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I want to build a SWAT team for agile transformation


This last year, I was deep into agile transformation in an organisation as an agile coach. On the eve of my handover, I had realised that much has been done and yet much more to be done. When I surveyed my body of work, I had also realised that the transformation had taken a direction with my background in organisation structure and human resources. And I was keenly aware that I had not been able to reach deep pockets of agility in other areas outside of my specialisation. It has been a while now since I talked about a SWAT team. On retrospection of my work, I knew that this is what I want to do going forward. Build a SWAT team for agile transformation. A special weapons and tactics team focusing on helping organisation be agile.

Let’s assume I don’t have to reiterate the benefits of agility. So many people have done that. But in case of any doubt, let me summarise by saying, there is no technology or business agility. An agile organisation that has a strong learning quotient to learn from the market and react accordingly cannot be agile in 1 area and completely lagging in another. That will be like saying, I need a strong right arm and the rest of my body can be waning. Physically, I am not possible you have isolate a part of the body to be strong while the rest is weak and lethargic. So I go back to systemic change and change that impacts all level. And this is why I think 1 person can’t do it all and neither can 1 type of person.

In Europe, I’ve often seen and was part of the agile community formed by individuals. Most agile coaches are independent and operate independently. That or they were engaged in-house as part of a group of agile coaches. There were various models of engagement and I had also experienced them myself. One time, I was hired as an independent change consultant, another, I was hired as a scrum master / agile coach. Some of the people I knew were hired as agile coach to coach a few teams, others as trainers. Often what I see (not always) is a fragmented market of demand and hence a fragmented market of supply. And the type of demand changes from medium to large organisations. The small companies are usually inherently agile and lean from entrepreneurial background. For medium to large companies, sometimes scaled agile is used to create some order in process.

In Asia, I have started to see some similar trends. Companies look for agile coach, trainers, scrum master / agile coach. Before I generalise further, I think I can say that there is a growing trend towards adopting agile. (For good or bad reasons.)

So what has all these got to do with SWAT?

Let me first lay out a few common observations and challenges to overcome in an organisation that is starting to think about agility.

  •  Business Cases – There is usually an investment accountability process for any product release. This means long research and requirement writing to finalise a strong business case for investment and a funding process that follows.
  • Project / Phase Approach – Large requirements are broken down into phases for delivery and usually, there is no respiration period to learn from the market if they were playing catch up. And teams delivery each phase can be made up of different people.
  • Silo Functional Organisation – In a project or product delivery, the people writing the business case, detailing the requirement and then explaining to technology team are independent functions not belonging to the same group. And there is hands off in the process.
  • Large and Non Stable Teams – Each silo function is probably a large group of people (over 10). For delivery groups, it is a large group of people gathered together for 1 project and they may or may not work on the next project together.
  • Lean and Cost Saving Infrastructure – Development environment is shared and there is no or little automation to handle multiple releases and shorter development cycles.

So it is not uncommon when a company thinks about trying agile, they use a project as a test bed and hire an agile coach to coach this project to see how that works. And then the next project and then the next. It would be ok but usually with a systemic environment that is not conducive, the initial team that experienced success will probably hit a break wall very soon. And when teams are formed for a project, the team building is gone to waste when they join other project teams and work with new people.

For an organisation convinced and committed to transform itself, I think it requires a pace that allows for sustainable momentum of change. But there is an initial stage of transformation that will be institutional followed by sustainable pace. That is when I think we need a SWAT team.

And these are the special weapons and tactics that will be needed in different order and combination of sequences. And it will be a tall order to expect an agile coach to embody all of these to help an organisation transform. And a team works together to focus on these areas to achieve the initial transformation before going into a sustainable mode.

Organisation Design Change

Teams have to be formed to create stable and dedicated teams. In existing context, this is not easy as each person can be involved in 2-3 projects that can finish at different times. They will need to be transitioned to form teams to start working together. Some of these roles may not even exist in the organisation chart and incumbent HR may not be able to support the creation of these profiles let alone the hiring of these people.

In tight labour markets and where labour laws are strict with strong unions, attrition, work contracts are common issues during this transition. Acquisition of external skills will also be difficult in particular skills area. In response, the design will have to have elements of transitioning, skills upgrading and development.

Product Driven Change

Where projects govern the way things are delivered, products thinking will have to take over to make way for stronger product integrity and innovation. Product driven thinking will mean a stronger focus on product performance and delivery where most valued. It will also require stronger design thinking to ensure products can be delivered incrementally in response to value driven in each delivery. To achieve the “cheaper” in a “faster and cheaper” agile delivery, it has to do with doing less and delivery more value to customers. Targeted delivery ensures each delivery enhances the product in a way the customer desires. And when objectives are achieved, stop developing the that area to focus on other areas of value. But this means better business domain knowledge, stronger design thinking and focus on innovation and market response.

