Who should be in (agile) HR?

In his short article “It’s time to split HR” Ram Charan proposes to split HR into an administrative department and a department for leadership and organization. His main point is that HR members need experience in other management functions such as i.e. finance. His criticizes that most of the current HR people cannot relate to business issues from the „real world“. I understand what his point is all about. People who study HR usually want to work with people and help them to release their potential. But this seems rather difficult as HR is mostly sitting in parts of the building with restricted access for “real world” people due to confidentiality reasons. The majority of them become experts in one specific field of HR (i.e. training, recruiting). Again, relating to business issues from the “real world” is rather difficult.
In an agile organization I would propose the ScrumMasters / agile coaches to take some of the HR duties. Mainly those that concern leadership and organization, but also, from time to time, administrative duties. Such a setup creates links to product development teams and their daily business issues. The ScrumMasters, being lateral leaders, know what it means to solve these “real world” problems – also known as impediments.
ScrumMasters are responsible for increasing the productivity of development teams. In order to reach their goal, they are supposed to change the organization as needed. Being involved in HR activities would be the perfect opportunity to create a link between the HR expertise and the “real world”. The adjustment of “People Systems”, as described by Jay Lorsch in the Strategy Pyramid, would be much easier. Also the other way round: the integration of the HR perspective into change initiatives would be given at any time.
What I also like about the idea of Charan is that HR is not a job position for life. Rather it should be a “pass through”, where one can gain experience in another field of management. In an agile organization this could mean that ScrumMasters and HR experts organize themselves in communities of practice. This way, they can work together and contribute to the success of the enterprise in different ways, for example like this:

  • ScrumMasters could fill a full-time HR position for a certain period of time .
  • ScrumMasters and their teams could participate as pilots for new concepts developed by HR.
  • ScrumMasters could be friendly users for i.e. new concepts of leadership training etc.
  • Engagement in different phases of the development process of new “people systems” is also possible (proposing ideas, defining the concept, collecting feedback etc.)

For a limited amount of time, ScrumMasters can be solely engaged in HR activities. Still it is mandatory that they return into leading a team after a certain HR deliverable has been released. An HR deliverable could be a new training, a cultural change that is clearly visible, new processes etc. But not only ScrumMasters can engage in HR topics, also other team members can take part in the communities of practice. How? The ScrumMasters and HR experts will find a way!

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