Friendly Fire Nr. 1:

Outdated equipment

HR managers often consider themselves the drivers behind agile transformation and assiduously prepare for it. With great commitment, they attend conferences, read books, watch Ted Talks and obtain certifications. Agility is top of their list.

With the newly acquired knowledge, they return to their companies. Only to go back to doing business as usual. They may have accumulated knowledge on a cognitive level, but they rarely question the way they work: How agile are we? Where are we actually creating value for our customers? How much experimenting and iterating do our methods permit? Do we reflect on our work, learn from it and improve?

Examining your working model

Putting up a Kanban board in the HR department is a good start, but it’s clearly not enough to successfully master future HR challenges. Technically, we need to put our entire HR model to the test.

Recruiting, performance management, career paths, qualifications – many of our HR instruments have become outdated. They are based on assumptions that no longer hold true. Stability, full plannability, annual cycles, monetary incentives for individual tasks – all of these concepts have become outdated and often prevent companies from reacting swiftly to changing environments. Nonetheless, companies are holding on to them.

This is where the friendly fire comes into play: “Everyone move forward into the new times!” may not be the right rallying cry if it is supported by old, defective equipment. Any such directive will result in defeat and can be considered grossly negligent behavior.

Tackling issues courageously

HR colleagues may contend that questioning these ‘sacred’ HR instruments will jeopardize an organization’s entire strategic orientation and even have legal consequences. Such decisions can therefore not be adopted by HR and need to be directed to management.

My answer: Yes, indeed! This is why HR is responsible for creating awareness and persuading management. This may not be an easy task. But it is the kind of professional courage we desperately need in HR.

Friendly Fire Nr. 2:

Potemkin learning

HR departments tend to have a clear vision of which new skills and mindsets are required to foster agility within their companies. And while the visions are clear, the applied solutions are often inadequate.

Standard trainings are developed to convey knowledge and introduce a few methods. These school-like lessons feature at least one Ted Talk video, based on the assumption that we change our behavior or even our mindset solely by watching or listening. Trying to provide maximum input, these programs are overcharged with information. This leaves little time for profound reflection.

Room for genuine development

What we really need in today’s environment, is room for genuine development. People in organizations want to understand why they are supposed to change. Established patterns of thought can only be questioned through reflection and irritation. This requires new learning formats as well as new criteria for measuring the learning progress.

The number of training days along with participant satisfaction are still the main performance indicators in HR development. It has been scientifically proven that neither are valid criteria for measuring learning progress.

Using participant satisfaction as an indicator actually prevents learning and development. It does not foster a change in mindset. If we truly consider irritation an important factor in facilitating openness to change, we will have to take into account a negative short-term impact on participant satisfaction.

I’d like to go even further: Profound development does not happen within a two-day workshop. A workshop may be a good starting point, if it serves as a wake-up call. No (external) trainer is willing to take that risk, though, if success is measured based on participant satisfaction.

This creates a friendly fire based on pseudo agility: “We’re working really hard on becoming agile.” This kind of learning is really only a Potemkin Learning Village. Agile on the outside. Hollow on the inside. An expensive whitewash.

Introducing exponential learning

Learn what you need: Transform your HR development into a holistic platform for people and teams. This platform will radically differ from the current training departments offering a fragmented class program. HR will increasingly become a learning facilitator that helps employees accept responsibility for their own development. The platform strengthens and connects knowledge and expertise within the company. This promotes exponential learning, a critical success factor in a highly dynamic environment.

Friendly Fire Nr. 3:

Insufficient goal identification

In the military world, friendly fires often occur because of insufficient goal identification based on poor visibility due to darkness or bad weather.

In a business context, high market dynamics and increasing complexity may blur a company’s vision. Instead of slowly approaching a goal step by step, companies fire their ‘best shot’ from a distance, frequently causing collateral damage.

Aiming at customer value

What does that mean for HR managers? The first essential question is whether the goal has actually been identified. The purpose of HR is to best possibly support all other business divisions in creating customer value and move up the value chain.

Here’s friendly fire no. 3: If this support is provided only through ‘long-distance shots’ or if the goal hasn’t even been identified, this ‘help’ becomes a burden or even a threat. Such missions don't create value. They create dead weight that slows business units down.

Reducing distances

HR and business operations need to work closer together. In many companies, they seem to be worlds apart. There is a lack of mutual understanding, sometimes even an atmosphere of disdain. This creates a toxic environment in a time when the entire company should focus on customers, markets and new business opportunities.

I’ve seen many attempts to better integrate HR and operations. Most of them were rather meager. Conducting a cross-functional workshop is simply not enough. A radical reorientation, such as systematically integrated interdisciplinary teams, is required, to eradicate the boundaries between the silos of HR and business.


We also need to change the way we develop HR solutions, especially if our vision is blurred: Quickly assess your close distance. Take a few steps in this direction. Examine if your assumptions hold true. Correct your course if necessary. Take a few more steps in the direction of your goal. This iterative approach is what we consider agile. It requires a paradigm shift from unwieldy HR instruments to quickly adaptable solutions.


From friendly fire to joint success

In the military, new technologies like remote assistance provided hope that the risk of friendly fires could be minimized. However, tests in the field showed the opposite. Even the best technologies couldn’t eliminate collateral damage.

Behavior over technology

As a result, clearly defined codes of conduct were established, which proved to be much more effective at preventing friendly fires. They were based on close cooperation between allies, which allowed for good communication and coordination of everybody’s current position.

In HR, new technologies can certainly be of use. However, they will not automatically solve existing challenges. Only if HR and all other business divisions successfully manage to create alliances, foster common understanding and coordinate their positions, will friendly fires become a thing of the past. The future will then be marked by joint success.

Responsibility on both sides

If you are a manager and have just decided to lean back and wait until HR initiates change, be aware: Friendly fires can come from both sides. You may have to critically readjust your position, as well. If both sides take a step toward each other, you’ll be able to close the ranks much faster and join forces to fuel the success of your company.


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Eva Ayberk