Process Change

A waterfall or handoff type of process can be entrenched in the decision making process. For this to change towards agility without losing accountability will require process change to review both. When we lose the long business case and requirement gathering stage in place of agile delivery to build-test-learn from the market place, we need a different process of communicating requirements and account for investment. Often, this also means a process of “testing” and “learning” that may not be in place or as strong as the “building” and releasing process. Without it, the organisation will only be releasing in shorter spurts of time that may not also end up to be more expensive to support these frequent release.

Budgeting & Financing Change

Budgeting and financing is an integral part of process change but deserves a space on its own especially in large public organisations with stakeholders and shareholders to answer for. Inherent in any agile delivery is a shorter decision making cycle coupled with shorter release cycles so the over response to the market is shorter. Traditional funding and budgeting model is anything but short as it calls for scrutiny in investments and upfront accountability to ensure the money spent will deliver the said outcome. To move away from upfront promise to outcome driven accountability, the budgeting and financing process will have to be continuous and more frequent, as many as the release cycles intended.

Engineering Change

To respond to agile delivery, the engineering practice will have to change. Shorter delivery cycles requires teams to work at a sustainable pace but consistent. To ensure quality development that can be released “any time”, test driven development practices, test automation, code quality will have to meet those standards among others. In a longer release cycle, teams can handle a sudden surge of activities near release date where late nights ensued and adrenaline pumps high. With regular but shorter release cycles, the quality will have to ensure releases are smooth and each release doesn’t become a mayhem but just a regular exercise.

Infrastructure Change

There is almost always a need to change infrastructure to support agility. This can mean creating possibilities of automation to support the releases, newer technologies and transition to these technologies. It can mean cloud, different supporting systems and many more. (And this is where I am lost.)

So you see, I can’t do it all. I am your organisation design change and process change person. And I wished I had a design thinking person, a devops person, an XP person and a beyond budgeting person to come together and form a SWAT team.

In my dream, my team will study the state of the organisation and chain up the changes so each organisation design change is hooked up to the right process change and the right engineering change and etc. And each change is dosed at the right amount for that organisation to create the different layers of transformation. And we will work at the leadership level to create systemic change to the environment so the teams can work in a fail fast fail safe environment while delivering products they and customers love.

And the SWAT team will only apply our expertise where required for the areas required for “just in time” change. While one organisation is going through transformation, another organisation can be sustaining change. And the SWAT team can be an agile coach for those sustaining change and come together to SWAT through a transformation. And the SWAT team is stable, we know our strengths and we cover for each other when we are applied. We have all the ego in the world and yet none with each other. We push each other to be better. We fight, we work, we build. We are the best together and can stand on our own. (Now, I’m getting really idealistic.)

It changes nothing. It changes everything. I want to build an agile transformation SWAT team.

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Moving to Singapore – Agile in Practice


Singapore.JPGIt’s been a year I’ve moved to Singapore. Almost 9 months since my last post. Think of it as a release, after many iterations in the making. My first MVP was September 2015 when I tried out 1 month of living in Singapore. The next iteration was November 2015 where I actually stayed for 6 weeks, found a job and started working on a project. And I moved out of Paris and 10 years of my life in an apartment in all but 10 days. And it’s almost 10 months since I made that decision. My life adopting changes in numbers.

Singapore was where I was born and bred, I had studied and worked here all my life before moving to Paris 10 years ago. But Paris was home to me. To move out in 10 days a life I made for 10 years took all the agility in me. I developed a kanban flow of work, mapped out my life in various epics and sliced my first release. Everything else waited till February 2016 when I returned for another 10 days for another slice in release. Let’s take my move as an examination into agile application since I’ve always said, “you can apply agile to anything.” – Probably the most dogmatic thing you’ll hear me say.

Proof of concept – Working Freelance in Asia

To move to Singapore, I needed to proof that the concept works. (Notice I didn’t use the word ‘back’. It’s hard to say there is a notion of moving back since I never really felt at home in Singapore. And it’s just easier to consider it a brand new country move.) As an independent in Europe, I wanted to see if the concept of freelance works in Asia. There was a lot of time spent in front of Linkedin. A lot of skype and email conversations with people operating in Asia in the agile space. And I lined up as many conversations I can get for my September visit. I also wanted to see the appetite of Agile HR in Asia where it has taken me 2 years to build in Europe and only just seeing the beginning of a form of recognition and adoption. In addition, I had lined up a potential business opportunity to practice Agile HR as an independent in Singapore. It couldn’t be more encouraging.

