Applying Agile Principles to Recruiting & Talent

AgileConnect16 WilsonHCG WilsonCTS Scotiabank Digital FactoryI had the fortunate opportunity last week to attend WilsonHCG‘s event, “Connect 2016, the Agile Approach to Talent Acquisition“, hosted by Scotiabank. For those who don’t know about this Toronto-based event, it’s an annual half-day conference put on by Paul Dodd, Head of Canadian Engagement at Wilson that is dedicated to talent acquisition. It was really an interesting conversation because we talked about the
concept of agile, which originated in software development, and its application in the recruiting world. By the way, if you want to read about agile software development have a look at the official agile manifesto and the core 12 principles. As you will see much of what it talks about can easily apply to the recruiting world, no question. It was really neat to see Scotiabank play a lead role in the conversation because when you think of a traditional big 5 Canadian bank you likely don’t associate agile with how they operate. However, they recently launched the Digital Factory, which the way I understood, is an agile-based innovation centre that is driving rapid technological advancements and change throughout the bank. Essentially it’s operating like a cutting edge tech start-up, and to be frank, it appears to be succeeding at doing just that.


So with all of these great ideas, conversations and learning, popped up several questions. The most pressing one that stuck with me was the notion that applying agile to a function, such as recruiting, which is traditionally known to be heavily reliant on strict process, would be a significant challenge. Recruiters and HR Practitioners by nature are not trained to work within highly flexible, rapidly changing and fluid environments. No I do not have credible research to back this statement up, but I have worked in the industry for 16+ years with several dozens of organizations of all sizes and industries. For the most part, an HR Practitioner is an HR Practitioner is an HR Practitioner. Sure there are those that don’t fit with the stereotype but I would confidently argue that the majority of us are more comfortable working within well-defined processes, policies and practices. I also can’t think of a more relevant industry that fits this than banking.

Now, I know the above may sound cynical, and believe me, I am probably one of the first people to take a risk and dive into something new but I also understand reality. Do I think agile is a worthwhile concept for HR Practitioners to learn, understand and practice? Absolutely YES! Do I think it will be easily applied throughout the HR Community? Absolutely NO. It’s just like social media and technology adoption where the HR Community still lags behind other functions such as Marketing, Communications, Customer Service and even Sales.

The Core Challenges

Having made the above comments, not only do I believe in the concept of agile and its application to what we do, I see 2 core challenges that need to be overcome before it will become mainstream.

First, we need to fully understand what agile is and how it can apply to what we do, including the impact to business outcomes. This is exactly the same challenge that I posed to my peers in 2011 when I co-founded Impact99, and then SocialHRCamp in 2012. Understand it, learn everything about it, embrace it, accept it, and figure out how to apply it within your world.

Second, once we solve the first challenge we need to figure out how, where, what and when agile will change our current practices. Simply saying you’re applying agile is not enough. Simply trying out a couple of things is not enough. Like any other change, specifically thinking of technology adoption, requires a deliberate focus, commitment and attention to change. This challenge is the hard part, and it’s not easy. No change is easy but deliberately feeding the specific changes through a committed process will eventually result in reaching your goals.

So the idea of agile is an awesome one. I love it and have already embraced it as being a real method of tackling how we do our business. However, I am still at the stage of figuring out the how, where what and when. As it stands now, the idea of agile is somewhat contradictory to how we traditionally run our Recruiting and HR. Well-defined and entrenched process and practices does not mix well with agile, and is the exact opposite of what it’s intended to be.

What do you think? We had a great conversation last week with Paul Dodd, Scotiabank, the Digital Factory and more, but this conversation needs to continue.

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