Want your business to practice agile management? It's a business idea that, in order to be effective, needs to be implemented by employees.
If your workers don't get agile, your business won't be agile. If you want your business to be agile, you can get there faster—and, perhaps, with more certainty—if you hire people who already get it.
Business interest in agile management is at a high level. In a 2018 survey of 190 organizations asked about strategic planning, the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) found 87 percent said they needed agility built into their organizations to stay relevant, according to Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland, principal research lead for process and performance management at the Houston-based nonprofit organization. (The APQC focuses on best-practices research and benchmarking.)
“We've seen this growing need over the last several years." Lyke-Ho-Gland says.
Driving interest in agile management are concerns about a faster rate of change, ongoing digital transformation and the trend toward customer centricity.
—Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland, principal research lead, American Productivity & Quality Center
Addressing these concerns by going agile isn't necessarily easy. But having appropriate team members can help.
“If you have people that are already thinking that way, you have a leg up," says Kent McDonald, content curator for Agile Alliance, a nonprofit that supports agile values, principles and practices..
Interviewing for Agile Management
So far, relatively few candidates sport certifications showing they've studied agile management. Ditto for having resumes demonstrating experience in agile organizations. Employers have to identify agile-aware job candidates by asking relevant questions during job interviews.
Typical questions include requesting applicants to define agile. The Agile Alliance-supplied answer to that one is that agile is the ability to create and respond to change in order to succeed in uncertain and turbulent environments. Originally created for software development, agile and agile-related values, principles and practices are now percolating into other fields.
To go deeper, interviewers might ask jobseekers to explain the difference between agile and traditional project management—the less flexible approach often referred to as “waterfall." Or they could tell how they have used or would apply specific agile frameworks such as scrum or Kanban.
Lyke-Ho-Gland stresses that employers should go beyond merely asking candidates to demonstrate familiarity with agile buzzwords.
“A more effective way is to ask them to tell you about a project they managed—or their experience as a scrum master—and make sure they're using and applying the terminology correctly," she says. “That is more in-depth than asking some high-level questions about methodologies."
Scenarios provide another way to dive deeper. By presenting candidates with a problem and seeing how they would solve it, employers can discern whether employees have the temperament for working in the collaborative teams that are central to agile management.
“These kinds of assessments tend to be very efficient," says Patric Palm, CEO and co-founder of Favro, an agile project management collaboration app based in Uppsala, Sweden. “You will be able to see how people work. Do they collaborate? Are they good at collaborating? How do they interact with others?"
Scenarios that require candidates to solve problems in the stressful situation of a job interview can also help interviewers see through applicants' attempts to present themselves in an overly favorable light.
“When you put people under pressure," Palm says, “they tend to gravitate toward their true behavior."
Determining Agile Management Skills
Yet job interviews may not be the most reliable way to identify applicants who have agile skills, Lyke-Ho-Gland says. (Those are soft skills such as the ability to use active listening and to be self-motivated while also working collaboratively with others.)
“That's hard to pull out even if you're doing scenarios," Lyke-Ho-Gland says. "These types of skills often rely on intrinsic traits or capabilities that are harder to measure or track like social intelligence and motivation. Scenarios can provide insights into these skills, but they won't let you know about the level of consistency or how they are applied while under pressure."
For this reason, it may make more sense to teach agile to internal candidates who have demonstrated soft skills than to look for external hires who already know agile, she says.
And interviewing for agile management may provide a bigger bang for the buck when applied to candidates for team leaders rather using it for to all candidates.
“The first thing from a hiring point of view is to change the way you hire managers," Palm advises.
Agile-seeking businesses will generally, for instance, avoid hiring micro-managers and instead seek individuals who see themselves as coaches and servant leaders, he says.
At the end of the day, business owners who want to hire employees who will make their companies more agile can best help themselves by interviewing for appropriate attitudes and mindsets, McDonald says. These, more than skills or knowledge, are what can help make agile possible.
“The hardest part about adopting agile tends to be the mindset or culture change that's required," he says. “It's really accepting that you don't know everything up front and being willing to experiment, grow, change your approach and keep moving forward."
The good news about hiring agile employees is that it may be less of a challenge in the not-too-distant future as candidates acquire more agile knowledge and credentials.
“There are a lot more certification programs out there for project managers and there's a lot more for people to read," Lyke-Ho-Gland says. “That's going to make it easier in the long run to find those people."
Read more articles on hiring & HR.