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Destination Agile: HR’s Role in the Journey

Hosted by: Swiss Re

Hosted by Steffen Berkenkopf (Global HRBP) and Ulrich Tennie (Global Head of Organisational Development) at the SwissRe Centre for Global Dialogue, a group of HR leaders took part in this ChapmanCG roundtable session to discuss ‘Destination Agile: HR’s role in the journey’. Although Agile management is not completely new, it is now a global movement that is transforming the way we work with the aim to generate continuous new value for customers and to ruthlessly eliminate anything that doesn’t contribute.

Key Drivers
The key drivers for this movement include an increase in strategic uncertainty with fast changing global markets, disruptive business models, highly evolving technology, hyper competition and a changing workforce.

The focus is on the customer who now has many choices, reliable information about those choices and the ability to easily connect with other customers. This puts the customer in position of power in the marketplace and an expectation that value that is instant.  This changing mentality is also bought to the workplace by employees who want and expect the same.

How are companies implementing agile?
Organisations are implementing agile in different ways, with both bottom-up and top-down approaches. Agile Leadership Behaviours programs for top leaders, agile competence centres and company-wide agile initiatives are combining technology, process and people aspects. Future-oriented leadership characteristics identified to support the movement include courage, learning agility, hyperawareness, speed, letting go, humbleness and engagement. Learning and development programs are evolving to address employee’s ability to quickly develop new effective behaviour based on new experiences. Learning agility dimensions centred around self-awareness is seen as a stronger future predictor of high potentials, encouraging individuals to advocate change instead of just tolerating it.

Swiss Re is currently driving agility as a movement, with HR being the orchestrator of an inside out approach, from behaviours over structure to processes. Performance management in this model also needs to transform and requires more flexible solutions for fast feedback across the company, ensuring systems and processes in place for faster and better exchange and knowledge share, with pulse surveys to track progress.

Positive outcomes and key success factors
Besides the obvious benefits of quicker delivery to the customer, and being closer to them, employees are finding that Agile fosters a strong team environment and is an empowering and energising way of working with greater collaboration working on a challenge together. As decision making is no longer just a manager’s role, employees also get the opportunity to develop their leadership maturity.

Limitations and challenges
Although this movement in on trend, the group acknowledges that this may not be the answer everywhere. Everyone has a different opinion on how to tactically define and implement agile. Perhaps best suited for complex products or processes, pragmatism is required for those areas best not tested with trial and error approach. Some areas of business need to be addressed systematically, especially in highly regulated business where compliance requirements need to be met.

For those who have successfully come out the other end of transformation, they have learnt that ‘agile’ is not a magic wand. It ideally requires dedicated resources and significant behavioural change.

There will be bumps and issues on the way, potentially viewed with scepticism by leaders who have to deal with ‘agile’ project outcomes that are over-promised and under-delivered.  Warnings against carrying out a ‘Agile-Lite’ version, with recommendations to do it properly from start and only compromise when it is absolutely necessary. Rolling agile out in a single division in isolation can also reduce effectiveness of the overall process because of the dependencies and touch points with outside divisions.

Career path planning is far more challenging in an agile environment and some individuals struggle with the accountability to make hard decisions which in a non-agile environment would normally be conducted by their managers.

A big thank you to our presenters Barry Martin from Novartis, Jane Wu from Nyrstar, Chungfeng Dong from ABB, as well as the representatives from Baxter International, Cargill, Cochlear, Colgate-Palmolive, Ecolab, JP Morgan, LafargeHolcim, Octapharma, Schindler, Tata Consultancy, Triumph and Zurich who joined us for this roundtable.


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