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The way toward an agile communications department - Step 4: People

Agile people management

People management certainly is one of the main challenges of the agile transformation. Usually, considering the implications of these HR-related aspects team comes to mind too late. Instead, it is important to think about how to enable your team to work in a more agile setup through adapted people management tools right from the start of your transformation. 

Communication departments that pursue an agile transformation have to refocus their people management in three main areas:


Job rotation and role switch

  • To address the interconnected and interdependent nature of content production and distribution in communication, as well as to allow for people to work most effectively and efficiently, employees in agile structures often take on different roles (role switch) and tasks (job rotation) at the same time.
  • This can quickly lead to leadership and role conflicts as well as complex matrix structures with unclear hierarchies and reporting lines. Also information gaps can be a result of the constant change of personnel on certain jobs, roles and functions.
  • To meet these challenges, it is important to set a framework in which role profiles and task descriptions are clearly defined.


Competence management and training

  • In an increasingly dynamic and flexible work environment, lifelong learning opportunities are necessary in order to tackle the challenges of job rotation and role switch.
  • Companies must provide a work environment that facilitates learning and actively supports individual learning processes for their employees in order to promote self-efficacy and lifelong employability. 
  • There are no one-size-fits-all solutions for this – all employees should be provided with solutions tailored to their specific needs.
  • To provide a better overview of the existing and required skills as well as any qualification requirements resource management and a skills and competencies database makes sense. 


Careers and incentives

Agile reorganization often goes hand in hand with removing hierarchical levels and democratization of decision-making processes. It is challenging to provide alternative career paths and incentives for motivated employees.

  • Establish expert career paths: career development will be more lateral rather than horizontal, linked to a certain kind of expertise and areas of interest.
  • Lateral development: Giving the staff the opportunity to try out different areas and media channels, learn from peers, prove themselves in prominent projects.
  • Individual motivation: Every person is motivated differently. In the past decade, the general trend was to reduce monetary incentives in favor of non-monetary ones such as praise or recognition, suggestions schemes or job enrichment.
  • Spot-Boni: Even in agile work environments many employees prefer monetary incentives. Thus, it is important that any monetary incentive schemes are designed to support the overall value creation process and go hand in hand with agile principles of work.


You can find further information und case studies here:


About the research project

  • The research project was headed by Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass and Dr. Lisa Dühring at Leipzig University. It was carried out from July 2017 to July 2020 and used a multi-faceted approach. 
  • Thirty-eight interviews were conducted with chief communication officers and senior communication managers from multinational companies that provided insight into the impact of agility on corporations and their communication departments today.
  • Ten case studies have been conducted in selected companies that have different levels of experience with agility. Overall, 92 interviews were conducted, each of which lasted approximately an hour with a diverse range of personnel, including CCO board members, heads of strategy, senior communication executives, junior communication staff, human resource managers, agile coaches, and other employees related to the agile transformation. 
  • In addition to the interviews, we also gathered insights during informal conversations and by attending several workshops and meetings. We also analyzed the documents made available to us.
  • Finally, the compiled knowledge was bundled to describe a five-step change process that visualizes the most important steps of the agile transformation.

Key findings

  • Step 1:  Create a work and management culture, in which the agile transformation can take place. This can be realized by a change of the workplace to support collaboration, creativity and flexibility. On the other hand, it requires a leadership culture that focuses on trust, empowerment and self-management.
  • Step 2: Implement the right working platform in an agile project organization. This does not imply restructuring the department's organizational chart, but rather focusing on the team- and cross-departmental work. This can be encouraged by using agile tools and methods.
  • Step 3: Old departmental structures and hierarchies have to be adjusted or even dissolved. It is necessary to review established power and management structures so that the agile transformation can be sustainable. 
  • Step 4: When hierarchies and management positions are eliminated and employees are confronted with changing tasks, a new compensation and incentive system is needed. As well career paths and competence management must be designed differently.
  • Step 5: The performance management must be adapted. Previous approaches are too inflexible to take into account the volatility of today's working reality. In the future, performance evaluation at shorter intervals at team level will play a greater role. At the same time, it is important to critically question constantly which dimensions of agility really make sense for a department. Agility should never become an end in itself.