Sept 2015 – My visit has proved wrong a few assumptions. Since I was going back for my sister’s wedding anyway, it was really fail fast and very safe. I had found that independents are still in the budding stage of being recognised in the Singaporean work society. Coupled with a new adoption to agility, being an independent in this area of work meant that work is limited and largely in training areas. In addition, procurement practices in large organisations where there were signs of agile adoption have not evolved to retain independent contractors. Work contracts are still signed through preferred supplier agreements and large supplier qualification exercises. Singapore is also a very expensive city to live in. That meant that without initial work, the upstart cost will meant large investments upfront. My business opportunity also stalled due to budgeting discussions and interventions from HR.

 

Round 2 – MVP – Minimal commitment move to Singapore

The minimal viable product / solution-more-like-it was designed to be a small test to the market. I was accepted to speak at 2 conferences in November 2015, Agile Tour Vietnam and Agile Tour Singapore. Since they were at the beginning and end of month, I had another 4 more weeks to see if my move to Singapore could be finalised. Both tours gave me good understanding of the agile community in the region and where the standards and appetite was. I was also confirming an offer in the mean time.

Nov 2015 – Minimal commitment / maximum output. In November, somewhere between my travels, I confirmed my work engagement. There was no contract but I had an offer that I could work with. And I found a place that I could rent into. I was travelling with a cabin luggage for 4 weeks of travel and speaking engagements and ended up staying for 6 weeks. I had started and completed a 6 week projects and signed on for a job while I still have everything in Paris to sort out. In 6 weeks, I sorted out all the essentials to give me the move I need.

2nd Iteration – Release 1.0 – 10 days to release

I returned to Paris knowing that I had to go back to my new job in 2 weeks. Excluding weekends and jet lag, I had exactly 10 days to sort out my move including French administration. (If you know about French administration, you will give me a 2nd oscars for lifetime achievement award in doing all these in 10 days. The first was to set up a company in France). It requires extreme estimation and every feature valued to give maximum benefit while the rest would just not cut it.

Dec 2015 – I story mapped my life in Paris and found a slice for release. All others will have to be abandoned or left to next release in Feb 2016. The 2 biggest themes were french administration and my apartment. My apartment were divided in different parts of living epics. Each epic had essentials that I had to take in and others nice to have that I had to abandoned. But I had allowed a few “wow” features that would give my life a sparkle to get over all the nice to have that I had to leave behind. Since French administration has large dependencies and hard to estimate in effort, I had to draw up my risk charts and focused on the riskiest ones to mitigate risks and manage them through a kanban board. The flow method worked better ensure that daily planning and prioritisation can helped when new information comes up. I’ve also added a new column for “pending comments” where there is no limitation on WIP since I can pile as many there as I want pending feedback from all external parties. Some items moved up in level of importance and some had to move down (very painfully but necessarily). I sacrificed a few wows but kept at least 1 box of wows to last me through the new move. I had 3 checked-in luggage, 2 cabin luggage and 2 boxes I can post. Everything else that didn’t fit won’t qualify. On Christmas day, I left Paris and 10 years of my life in 10 days. There were still many things left in the “pending comments” column but largely, my release was secured. Among the “wow”s were 2 boxes of fois gras, 1 bag of champagne truffles, a slice of truffled brie and lots of champagne and whiskey on business class. The most riskiest french administration items were tackled or mitigated with the rest in wait of release 2.

Managing an agile backlog with a waterfall French administration backend was my waterscrumfall release.

Release 2 – Closing my company in France

Feb 2016 – 2.5 months after moving to Singapore, I flew back to Paris to close my company. Release 2 afforded me with some additional wows and must haves. Depending on your point of view, French fashion was on my must have list. My reason, can’t get it here or at the price I can procure. But release 2 was largely for french administration of things. All the items that had large dependencies that I had put in motion had paid off.

Waterscrumfall – yes, we all hate it. It brings goosebumps everything I hear of it. But on hindsight, I had learnt much with my waterscrumfall release 1.0. Release 2.0 was integration with backend some of the front end user stories for a more complete release. I had exhausted cosmetic releases and all “integratable” items. It’s not ideal but it’s how I learn about agile transformation in less ideal places.

