Key Takeaways from Neovation 2020: Accelerating Agile

March 3, 2020 Derek Irvine

4-minute read

Neovation panel

Agile methodology has been around long before the phrase was ever used in HR circles. First used in software development in the 1970s, today the agile method is all about continuous feedback – try, learn, deliver, iterate, try, fail, learn, deliver, and so on. Agile works because it keeps people focused on consistently moving forward.

Neovation 2020: Accelerating Agile – which I was honored to attend in London last week – sought to address this very issue, looking at the ways in which companies can become more agile to meet market needs in the new world of work. Collaborating with a host of experts, including Unilever’s CHRO Leena Nair and Global Head of Reward Peter Newhouse, these were some of my biggest takeaways.

Be more human.

A strong theme at the conference was how to make work more human. Bringing humanity into the workplace seems like a simple task, but knowing what to take action on and how that action affects employees and the work environment is key.

In the essence of working in an agile way, the trick is to start simple, with small gestures that have a big impact. For example, it’s important to take a moment to recognize the key moments in your colleagues’ lives – congratulate them when they buy a new house or wish them well on their marriage. Recognizing these human moments that matter to your colleagues is key to building a foundation of trust and creating connections that improve every aspect of business, including the bottom line. In our latest research report, Workhuman® found 59% of new hires would leave their job in under a year for a different company with a more positive work culture.

Acknowledge the importance of regular recognition and reward.

As was remarked upon several times throughout the day, the annual performance review has lost its luster in recent years. Indeed, Workhuman has found 55% of workers believe annual reviews do not improve their performance.

The modern workplace, made up of fluid, cross-functional teams, is no longer conducive to yearly employee reviews. Employees want more transparency and the ability to check in with their managers on a regular basis. To satisfy these changing employee expectations, organizations need to be more agile and embed opportunities for feedback, mentorship, and coaching into the formal and informal team infrastructure.

Importantly, companies should make sure the majority of this frequent feedback is positive. Recent Workhuman research found frequent recognition is associated with lower stress and higher engagement levels. Ongoing recognition should be opened up to peers so they can praise their co-workers for good work and further build on those foundations of trust and connection. Note that the working team, not the hierarchal chart, is the focus.

By uncovering and recognizing individual skills, abilities, and connections, the team becomes more empowered and efficient. This allows the crowd to illustrate how and where work is done – and where managers and leaders should focus to maximize productivity and performance.

Crowdsourced pay can be another enabler for agile ways of working. It’s widely known that annual practices of bonus payouts and merit increases have little impact. Companies should empower managers and peers to add a monetary component to recognition to build trust and boost morale throughout the year. Putting just 1% of payroll toward a social recognition program where people can recognize each other with gratitude messages and micro-bonuses delivers significant impact across the business, from engagement to retention.

Understand and utilize data.

Despite the key theme of humanity in the workplace at Neovation, technology wasn’t eschewed completely. Technology can certainly seem to be “taking over,” but a truly modern, agile workplace is one that can balance both human and technological aspects, bringing them together to make the workplace better for everyone.

For example, many companies are now leveraging predictive analytics in conjunction with recognition data to discover untapped leadership potential in real time. Succession planning can be a traditional process involving closed-door meetings. Technology now makes it possible to illuminate hidden gems within an organization and find future leaders in a more democratic, less rigid way.

Of course, it’s crucial to avoid dehumanizing the workplace with technology overload; it’s about finding the balance and letting technology be an aide in creating a more agile, human workplace.

Be the positive change you want to see.

When it comes to supporting agile working, there are many avenues to consider. But in order for an agile strategy to be truly successful, HR and business leaders need to lead the way and set an example for the rest of their organizations. Simple lip service isn’t enough and leaders need to be willing to shake up things in their own ranks if they are to see any effects further down the chain. Leading by example – from implementing regular manager-employee check-ins to recognizing colleagues’ personal milestones and leveraging crowdsourced rewards – is the key to creating a truly positive, agile way of working.


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About the Author

Derek Irvine

Derek is senior vice president, client strategy and consulting, at Workhuman.

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