Reshaping Organizational Culture by Embracing Agile

In a historical moment of extremely high uncertainty and complexity, in which challenges affecting our businesses show no sign of slowing down, the HR community is facing what I call the second moment of the truth.  

The first moment of the truth, when the pandemic and lockdowns made executive boards in all organizations turn to HR for direction, provided a live assessment of HR executives’ capacity to manage unprecedented crisis. Now, our capability to really partner with the business in leading and transforming organizations is being assessed. Hybrid work, leadership effectiveness, organizational structure, and company culture are key priorities pushing HR professionals to step forward and lead the business transformation with general managers and CEOs.  


Culture as a Platform for Change 

Culture is no longer a “boring” and traditional HR topic that is up for discussion only once a year, with survey results being used to define conceptual plans. Beyond the famous quote from Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” we now have many examples of the real importance of culture in organizations and business results.  

Among others, Southwest Airlines’ business model, built around a unique culture and leadership style by Herb Kelleher, is studied in business schools. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, placed culture at the top of the list when considering a job.  

If we consider culture as the shared assumptions, values, behaviours, and artifacts that determine and reflect “how and why we do things around here”—James Heskett’s definition—it is no surprise that companies have had to change their culture following the pandemic.  

In a moment where every industry, without exception, experienced dramatic and deep transformation, company culture became a competitive asset to support organizations with strategy and constant change. Top management in all companies needed to address culture as a “platform from which all kinds of change can be executed” (Heskett).  


Agile Is Not a Fad 

Believing Agile was just a fad was one of the biggest mistakes I made as an HR professional. Now, I thank those who helped me realize Agile is not a trend, nor a methodology, but a mindset. As HR professionals, we recognize the crucial role that mindset plays in shaping organizational impact. 

One reason HR was delayed in embracing Agile is because we misunderstood it. Agile began with the Agile Manifesto in 2001 as a set of principles to help IT professionals develop better and faster solutions. The second evolutive wave took place some years later when Agile practices inspired other objectives and functions (lean management, product development, etc). Finally, the third wave began around 2010 with the extension of Agile to the rest of the organization and management aspects. 

Why is Agile so successful then? Because it is more than project management practices that help develop products faster—Agile helps organizations adapt continuously and systematically to gain and maintain competitive advantage in a changing environment.   

This is why Agile is culture: they are intrinsically linked. This key insight was missed by HR professionals until recently. We have confused the use of Agile practices, like Scrum, Kanban, or Design Thinking, with the philosophy behind them.  


Agile and HR 

There are two different roles for HR with regards to Agile. The first and most obvious is as users (Agilists). Just like marketing, product development innovation, or sales, HR can design our products (training, performance management, and so on) using Agile practices. 

The organizations we serve expect HR to bring state-of-the art solutions. This is where HRCI certifications create great value—bringing knowledge, expertise, and best-in- practices for HR professionals. And these strategies, ideas, and products, if developed and executed using Agile practices, will undoubtedly have a greater impact in employee experience and engagement, driving better business outcomes.  

However, even more crucial is HR's role as facilitators of culture, acting as Agile coaches. HR must proactively ensure the organization's leadership behaviours, principles, and values align with the Agile mindset. In this context of business acumen and organizational coaching, certifications such as SPHR, SPHRi, or GPHR provide valuable education and practices to enrich HR professionals' visions and contributions as Agile coaches and transformation champions. 


Practical Application 

Some of the reflections above, together with the challenging environment in the food industry, have inspired us at Southern European Cluster at Hero Group to embark on an exciting project to reshape our culture.  

Hero Flex, as we named it, has two main objectives: First, to design the cultural and organizational framework that will drive our business strategy. Second, to enable us to become one of the best places to work in our market.  

Rather than implementing Agile as a plug & play resource kit, we have taken the values and principles recommended by Agile experts and translated them into our own unique language and style to ensure a proper fit. We first defined the behaviours we value in our management, our people, and our organization, prioritizing concepts and traits such as purpose, goal oriented, accountability, autonomy or transparency are high on the list.  

Later, we identified champions in the organization who will help bring those behaviours into reality. It was critical to consider all levels in the company, so we not only targeted top management but also new hires and change agents: employees who have long worked at our company, embrace change in a natural way, and are perceived by their coworkers as positive. They are “cultural influencers” whose opinions and attitudes are impactful within the organization. We empowered these cultural influencers with training to influence the organization in embracing the new culture.  

Our successful journey toward becoming one of the best places to work continues with actions grouped in three pillars that structure Hero Flex: how we manage ourselves (Corporate Governance), how we structure ourselves (Winner Structure) and how we work and behave (Culture and WOW) with a clear focus on Employee Experience.  

Our journey toward becoming one of the best places to work continues with Hero Flex, which is structured around three pillars: Corporate Governance, Winner Structure, and Culture and WOW. These pillars focus on how we manage ourselves, how we structure ourselves, and how we work and behave, with a clear emphasis on enhancing the employe experience. 


Agile’s Impact on Growth and Success 

Adopting an Agile mindset in HR can have a significant impact on an organization's culture and employee experience. At Southern European Cluster at Hero Group, we have successfully implemented Hero Flex, a project that has enabled us to reshape our culture on our journey to become one of the best places to work in our market. By embracing an Agile mindset, we have been able to drive change and create a more employee-centric organization. My SPHRi certification has served me well in supporting my organization through this period of transformation and success. As HR professionals, we can benefit from HRCI certifications such as SPHRi to gain the insights and expertise needed to drive Agile growth in our organizations. 


Juan Tinoco, SPHRi, is an experienced HR executive who has worked at top companies such as Procter & Gamble, Red Bull, and LG Electronics. He currently serves as the HR Director of Southern Europe & Group HRBP Baby Toddler Food & Snacks at Hero Group and is also an HRCI Ambassador. In addition to his professional duties, Juan mentors new HR professionals, writes books and articles on HR topics, and enjoys playing rugby in his free time.