  • RAID – Risks, Assumptions, Impediments and Dependencies is a very important step and essential in prioritisation.
  • Dependencies are dealt with up front and allowed it’s time to complete and to avoid a lot of grief in the future.
  • Slicing of user stories include prudent pruning of features with dependencies.
  • Don’t focus on just must haves, a “wow” item can be much more valuable than a few “must have”s, it’s all a matter of perspective.

On that last point, think about the new iPhone 7, it has removed a “must have” of the last 10 years, before even smart phones came to the market. The phone jack is gone and the wireless ear phones is finally wireless.

And so is life with its many surprises. I also had to let go of a few assumptions for my move. The most painful was missing 4 seasons and its colours, the most compelling was Asia’s thirst for new expertise and a very very fertile ground in agile transformation. And so, I had left the city of lights for another. From a hunter of work to be a farmer of new approaches. And many aspirations. So release 3 will be brand new, in the making.

 

Beginning and ending with Total Talent Management, a widening systemic approach.


The title is a mouthful and a way I round up 2014 into 2015, with a few hours to spare. The world of work has changed progressively and even more so with the latest financial crisis. According to a Deloitte report, non-employee workers can reach up to 40% of a company. And it will likely to continue in trend with skills gaps and structural differences in the economy. So I’d like to kick off the new year summing up what I’ve been posting about in 2014, a systemic view of the workplace, a consideration on Total Talent Management.

Back in 2013 in a world wide HR conference in Orlando, I’ve heard someone mentioned the term, Total Talent Management. Traditionally, talent management is about actively looking at resourcing and planning the human capital in the company. Some companies have strategies for development and training with a selected group with leadership qualities, others may have a broad stroke approach and others non at all. But in all the practices, this is mainly tied to employees in the companies.

Employment laws have often dictated how HR can behave with non-employees. To protect workers from being excluded from employment benefits through engagement under interim or contract, there are typically tight laws around engagement of temporary workforce. This limits the number of years a person can be a temporary worker in a company and to ensure the line is clear, HR has also created walls to prevent ambiguity and potential lawsuits. The limitations vary from country to country, some relaxed and some stricter, typically in Europe and US. Some are enforced and some have common practices.

The result is a general deterrence from considering non-employees and hence any form of management.

If non-employee workers remain a minority of 5-10%, we can argue it is better to avoid all risks and it doesn’t impact the company largely in overall performance and strategy.

The challenge is whilst terms of work and its contribution has evolved, the laws have not. In a company today, there can be a percentage of temporary workers to complement for productivity surge and employees on leave. In addition, there is also an influx of contractors due to skills gap in the company. This is particularly prevalent with newer technologies and advancement in digital transformation. To compete, companies either seek expertise outside or outsourced a particular work order. Hence, outsourcing partners also becomes an extension of the workforce. There is also an increasing trend of independents who would not want to be employed and are happy to continue as consultants and/or contractors to companies to provide their expertise. Non-employeed extension of the workforce is growing and can sometimes represent up to 40%. What is this 40% really?

From a systemic view, a system includes contributors and includes any influences. If we think about throwing a stone into a pool of water, the rippling effect is the layers of systems. There is an immediate system and external systems connected to it. So where do we draw the line? It’s hard but one thing is sure, it does not stay with only employees, not when the rest of the system could make up to 40% when we consider a wider system.

And here we come to the HR challenge in 2015, if it has not already peeked in 2014. The question is, will HR step up and step out beyond the comfortable legal system of human capital in their company or will they take cover under the law and abdicate the responsibility to management? So what are the considerations of Total Talent Management?

Ensuring common ways of work in selection

A company, like a system, has an established way of working (sometimes called culture). In selecting independent contractors and even outsourced partners, this has to be considered. An external injection to the existing system with a completely different way of working and functioning will create misunderstandings and slow down progress. The efforts to correct it will be greater after engagement then selecting the right people and partners. HR has started to play a greater role in engagement of individuals who are hired on temporary or contractual basis. However, the greater impact is when injecting a whole group of people such as outsourcers or consulting partners. To ensure there are enough common grounds in ways of working, this has to be considered at selection stage. If HR is not managing this, then it will be up to hiring managers and management.

Ensuring team work in integration

Most HR will recoil at providing any form of training or leadership development to non-employees as this can give rise to potential law suites or ambiguity. However, team work can benefit from good facilitation during the integration process. Hence, HR will have to explore potential ways to help teams function together within the limits of the law. This can mean facilitation workshops, identifying problem areas and reflecting to partner companies or individuals as a form of improved service provision. A simple induction session given to all non-employees on the company culture and objectives will also be helpful without crossing the line extensively. This is the most challenging area and will require innovative HR approach.

