices to incrementally deliver value to your customer.
- Co-Create – Applying Agile techniques (like Scrum and Kanban) to self-organise, experiment and co-create with your people.
- Human-Centric – Proactively redesigning HR to build awesome, user-friendly and human-centric workplace practices
- Evidence-Based – Evidence-based decision making that delivers customer value through data, people analytics, and insight.
- Agile Leadership – Consulting on Agile and digital organisational transformation
- Employee Experience – Enriching the people experience at work and taking care of the human
Agile HR as Risk Management
The Agile HR approach to people practices not only helps to revolutionise the whole concept of change management because you genuinely co-create with your people (rather than just senior stakeholders or HIPPOS – Highly Paid People with Opinions), but its whole approach aims to reduce and manage risk.
These factors make Agile a viable alternative to the ‘big bang’ changes for which HR is well-known. Rather than implementing new systems or practices ‘on to’ people, only to be rejected or questioned as yet another task to do on top of their ‘real job’, you experiment and test first with a much smaller budget.
Any subsequent build or release into the business then only takes place once validated by your own people (HR’s customer). Of course, if the experiment or test fails, you can walk away at a much lower cost, and often the learning that results is enough to set you on the right path.
Kate’s learning experience at the Agile HR Certified Practitioner Program
We asked Kate for overall feedback on the learning experience she had on the program. “…I wanted more…”, She said. The two days were excellent, but she could have easily spent a whole week talking and learning with the other HR professionals there. Kate highlights the guided discussion as being an important opportunity to share, as a group, some of the initiatives they wanted to work on and some of the challenges faced, helping to make the experience real.
One of the light bulb moments for Kate during the course was that HR is no longer the expert and can’t just step out of its ‘ivory tower’ and start telling people how they should be doing things. Instead, she realised HR needs to move to a model where they’re “the facilitators of success, not the dictators of best practice”. Brilliant!
Another big factor was that Kate felt she left the two days with tools that she could apply straight away to her organisation. We’ve also had great feedback at Agile HR Community on the virtual assessment that follows the face to face learning. Crucially, the certification assessment supports and further develops your application of skills back in the workplace, which makes the old Learning and Development (L&D) professional in me very happy!
Applying Agile HR skills back in the workplace
Kate’s used her new skills in a number of ways, probably the most poignant of which was the creation of the global People Team’s backlog and roadmap. The backlog was created during an off-site, about three weeks after the course. Kate realised that the off-site shouldn’t be about getting together in a room, not letting anyone else in, and deciding the fate of the people side of the business.
Instead, she realised it should be about going out to the business using the test and learn mentality, to discover what they needed from HR. It’s about using the expertise that already exists in your organisation, rather than assuming HR knows best.
Transforming how the people strategy is co-created at Beyond
As a consequence, the first piece Kate used her program experience for was to reorganise the off-site using Agile methodology completely. Combined with a bit of design thinking and some reprogramming within the group, the team built a backlog of work, based on user stories that reflected the needs of their people and sized each piece of work to prioritise and plan how to get the work done.
It was recognised that instead of saying this it was their strategy for the year, they were saying these are things we must work through and deliver value. Also, to ensure they could pivot when needs changed and partner directly with the Senior Leadership Team, they set up a quarterly cadence to check-in, review, re-prioritise and update the backlog based on feedback and results.
Within Beyond, the team’s activities are now seen as a case study for how to collaborate in a way that meets the needs of the business. The team are also flexible and responsive and don’t require the hiring of another layer of management at the global level. As Kate thinks this “is absolutely fantastic because as an organisation we’ve really pushed collaboration and to be able to hold ourselves up as the People Team to say, look we can do it’.
To quote Jeff Sutherland, “Doing twice the work in half the time.”
Kate has applied the methodologies she learnt to help achieve an exceptional array of projects in only a matter of months following the program. Her team built a global performance development program, they’ve harmonised on-boarding across all the studios (for which they are now entered in for an award), and of course, they have their strategic roadmap,
They’ve also done an internal learning program, that covers all of the studios and started to share all of their good practice up until now. The next backlog items to work on are topics like title alignment and career pathways. Importantly, all this is done at a global level but with input from everybody across the different offices and locations.
Kate’s advice to other HR leaders considering the Agile HR Certified Practitioner program
When We asked Kate what her advice would be to other HR leaders considering the program, she immediately responded, “To attend!”.
There are already a number of leaders in Kate’s network that she has shared Agile HR concepts with to help them formulate a global roadmap and recommended that they now do the certification program. Her main advice is that if you are planning on attending, put a business case together for your organisation first, and have a real think about the initiative and areas where you want to apply Agile HR. This will help make it practical and real when you discuss the challenges you’re experiencing. Also if your organisation is your sponsor and investing in your Agile HR learning, you need to be able to demonstrate how you will bring value back to the business.
The Agile HR Certified Practitioner Program
Kate did our main program, the Agile HR Certified Practitioner, a two-day face-to-face workshop followed by the virtual certification assessment, which is all about applying your skills back in the workplace. We also have a one-day Foundations program, if you want to start by getting your head around the basics.
However, in true Agile fashion, we have since iterated our design and split the program into two distinct one-day workshops – the Foundations and the Certified Practitioner. These workshops can be done (as Kate did, on consecutive days) or if you start with the Foundations, you can then go on to become a Certified Practitioner by completing the second workshop and virtual assessment, up to six months following the first course. The Foundations has no prerequisites but is a prerequisite of the Certified Practitioner.
Thank you, Kate
I’d like to thank Kate for taking the time to talk to me about her experience. It was fascinating and rewarding to hear her reflections on our Agile HR Certified Practitioner program, and how it has influenced her role and the organisation she supports.