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Meaningful Careers and Growth (Agile HR – Q&A Series Part 4)

Posted By Fabiola Eyholzer, Tuesday, December 20, 2016

This post is part of the Q&A Series: Agile Leadership Webinar «Agile HR | People Operations»

We recently hosted Agile HR expert Fabiola Eyholzer for our Agile Leadership Webinars. In response to the high interest, Fabiola is answering an aggregation of the great questions we received from participants during the webinar. Click here to watch full webinar.

In this part, Fabiola answers your questions on careers and development for Agile teams. If you have a question you would like featured in our Q&A series, please submit to


What are the ways in which HR/managers can promote people in Agile?

The meaning of promotion is changing. Modern careers are more about personal choices and meaningful growth than climbing a (fast-disappearing) hierarchical ladder. Every person has a different understanding of growth. For some people, it is taking on a leadership role, whereas for others it is to deepen their T-shaped skills. In an Agile enterprise, we respect individuality. We strive to make the best match between individual aspirations and corporate demands. Consequently, career paths are becoming more fluid, multifaceted, and individualized than ever before.


What is the career path in Agile?

Instead of a predefined career path, we offer an adaptive growth model. Naturally, there are career paths that are more common than others. A programmer is more likely to become a senior software developer than a ScrumMaster. But the opportunity is there.

A catalog of prospective role-based career paths illustrates the most typical growth options. But it does not limit the options. And HR combines that with a continuous dialogue about growth and opportunities. That way you are aware of your options and can keep them open. Some companies even mandate a rotation of teams at least every three years.


Roles in Agile teams are limited. How does HR help motivate a team member without any change in the role?

Obviously, we acknowledge experience. Our reference roles reflect various seniority levels (like senior Agile coach). But the motivation does not come from promoting people. Instead, we create an inspiring and engaging work environment with great learning opportunities. We offer exciting work, amazing colleagues, and meaningful growth.


Who is responsible for a career?

You are. Agile is all about the principle of self-management. But employees are not only empowered when it comes to their work. They are also in charge when it comes to learning and development. HR and leaders provide the necessary platforms and support, but employees decide for themselves how they want to structure and approach their learning and growth path according to their own understanding and needs.


What do you do with older employees almost ready to retire?

We engage with all employees in the same way, no matter how long an employee has served in the labor market. Everyone in the company is valuable, otherwise we would not employ them. We still discuss where they stand, where they want to go, and what they need to get there.

Naturally, the growth profile will differ depending on a person’s circumstances. A new parent may want to take on a role with limited travel needs and a highly flexible schedule. And someone with an upcoming retirement may want to switch from a leadership to a mentoring role.


How can HR be more knowledgeable about the work an employee has accomplished, so as not to have to blindly depend on feedback from managers?

We previously argued for a shift from traditional performance management to iterative performance flow. Part of that is eliminating employee appraisals and decoupling HR instruments (like compensation and promotions). We no longer rate people and document results on outdated goals. Instead, HR engages in career coaching to help employees create and improve their career and growth profile.


How can HR be a career adviser to an employee?

Career advisers act as trusted mentors, consultants, and representatives of people within the organization. They engage in a continuous dialogue with each employee individually. They collaborate to create and manage a personal career and growth profile.

This equips HR with a completely new knowledge and understanding of their current and potential talent pipeline. HR no longer depends on a rating from an annual appraisal, because they know people’s talents on a personal, authentic level.


How does Agile workforce planning and talent scouting work?

Workforce designers collaborate with the epic leads to assess current and upcoming allocation needs. They know what new initiatives are coming up or if others are being canceled. They partner up with talent scouts, who identify and connect talents across the organization.

In other words: Workforce planning is about understanding and meeting the needs of the organization. Career coaching is about understanding and boosting the growth of employees. And talent scouting is about matching the organizational needs with the aspirations of people. The three go hand in hand and are the key to building a successful talent pool and offering fluid careers.



About Fabiola:

Fabiola Eyholzer (CSPO, SPC 4.0) is an expert and thought leader in Lean/Agile People Operations the 21st-century HR approach and CEO of Just Leading Solutions, a New York-based consultancy for Agile HR.

Feel free to connect with Fabiola on Twitter (@FabiolaEyholzer) or LinkedIn (


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Tags:  agile  bonus  compensation & benefits  culture  development  digital age  employee engagement  eyholzer  future of work  hiring  human resources  learning  people operations  practices  principles  reward  scrum  talent  talent acquisition  talent management  transformation  values  work trends 

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Shifting to Iterative Performance Flow (Agile HR – Q&A Series Part 2)

Posted By Fabiola Eyholzer, Thursday, November 24, 2016
Updated: Monday, November 21, 2016

Shifting to Iterative Performance Flow (Agile HR – Q&A Series Part 2)

This post is part of the Q&A Series: Agile Leadership Webinar «Agile HR | People Operations».

We recently hosted Agile HR expert Fabiola Eyholzer for our Agile Leadership Webinars. In response to the high interest, Eyholzer is answering an aggregation of the great questions we received from participants during the webinar. Click here to watch full webinar

In Part 2, Eyholzer answers your questions about performance management in Agile organizations. If you have a question you would like featured in our Q&A Series, please submit to

Performance cycles are generally annual or semiannual. What cycles are appropriate in an Agile world?