Ensuring sustainable benefits in knowledge transfer

Finally, the benefit of external workforce is the expertise they bring and help during productivity hikes. The benefits can extend over longer period of time when their knowledge is transferred to existing workforce. Knowledge transfer can happen when people work together. With a concerted effort, knowledge transfer is not by chance and can directly impact in-house expertise. This can mean creating pair working, mentoring and strategic placement of external workforce with in-house. External workforce can also provide objective feedback on teams and leadership. Hence, with their exit, interviews and handovers are just as important as it is with employees.

Stepping into 2015, why not extend the vision and assess your current management of talents and how far it reaches. And from a classic systemic view, think about your resources and not your lack of. You’ll be surprised at how much you and your team can achieve.

Happy New Year!

Rendre Heureuse (RH) – Render Happy – The New HR?


LeapWhile speaking about HR, human resources recently, someone said to me, “RH est pour rendre heureuse (RH) aux salaries”. Some linguistic explanation required. Human resources is “ressources humains” in French, thus the acronym RH, the same for “rendre heureuse” which is render or make happy. So is HR the new Happiness maker in the company?

It’s been circulating recently, the idea that HR should rather be Chief Happiness Officer and happiness in employees will make them better at work and thus make the company better and more profitable. But can HR really be the holder of happiness of people at work? And is happiness really the key to a high performing company?

The amount of research in this area is rather extensive on both sides. Happiness at work creates a joyful culture and people are more helpful and less cases of burnt out. It made sense. So can a bunch of very happy employees also turn a 10-man company to 20 to 1000? I doubt it. Unhappiness at work can create very toxic environment, create residue stress that seeps into personal life and create more unhappiness where people burn out and leave. Will a 1000 plus employee company become inefficient and reduce to 20 people? I doubt it too.

The pursuit of happiness is natural in human kind. That’s just a natural law. But happiness is so many things to so many people. More importantly, work is only part of our lives and can only contribute to part of our happiness.

When is it the responsibility of the company, mangers or human resources department to make us happy? Isn’t that our responsibility to create a life we want with the brand of happiness we define? Why would I cede this power to make me happy to someone or an institution and why would I hold someone accountable if I’m not happy?

No, I think the pursuit of happiness is my business. Work is a path and HR can clear the path!

What do I mean?

There are several well-written articles from the perspective of the organisation. I’ll take this up from the perspective of what I think HR can do.

Clear the recruitment path

Today’s recruitment in many protective labour markets is very risk averse. This means recruitment is based on all the criteria of the past (good education, experience in the same job, doing exactly the same thing elsewhere). It’s not future or potential looking. When HR succumbs to the pressure of “no hiring mistake”, the perversion is to hire like for like for current need and render the future needs of the company to luck. The person hire for the existing job may or may not be able to grow for the next job in the company. Without potential leaders, succession planning is hampered and the flow of talent will be choked.

If I’m recruited on my potential and capabilities, I’ll feel appreciated and motivated to prove my worth.

Clear the development path

Training and development prevalent today reminds of tuition, supplementary to help employees do their work today better. The educational path of an employee should be forward looking and requires a development and a career path. When HR do not help to facilitate identification of leaders and development for management teams, it’s allowing upward movement of unqualified managers who might be star players in their current job and a generation of unqualified managers and leaders. It also loses the opportunity to unlock potential in people and help employees strive to excellence.

If I knew that someone is working with me on my career development path, putting things out for me to reach, I’ll feel interested and motivated to learn to get there.

Clear the mobility path

The mistake most people in mid-career make is to think that only promoting to a higher position is a sign of success. There are multiple paths to reach capacity and some includes horizontal moves and working in different environments. But it disrupts teams and managers often try to keep their good people than letting them go. Mobility is also difficult in cultural adjustments and provides a new set up challenges in living skills. HR can help to promote mobility within the global working environment or across teams rather than looking at legal implications, releasing liabilities and tenures and thwart movement in the process.

If I had HR support in protecting my tenure while I move across countries and teams, I would feel helped and focus on the move and new job.

Clear the political path

Every workplace has politics, as each employee is different in character, communication style and ways of working. When there is an absence of a strong culture that focuses people on working together and achieving common goal, these politics come into play for personal protection, bargaining for gains and often an expression of frustrations. With HR taking a backseat in culture, they become the undertaker when things have really gone wrong often resulting in lawsuits, firings, employee relations and unions discussions. HR can take a more active stand to assess how people are working together and steering in team building activities, working through differences and strengthening team communication and common understanding.

