Fast HRM Part 2: It’s About Fostering Trust and Doing Business Fast

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May 11, 2011

Editor’s note: This is part of a series on Fast HRM, which is devoted to the goal of starting a movement to speed up HRM work and improve organizational performance. The first article (The Fast HRM Movement: It’s All About Energy, Performance, Success) which introduces this line of work, can be found here.

By Theresa M. Welbourne, PhD

The Fast HRM work introduced in an earlier TLNT article discussed ways that HRM can borrow from agile and extreme programming to simplify tasks and rethink how to deliver HRM work differently and faster.

The first principle focused on innovation in HRM. Innovation requires courage.

The second principle is about trust in HRM. Before going into more detail on trust, the next section provides some basic information about agile and extreme programming, which as mentioned earlier, is part of the basis for the Fast HRM movement.

Introduction to agile and extreme programming

The concept of extreme programming grew out of frustration with what is called the waterfall approach to software development. This involved long development cycles, with final product delivered late and not meeting customer needs.

In the early 1990s, the concept of extreme programming arose as an alternative solution. The methodology requires smaller and frequent releases of software, reviewed with customers, in order to make rapid changes and deployments. The result was significant improvement to quality and output in addition to much improved client relationships.

Software developed using extreme (or agile) programming resulted in the development of a product that was more responsive to clients and in synch with their organization’s current business challenges.

Extreme Programming applied to HR Management

The extreme programming methodology offers a viable alternative for organizing an HR function and for doing HR work. The focus of extreme programming is on being close to the customer, gathering requirements on a frequent basis, customizing products for customer needs, and then building new products in an ongoing, highly interactive process. According to Lowell Lindstrom and Ron Jeffries:

Extreme programming is a discipline of software development based on values of simplicity, communication, feedback and courage.”

Programmers have simplified the planning and work cycle to deliver faster, better and in a way that supports today’s business cycles.

Programming teams work together to deliver smaller but integrated releases that meet the needs of their customers. Customer requirements are well understood because programmers talk to customers every few weeks (in some cases daily).

The interactive nature of the conversation is an important part of what makes extreme programming models work. Programmers interact with customers in a way that moves the product forward continually. The results have been success in deploying software with less errors and that more accurately meets the needs of clients.

Why apply extreme programming to HRM?

To date, we have applied agile and extreme programming to business strategy overall, strategic HRM, to new product development and deployment in HRM, and to employee survey work. The use of extreme programming in the strategy making process in general, and then to product development within HR and HR strategy, emerged from two separate areas of work.

First, since 1993 our research team has been conducting a number of large-scale research studies examining what it takes to survive and grow a firm in very high change conditions. The work involved thousands of firms studied over three, five, and 10 year time periods, predicting firm performance outcomes such as stock price growth, earnings growth, and firm survival.

This work focused not just on the role of change management but rate of change. We found that as rate of change escalated, the people management issues became more critical.

As a result, the role of HR, and, the impact of good and bad HR decisions, all are magnified as the rate of change goes up. This work then led to a number of intensive case studies, where learning about leadership and HR process supplemented the big picture, multi-firm studies.

Second, while doing the case study work I spent considerable time with high technology, fast-growth firms; it was in the midst of doing this work that I learned about extreme programming. As the entire research stream evolved, it led to the need for tangible interventions.

Thus, the issues discussed in this article and in related work come from merging the big research on what drives firm performance with the case study learning and extreme programming proven tools and processes.

Fast HRM principle #2 is about trust, and there are three stories or issues shared on that topic in this article.

Learning about trust from CHRO Sandy Ogg

Last year I attended the Human Resource People and Strategy (formerly HR Planning Society) conference. In one of the keynote presentations, Sandy Ogg, who at the time was Chief Human Resource Officer at Unilever, talked about a dramatic transformation that his HRM organization underwent. In his presentation, he demonstrated the importance of trust within the HRM team.

This is not a “touchy-feely” story about people liking each other; it’s about doing business fast.

Sandy’s observation was that a lot of HR practitioners were slow when HR professionals lacked trust in each other. That lack of trust led to a lot of rework. He used the example of a relay race to share what he thought was getting in the way of Fast HRM.

Rather than passing the baton from one to another to win (as one would do in a relay race), lower levels of trust led to team members wasting time. Rather than grabbing the baton and moving forward to win the race, people stopped to question the person who had the baton.

The baton was not passed quickly; instead, the two people had to talk about the process, get all the facts straight, and in the meantime, they were way behind and not moving forward fast enough. To go fast, the baton has to be passed without stopping to question and look backwards.

In the transformation that took place at Unilever, Sandy and his team sped up the HR processes by working on the relationships in their HR team and building trust. They made sure processes could move forward fast and that the HR department could pass the baton quickly to move the HR work and win.

Centers of excellence and the “left over” non-excellent people

Recently, I’ve been involved with a number of HR transformations where the HR function moved to centers of excellence (COE). This process is interesting in that it creates a two-tier culture – the excellent people and the “general” or “other” people. I may be alone in this observation, but it appears to me that the movement to centers of excellence, in many firms, quickly is reducing trust within HR.

With this one broad organization process, HR declares one group more important or wiser than the others. This sets off new values and processes that lead to friction between the center of excellence elite and the rest of the organization. Think about the words and labels used – excellent vs. general (for HR generalist).

If one follows the logic and if HR centers of excellence leads to distrust, then they will inevitably result in slower HRM. This is only a hypothesis at this stage, and I would very much like to hear from organizations that have lived with COEs for some time to learn the good and the bad associated with this organizational design.

At this point I can only say that my hypothesis is supported by a number of interviews validating the observation. However, interviews are not representative of the overall population so more work needs to be done on this topic. If centers of excellence or any other organization structure do result in lower trust, then we suspect Fast HRM will not take hold in these organizations.

Building client trust and going faster at non-HRM work

What better way for HRM to build trust with their internal clients (employees, managers, leaders) and external clients (vendors, partners, community, government) than to ask for feedback and ideas about HRM deliverables?

Rather than telling clients what they should have and how they should be getting HR products, the Fast HRM methodology requires HR to ask for feedback early and then frequently as any HR product is developed. Through highly interactive work with HRM’s clients, new HR products evolve, and the degree of customization increases.

Interaction is not just at the design phase, but also at multiple HR product design stages. There is an abundance of research showing that trust is built with communications; thus, when HR starts to communicate more with its clients (listening more than telling in this case), levels of trust with these customers will improve.

When HRM starts building more trusting relationships with clients, then the Fast HRM work can move beyond HR products. Managers and leaders, who are dependent on people for every single initiative they run, will start asking HR to help make their projects more efficient.

Fast HRM is not just about the HRM department

This is a critical point in learning about Fast HRM. It is NOT just about the HRM department.

Yes, in order to teach Fast HRM practices to others, one has to use the methodology. However, Fast HRM should be used to speed up any organizational initiative that involves people, and today, that covers most likely all the work that your organizations deliver.

For more resources on Fast HRM, go to and look at the articles and links to webinars on the Fast HRM work. If you are interested in a half day or full-day program on Fast HRM, contact us at

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