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THE STRATEGIC ADVANTAGE OF BEING AN AGILE COMPANY (First Steps)

Updated: Apr 18

Chapter 1, from Personnel to Human Resources to Agile Management Cape Town, South Africa


We are sharing Chapter 1 from the Book "The Strategic Advantages of Being An Agile Company and How to Achieve This" by Robert Bluett. This is the first step on how to start developing human capital management within an agile organisation.

"It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change." - Charles Darwin, British scientist (1809-1882)


The story: Necessity is the mother of invention.


The starting point of this journey was back in the early 1980s when my immediate superior said:

Tell me – we invested $300,000 in training this year. What was the return on that?

Thinking he wanted to know how much training we had done, I replied: We ran 187 training courses and trained 1,569 people.


No! came the reply, what was the return on our investment?

We can claim all of this as a tax rebate, I replied hopefully, thinking this might be what he was driving at.


No, came the answer again. I want to know what improvements in performance and behavior have resulted from all the training we’ve done over the past twelve months.


At last, I understood. I stood there dumbfounded, finally answering: I don’t really know.

Well then, he said, you’d better go and find out!


And that was the beginning of a journey of discovery that took me around the world to many different countries and cultures, each with its unique perspective on how to manage people. That was how I started to learn that if you want to manage, you have to measure – in other words, you need to know whether or not the improvements you intended to make have actually come to pass.



But before you accompany me on my travels, let’s backtrack a bit.


I started my career in Cape Town, South Africa, during Apartheid, under the laws of which Human Resources (HR) departments had a very limited pool from which they were allowed to recruit people for skilled positions. The corporation I worked for was in the building industry and was expanding rapidly by acquiring production companies in different parts of the world.


By the turn of the twenty-first century, the shortage of educated and experienced people was making it extremely difficult to fill the top positions in these companies. Skilled positions were exclusively limited to only people of a particular race - the "Europeans". This made attracting and selecting corporate employees exponentially more complicated.


And that was not the only problem. If changes in the market had continued their hitherto steady, gradual pace, finding and developing people would have been difficult but feasible.

The arrival of the digital era changed everything. The availability of computer-power in the workplace was not one isolated change, but the start of an era of ongoing and accelerating change which continues even today.


As a consequence, we were having to try and develop the skills of people who, through no fault of their own, lacked either the education or the fundamental ability (or both) to deal with changes at work that were both profound and continuous.


These difficulties forced companies to find creative and ingenious ways of recruiting, training, and motivating the people they needed.


Early lessons learned


The accelerating rate of change in the workplace made it much harder to predict the future. It was no longer possible to look at what had worked in the past and use it to draw a straight-line projection into the next five or ten years.


One of the first things we realized was that we needed accurate and up-to-date information on how effective (or otherwise) our existing recruitment and development processes were. We also saw the need for comparing our methods with best practices.


Fortunately, the arrival of computers in the workplace was not an entirely negative development. Yes, the digital revolution caused major upheaval, but computers also helped us find many of the solutions.


What had been time-consuming and therefore not cost-effective, now became not only cost-effective but essential to effective decision-making. This quickly became clear when it came to finding and retaining the right people. With this data at our disposal, we redesigned our performance management procedures.

Instead of piles of paper containing masses of diffuse and unstructured information needing to be laboriously transcribed by human beings, we were able to collect and analyze the data at our disposal fast enough to make useful changes in company policy.

At last, we were able to see exactly where and how employees were failing to deliver what was expected of them, as well as which employees were performing to a much higher standard than the minimum required. This information enabled us to provide on-the-job learning on one hand and rewards for individual achievement on the other.


While redesigning the HR systems of the past, I started to think of our employees as our Human Assets.


Agile Management is a set of flexible systems based on job profiles.


The job profile was at the center of our new systems for performance management, recruitment, and training. A job profile defines

  1. what has to be done

  2. how well it needs to be done

Job profiles: a design that allows for constant change


A job profile replaces its predecessor, the old-fashioned job description. In both cases, this is a document supplied by management to each employee, to clarify that employee’s function in the organization.


One consequence of a rapid, ongoing change in the marketplace is that employees are required to approach their work differently. As a result, in companies that still use job descriptions, each employee’s job description has to be updated every time a change is made to the job.

Job profiles were created to address exactly this problem: living with ongoing change.


Job profiles seek to interpret the executive committee's vision of the results it wants for the company; they, therefore, focus on the expected outcomes of the job, not on how to achieve those outcomes.


An immediate advantage of using job profiles is that as long as the company’s mission, and therefore its goals, remain unchanged, the job profiles don’t need updating, although they might be adjusted once a year when you review your company's strategic plan document. (Please read Important – read this first if you haven’t done so already!)


The expected outcomes of a job can be expressed in terms of

  • added value to the customer

  • each individual’s contribution to their team’s output

So a job profile not only focuses on expected outcomes for customers but on what the job holder will be accountable for and what kind of decisions they will be expected to make. All these factors add up to that job holder’s individual contribution.


A final advantage of the job profile is that it harmonizes the expected outcomes of each person’s job with the Key Performance Indicators in your company’s strategic plan document.


The job profile is useful not only during recruitment and job grading but in the performance management process.

A job profile is not a legal document.

The Employment Contract deals with the legal aspects of each job. There is no point trying to use the job profile to prescribe every possible aspect of the work that has to be done. Apart from anything else, this tends to foster the attitude “That’s not my job!” – in other words, “work-to-rule” – which is exactly the opposite of what a job profile seeks to achieve. One of the aims of a job profile is to create an atmosphere of collaboration and cooperation.

A job profile is not a list of tasks to be carried out.

To sum up the difference between job descriptions and job profiles, the vast majority of people employed in skilled jobs today are employed because they already know what to do. They don’t need a document telling them in fine detail how to do it! What they do need to know are the expected outcomes applicable to their area of accountability – and those are dealt with in a job profile.


The job profile plays a central role in the management of people. It is the starting point in the recruitment process and a prerequisite for performance management.

Copyright © 2018 Robert Bluett

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.

Publisher: People Plus (peopleplusco.com)

Third Edition: 2020

ISBN: 978-1-387-74575-3

To get a copy of the book, please contact us here.  

You can learn more about our management consultation services and workshops by clicking on: Management Consultation. Assertive Communication Suites. 

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