If I feel that I can ask HR for help in conflicts and that we are all playing for the same team, I’d feel understood and more tolerant of differences.

Conclusion – Happy or not happy?

I struggled with this. Perhaps at then end of all these is indeed happiness. If I feel motivated, loyal, listened to, appreciated, respected and developed, this would mean I’m happy. But this can’t be all of what happiness means and that’s just too easy to say HR, be Happiness Officers.

Happy is a feeling. I can be happy or sad because of so many things. But I want to wake up and want to go to work because there is a challenge out there I can solve, I can do something, be useful. I want to earn my keep that I deserve.

I think I’ve said. It’s the dignity of work. It has nothing to do with happiness. And HR can help me keep my dignity, not my happiness.

(Will update links to articles on this topic.)

Talking about HR in Agile Meetup


It was 29°C outside, 7pm in the evening and one of the 2 days in between the world cup matches. I thought everyone would be off somewhere in a bar, movie theatre or somewhere cool. But it was a full turn out. And it was in front of some very lovely and patient french people that I presented a case study on Agile in HR and HR in Agile.

To begin with, it was based on an project I was involved in. And to be honest, before this project, agile was really just an adjective. It still is but there is so much more depth to the agility used in software development. And this group of people I was standing in front of were all practitioners of agile methods for many years.

Agile, whether referring to being flexible and adopting to circumstances or tied to a whole library of terminologies like scrum!, kanban!, XP programming!, burndown! or for that matter burnup! (all terms that made me stopped in my track at one point or another to say huh?!), is irrevocably, undeniably, incontestably about people.

So it was to great wonder why there haven’t been much talk about HR in agile. And even more curious is how the basic principles of agility can be applied to HR? Because, how can an arm in the company (usually IT department) be agile whilst the rest of the company be fat and heavy?

And so it was, after reflections on that project, the hits, misses and the “je ne sais pas quoi” that I attempted to be honest in this sharing about my involvement, my learning and most of all, why if we want to talk agile, we should talk people and if we talk people, we can be agile too.

With or without the library of terminology tied to agile, most business leaders today have to battle with rapidly changing consumer behaviours, disruptors from non-traditional competition, globalisation and accelerating innovation. Thus, being adaptability as Darwin first proposed is really the only contant and means of survival. And so agile or capital A-gile is a logical response.

This is the case for the example I provided. The company had to be quick in time to market, they had to deploy digitally sound solutions across various parts of the customer journey. And they had to use a combination of acquired expertise and in-house capabilities simultaneously across various markets covering different technology platforms.

The example I presented was on a part of the project where adapting agile methods cannot be independent of helping people adopt the change. And where adopting to this change cannot be done through traditional HR means.

The challenge was to condensed it to 1hr 30mins and respond to any questions from the floor. I think we did well as a group, 29°C and hungry to share on a hot July evening.

The english version of the slides are now available on: http://www.slideshare.net/JasChong/agility-in-hr-hr-in-agility-july-2014

Oh did I mention that it was in French, a first for me in terms of public french presentation.

Coding Information For Knowledge – Does it work?


Talk about coding and it provokes all kinds of emotions from recruitment consultants to knowledge professionals. The purist will argue that knowledge cannot be coded. On the other hand, coding is the only way to find things in a database.

Let’s consider the most important asset other than the consultants themselves in the recruitment industry – candidates and clients. Information will result in better sales approach with potential clients and selection of potential candidates. Where there is not enough information, it means lack of knowledge to advance. Where there is too much information, it means spending time picking through data.

I propose that while coding cannot be the only way to create knowledge, it is an integral part and cannot be ignored.

Coding the right information about candidates helps consultants to know better.

Consider Candidate Coding:

Basic segmentation
A candidate resume database is like a huge library of documents. Basic segmentation will help to group candidates together for easier searching. These include past experience in sector, function, current level of seniority and geography. Keep it simple and basic for initial filtering.

Like books that can be filed under more than 1 genre, a candidate can have experiences in different areas. In today’s digital world, a candidate cv can appear in different groups, there is no need to hard code only 1 type.

Interview notes
A consultant’s interview notes provide important qualitative information on a candidate. Their experience in evaluating candidates will provide precious insight for other consultants who may want to contact the same candidate. While the interview is difficult to document, there are key information that can be coded for reference. These can include basic skills and competencies such as language skills, communication, teamwork, autonomy etc.

For notes specific to the job the candidate is applying for, this can be summarized and added for reference.