Considering the accelerated pace of today’s business world, it is increasingly difficult to set meaningful goals on an annual or even semiannual basis. We need shorter cycles with an optimal balance of responsiveness, predictability, and reliability. Iterations are the new performance cycles.

Many organizations are doing away with the bell curve. What are your thoughts?

I absolutely agree. Bell curves (a.k.a. forced distribution, staked rankings) are demotivating, unnecessarily aggressive, and damaging to human relationships. Ten percent of Fortune 500 companies have already eliminated employee appraisals. Among them is GE the original champion of the bell curve.

Can eliminating appraisals demotivate a good employee from giving her best?

Quite the opposite. Objectives are replaced by meaningful stories, annual reviews become an ongoing dialogue, and improvement plans turn into interactive learning and growth. By doing this, we are engaging with people on a completely different level. That is inspiring for people and taps into their intrinsic motivation.

What is the most effective way to evaluate and get feedback of an employee?

In Agile, we don’t want to “evaluate” people. Instead we want to be forward-looking and focus on strengths. What we want to do with employees is more important than what we think of them. Every people leader must be able to answer questions like, “What would we do if that person quit today? Would we try to keep them and if yes, what would it take?” That requires them to have regular dialogue to discuss personal learning and growth potentials.

What do you mean by continuous feedback?

Relentless improvement is an integral part of any learning organization. Feedback conversations cannot only take place once or twice a year. We need to fundamentally increase the frequency but also the intensity and quality of feedback. That means shaping a culture of mutual respect where candid dialogue and continuous feedback is consistently happening. Feedback comes in different forms and structures. But feedback is not something only given from manager to subordinate. The power of feedback is in everyone’s hand.

Do you think 360-degree feedback could successfully take over traditional appraisal?

No, it cannot. A 360-degree approach is often lengthy and inadequate. We assume that ratings measure the performance of the rate, but they actually reveal more about the rater. Studies show that 62% of a rating depends on the individual rater. The actual performance only accounts for 21%A 360-degree approach with many raters does not rectify that it remains an inadequate appraisal.

What criteria should be used to evaluate people and teams in an Agile setting?

The focus is no longer on assessing individual goals and looking back. Performance flow is about continuous improvement not only on a personal but also on an enterprise level (a part neglected in traditional performance appraisals). Agile ceremonies like reviews and retrospectives are all about inspecting and adapting.

We measure results to understand where we stand and whether we are moving into the right direction. It also helps us be accountable. Key performance indicators (KPIs) become indicators again. And we don’t measure things to set compensation and shape a career. An example: Velocity is an invaluable indicator. But it makes terrible appraisal criteria for compensation and promotions. That is why we decouple performance management from HR instruments.

If we have seven business units, and each unit has its own portfolio manager, how does HR evaluate each portfolio performance? What are the criteria to do that?

It is not the task of HR to evaluate (portfolio) performance. This is the responsibility of Agile Teams and teams of teams. As criteria, they choose a set of metrics that gives them the data needed to continuously inspect and adapt.

What role would HR play in helping individuals improve their performance, if any?

We empower people to be in charge not only of their work but also of their own development. That is why HR takes a supporting role. HR assists leaders, acts as career coach to employees, and provides active learning platforms. The latter includes embedding knowledge building into the work flow. Examples of this are FedEx Days, hackathons, Wicked Wednesdays, etc.

How do you report someone who is not engaging or acting as part of the team? How do you handle situations where an individual negatively influences the team?

Performance (and behavioral) issues must be dealt with immediately there is no point in waiting for an annual review to come up. Agile Teams often handle challenges directly or, if need be, engage the help of their ScrumMaster or Agile coach. Other cases are escalated to the manager, and he or she must act. And, yes, this may mean transitioning people to a different team or releasing them back into the work space. Such a decision cannot be delayed (the motto is: “Hire slow, fire fast”).

What type of paperwork do you provide or fill out for performance reviews via iterations? And how does HR collect the data?

There are different types and levels of documentation and not everything is reported to HR. Ongoing feedback between manager and subordinate, as well as among peers, is between the involved parties. We want the focus to be on the feedback part, not the implications it has on any HR instruments. Agile Teams document some information in their retrospective; other interactions go undocumented. More structured feedback loops typically only involve a message to HR that the conversation or exchange has taken place. HR is not privy to the details. But HR is documenting the individual learning and growth profiles.

What kind of transition do you recommend?

An iterative approach. It starts by analyzing the current process, clarifying the reasons for change, and describing the desired outcome. The book Below Expectations: Why Performance Appraisals Fail in the Modern Working World and What to Do Insteadby Armin Trost, provides valuable tips to guide that discussion. This helps to identify and verify possible methods that might work for the organization. Any chosen solution must be aligned with their corporate values and Agile/people approach. 


Fabiola Eyholzer (CSPO, SPC 4.0) is an expert and thought leader in Lean/Agile people operations the 21st-century HR approach and CEO of Just Leading Solutions, a New York-based consultancy for Agile HR.