Candidate Intimacy
Candidate intimacy is created with increasing number of touchpoints. Some toucpoints have high value than others. Recording these touchpoints will provide a view of historic activities. High value candidates can often be turned in high value clients. The different type of touchpoints can be coded by their value and then assigned to candidates.

For example, email alerts, mailshots are low value touchpoints and can be coded in the same group. Assigning this code to candidates who had received email alerts may not provide much information and can be coded automatically. Others such as participation to round table discussions, events and satisfaction survey feedback provide more value and can be tracked differently.

Consider Client Coding:

Basic segmentation
Similar to candidate coding, a client contact can also be coded against basic information on sector, function, level of seniority and geography. Here there are 2 sets of information, basic information about a client company and basic information about the client contacts within the company.

Most companies fall into the trap of selling to only 1 line of business in a company when there are potentially other lines of businesses. Where ring fencing is important, having as many client contacts in a company will help to avert risks and improve chances of cross selling.

Client Meeting Notes
Meeting a client contact will provide an accurate temperature read on their attitude to your services and company. These can be coded based on key information such as attitude to recruitment firms, openness in discussion, willingness to provide information.

Information relating to the particular opportunity can be recorded as qualitative notes just like a candidate interview.

Client Intimacy
Like candidate intimacy, client intimacy is created with as many touchpoints as possible. Successes on each of the touchpoint will help to improve relationship and create intimacy. There are 2 levels of intimacy: with the company and with the client contact. Here, high value touchpoints or successes include successful placements, satisfaction, recommendations and referrals to business.

Keeping a record of past successes and proof of satisfaction will help in convincing new contacts in the company to kick start in relationship building.

Other than coding
Outside of coding, there are also other methods available to make information easier to find. These include:

Tagging
Tagging is a good way for consultants to include information that is not part of the coding list. With cloud-computing and smart design, tags previously used can appear as suggestions. This helps to reduce the number of tags and highlight often used tags for potential inclusion in standard codes.

Search boxes
Both Yahoo and Google have invested in providing searching services to companies. It comes as a form of search box that means you can perform “google search” on the database.

Finally, does information really mean knowledge? It’s been said that information is power. This power is useless if it is not put to good use – that is knowledge. Isn’t it?

Knowledge management as 4 pillars of strategy


Often, when the term knowledge management is mentioned, the next part of the conversation is followed either by

“what do you mean?”

or “do you mean the data base system?”.

The mistake will be to spend time trying to explain it. Too often, explaining about knowledge management only end up labelling it ultimately as a cost initiative.

In a service industry, I like to start with people, the employees who sell and provide services. When a recruitment company sell their services, they are implying a worth in the people who will be performing the services. They deliver services at the best of their knowledge and they way they perform is packaging that adds to a customer experience. If we continue with this train of thought, knowledge is integral to a service industry, it goes straight to top line sales and bottom line profits.

For many knowledge management practioners, initiatives in knowledge management often turned into a cost versus profit discussion. Often it ends up on the losing end of the battle along with other cost centres such as training and development, human resources with funds redirected to systems upgrade and even marketing. Here’s what I will propose as the pillars of success in a recruitment company using knowledge.

Succession Planning
In recruitment, each consultant often holds his/her own list of clients. Leaders in the industry will be familiar with this story, lose a good person and lose a list of clients and it is straight to the bottom line. Whether it is a sudden departure of staff or through retirement, to build a sustainable business that can survive the change in personnel, succession planning is important. And knowledge management has a key role to play.

Creating programs that encourages sharing of knowledge from seniors to juniors or peers will mean continuity and retention of knowledge in the company. The knowledge that is shared will allow other member staff to step up when there is a staff departure. It also gives confidence to clients to continue work with the company.

Upstart new starters or junior staff
While training is the most basic form of initiating new staff, it oftens lack the depth and practicality of daily operations. It is common for a new starter irregardless of seniority to take 3-6 months before creating profits. Knowledge management can provide a new starter with the essential knowledge to kick start their performance.

Programs such as mentoring, seminars will bring similar subject matter experts in contact with new starters. Through sharing of experience and working knowledge of the company, the culture and politics will help a new starter settle in quicker and focus on performance. Such program’s can also benefit new starters.

Commercial Positioning
Recruitment is one of the most fragmented industry full of companies in various sizes. A client has a wide selection of companies to work with and often, the client can ony rely on past experiences to decide. Often, it is simple as how comfortable or confident they feel about the recruiter. It can be hard to qualify how to increase such a confidence.