Feel free to connect with Fabiola via Twitter (@FabiolaEyholzer) or LinkedIn ( 

Tags:  Agile  bonus  compensation & benefits  culture  digital age  employee engagement  eyholzer  flow  future of work  hiring  human resources  learning  people operations  performance management  practices  principles  reward  scrum  talent  talent acquisition  transformation  values  work trends 

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The Mindset of a ScrumMaster

Posted By Meghan Robinson, Wednesday, August 31, 2016

I have been familiar with the Scrum method for developing software for a number of years. Scrum is a simple tool: it defines just a few meetings, artifacts, and roles. So the basic mechanics of scrum are easy to pick up. Using Scrum to its fullest potential, however, requires a much deeper understanding.

One area I have struggled with is the role of ScrumMaster. The basic responsibilities are straight-forward, consisting of activities like facilitating meetings, dealing with impediments, and updating burndown charts. But, like Scrum, it is not a question of what to do as ScrumMaster but how to go about doing it. Over the past few years when I have had opportunities to interact with experienced ScrumMasters, I have noticed that they seem to have a different mindset when it comes to dealing with teams, especially in regards to the Agile principle of self-organizing teams.

So I was excited recently to have the opportunity to take a ScrumMaster course from Mark Levison. I made it my goal in the course to learn more about the mindset of great ScrumMasters and I wanted to share what I learned.

Growing a High Performance Team

One key insight I had came from a comment by Mark that Scrum is a method of growing a high performance team. On the surface, Scrum seems to be about producing a product, and thus it would make sense that the ScrumMaster's goal is to guide the team in creating a great product. But when you view Scrum as really being about building a great team, then the role of the ScrumMaster shifts correspondingly to that of helping the team grow and improve. This is, I believe, at the heart of what being a great ScrumMaster is.

The implication of this is that the ScrumMaster tries to minimize what they do directly and instead helps the team do things for themselves. Below are some examples of doing this that were discussed in the course:

  • When dealing with impediments, the ScrumMaster should only directly work on them as a last resort. First, see if the team can handle the impediment on their own. If not, then see if the team can be coached through the resolution. Usually the only impediments that the ScrumMaster will take on themselves are external organizational problems far beyond the scope of the team. For example, if the team is having a problem with how a separate operations team is doing deployments, then rather than the ScrumMaster talking to ops on their own, bring along a team member, introduce them to the ops team, and enable them to work out their issues with ops directly.

  • Prefer asking socratic questions of the team instead of telling the team what to do. For example, if the daily scrum is taking too long and is not focused enough, then rather than telling the team what to do raise this issue with the team, perhaps offering some suggestions, and let the team decide what to do.

By helping a team to do things on their own you build up their mastery, and by letting a team make their own decisions you build up their autonomy. Mastery and autonomy are two of the three drivers of internal motivation as per the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. If you always tell a team what to do and how to do it, they will not only fail to develop initiative but will develop a dependency upon you to provide all the answers, thus losing their innate initiative.

Servant Leader

I have heard the ScrumMaster role described as a servant leader. The ScrumMaster does not manage the team nor has formal authority over the team. Instead, they act as a humble steward supporting the team and product owner as depicted in the inverted organizational chart below.

Part of being a good leader is removing obstructions and obstacles from the way of the team and acting as a shield to protect the team from outside interference. This is part of being a ScrumMaster, but there is more to it than just this. For example, Mark described how one method he uses to assess a team is to sit in the team area and simply watch and listen as the team does their work. The following questions provide some examples of things to look for:

  • How often are team members interacting with one another? Or do they stay silent in their cubicles?

  • Who communicates with who? Do developers only talk to developers, or do they talk to the product owner (or business analyst)?

  • What is the tone of the communication? How do testers communicate defects to developers and how do the developers respond? Are people positive or frustrated?

  • How many interruptions are there from people external to the team?

This practice struck me as being identical to the Toyota principle of Genchi Genbutsu, translated as "go and see at the place where the work is done".

Continuous Improvement

Teams do not start off as high performing. Only through continual improvement can teams reach this state. Therefore a key responsibility of ScrumMasters is to cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and to encourage ongoing growth. Some tips for doing this:

  • Put effort into the retrospective agenda to tailor it to the needs of the team and to adjust the activities from time to time to keep the energy level within the meeting high.

  • Follow up on improvements identified within the retrospective to ensure they are actioned.

  • When observation of the team indicates that changes are necessary, try suggesting the smallest change that will lead to improvement. Smaller changes cause less resistance and are easier to adopt.

  • Encourage lots of experiments. Having the team commit to only trying a change for a limited period of time and then being able to evaluate afterwards whether to keep or discard the change overcomes a lot of resistance and can help cut through a lot of the debate over whether to adopt a change or not.

  • Coach team members one-on-one regarding individual needs.

In conclusion, the ultimate objective of the ScrumMaster is to put themselves out of a job by elevating the team to such a high level of performance that they can take over all the ScrumMaster responsibilities.

This article was originally posted on Basil Vandegriend: Professional Software Development 

Tags:  agile  continuous improvement  corporate culture  leadership  Scrum  team 

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