Knowledge is by far a much better argument to raise confidence. To industrialise the recognition of a company’s knowledge and thus expertise, it will require a recruitment to use expertise as a forefront of their positioning. There are other positioning elements such as size, geographical reach for example that are commonly used. However, if you ask a person who has a severe headache who they prefer to see, it will be a head specialist than a generalist.

Client Intimacy
A client is not just the company a recruitment firm is working with. In the people business, it is the individual hiring managers and decision makers. Whilst they may not have working knowledge of recruitment, they have working knowledge of their industry and function for the role a recruitment firm is asked to recruit.

Creating client intimacy requires a few tactics. One way will be to speak their “language”. This can be easily achieved if a recruiter has knowledge of their client’s area of work. Knowledge management programs that provide a recruiter with such knowledge or enable them to be more knowledgeable will help. Also, don’t forget, your client has knowledge you can tap into and it is often free.

The next time the subject of knowledge management comes up, it should be a topic of necessary investment and not optional cost.

Cultural differences in training


A friend exclaimed one day, why do the French need all these meetings? For which I respond, why are the Americans so agreeable?

I used to say, generalisation is the basis of all jokes. So it is with much tongue in cheek and humour that I use the following examples to explain cultural differences. In my past life, I had the opportunity to conduct the same training in over 10 countries in Europe. In all the sessions, I find myself adapting each training workshop to the nationality of people I’m training. This is how I explained to my friends the cultural differences in the simplest way I can.

The French

With the French, a meeting is only to confirm what has been discussed and agreed over coffee, walkways, phone conversations and individual meetings. In fact, before the training, the material has been circulated, discussed and explained so many times in resume that I knew when they come for the final session, it is merely to reinforce and not to impart knowledge.

The key: the battle is already won before meeting in the field.

The Italians

During the training, I would find excuses after each 20-25 min session to leave the room, it could be coffee breaks for all, toilet breaks, smoke break etc. The Italians need to fight it out, discuss, dispute and argue. Since I don’t understand Italian, it works in my favour to leave the room and let them fight it out rather than implicating myself in the discussion. I would return to answer questions which had been filtered out by internal discussions.

The key: give them time to talk / fight it out. Freedom to express with passion is a way to their heart.

The Dutch

If you haven’t worked with the Dutch, your first encounter will be brutal. They are painfully honest and they mean no harm of disrespect. I usually allow for a 5 min question and answer after ever 45 mins for them to voice their thoughts. And then, I will address them logically and if it is a matter of policy, I would explain it as such. They will understand that some decisions may not appeal to them or seem to make sense but needed to be implemented. And we would be able to move to integrating that into their work life.

The key: accept what they have to say and react calmly. Respect their indivualism and you will be equally accepted.

The Spanish

I had the most fun with Spanish training sessions. They are warm and open people and welcome you with open arms and a great deal of jamon. If you return with the same passion, the rapport is immediately built. Having said that, their enthusiasm is also a reason for easy oversight. They will receive what you have to say quickly and with enthusiasm especially in a training environment. With the Spanish, I would devise difficult questions intent on testing their understanding and agreement. And maybe, I’ll add controversy to see how they would apply the understanding and force them to tell me exactly what they think. And of course, always with a pinch of humour to keep the mood light.

The key: always ask a second time to ensure understanding. Team enthusiasm with curiosity for the best results.

Central Eastern Europe

Every country in this block is different but I have found similar strategies in these countries: Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. While I’m training these countries, I cannot help but observe the impact of communism in the cultural. The importance of hierarchy and authority in getting agreement cannot be overstated. Once I had arrived in a training without the endorsement of figure of authority because the manager had left and a replacement had not been found. To my greatest distress, I had a walk out. After a coffee break, only 50% of the attendees returned. The rest had found reasons not to return. The next day, I had to assumed a figure of authority instead of the friendly trainer. When I said that if they leave, they can never return to the next sessions, I found attendance improve dramatically.

In the CEE block, I also find the best use of instant feedback. After each session, I would hand out colourd post-its for participant to comment what they liked, disliked, want to see more of. Each evenings I would adjust the next day’s training according to these feedbacks. This typically improves attendance and participation dramatically when they see that efforts had been taken to consider their feedback.

The key: always arrive after endorsement from a figurehead. If you have something to say, say it with authority.

Nothing written above is meant to harm, I have come to respect and love (in some way) the people I had met on the road. In general, I think it always work when I have no assumptions before I arrive. Work with the situation and adapt accordingly is my best philosophy thus far.

In Asia, I had a vastly different experience but that is a story for another time.

Tell me about your experiences, did you encounter the same or vastly different?

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