HR: Siemens’ key driver for an agile organisation

Adaptive cultures, speed of innovation, collaboration, mastering unpredictability; these are the factors most critical to business success. But while others might only just be starting to respond to this, Siemens, a global engineering powerhouse and digital pioneer focusing on electrification and automation, is meeting the challenge head on.

For the 370,000-employee corporation working in more than 200 countries, Siemens needs to ensure the adaptability of its workforce. To help achieve this goal, the company has rolled out a revolutionary applicant tracking system, across 100 countries and in 20 different languages, that has fundamentally changed the way it recruits new colleagues.

Working with technology partner Avature, this new approach takes into account the experience of every stakeholder, from recruiters and candidates, to hiring managers and talent acquisition leaders. Uniquely, it does this by introducing a completely new way of working, using an agile methodology as its basis.

Sebastian Hubert, senior HR business partner of Siemens Power and Gas, and former global head of strategy and technology for its talent acquisition team, says: “A recent report by Deloitte found 94 per cent of both business and HR leaders rate ‘agility and collaboration’ as critical to their organisation’s success. That’s why HR has to lead by example when it comes to working agile.

“We need to recruit more than 35,000 hires a year, so we knew we had to do things very differently. Revamping our technology landscape is one way we are answering this, forming a software-as-a-service, or SaaS, cloud-based solution partnership on a tight timeline of just  14 months.”

Running projects with an agile methodology is one way HR “answers a corporate problem with a non-corporate answer”, says Dr Hubert. Two factors in particular have made this project a game-changer for Siemens. The technology itself has been a key component for Siemens’ HR departments, enabling the business to make huge strides in the way it interacts and hires talent. But beyond that, it’s the agile way of working that facilitates and enables a new mindset capable of making a big difference in the  wider organisation.

It’s the agile way of working that facilitates and enables a new mindset capable of making a huge difference  in the wider organization

Dr Hubert says an additional, greater benefit is the way in which agile technology projects are now transforming HR and the organisation, to create teams that transcend traditional roles to achieve exceptional results. His talent acquisition team members were motivated by working on short-term, digestible pieces of work, known as sprints, which enable the business to operate at the necessary fast-paced speed required by a  VUCA environment.

“Most HR organisations are on a transformation journey towards revamping their technology landscape,” he says. “With this we, as the HR function, are reaching a large group of employees, both within projects and using the technology. As such, we have the chance to substantially change our employees behaviors. Running projects in an agile way is a totally new approach that is creating a sustainable impact for our business.”

Siemens began its agile talent acquisition project as part of an overall HR technology transformation just 14 month ago. While other technology projects tend to overload development teams with too much too soon, Siemens designed a “minimum viable product” approach to focus on the 80+ per cent that is vital and necessary for a fast release, rather than striving for an all-encompassing, 120 per cent solution that takes too long to get to market. Organisations should adopt this approach to meet the speed of business. Technology development needs to be seen as a journey: a constant cycle of iteration.

And, almost as quickly as it began, the wider benefits of employee empowerment began to reveal themselves. “We really focused on staffing the project with people with the right mindset rather than the ‘usual suspects’,” says Dr Hubert. “As a business, we’re always looking for dynamic, strategic people, capable of thinking of the greater good of the organization, while also able to roll up their sleeves to get the job done.

“When we apply a more agile mindset, we can see how it creates a sense of ownership and how ownership creates trust. Trust is absolutely key when your strategy is to take decisions in a more decentralised, non-hierarchical way.

“What we’ve implemented is not only technology that provides a best-in-class recruitment tool, but a partnership approach with Avature, where it too is part of our empowered  team, able to influence major decisions and capable of pushing each other forward.

“We knew we could reverse any major decisions quickly because we were working in sprints and because our agile partner Avature provides us with a very flexible technology solution that is adaptable and can be quickly tailored to our changing needs. We want to recruit outstanding talent as fast as possible without the usual business approval processes. So we actually designed our applicant tracking system, or ATS, together with Avature in a very slick and lean way.”

Dr Hubert knew it was a calculated risk. “Not having internal approval processes built into the tool, and giving up control is unusual for an organisation as big as Siemens,” he says. “But our top management backed the approach because they knew we could adjust anything we needed to with Avature.”

Not only this, Dr Hubert is certain agile projects have heightened both the visibility and strategic relevance of the HR function. He says: “We have a positive story from an HR-tool perspective, but undoubtedly all this changes the perception of HR. When you live agile HR, and you can credibly talk about running agile projects, you can truly partner the business on its way to an adaptive culture.

“Last but not least, I am immensely proud of the team who made this project happen; a team who went above and beyond the call of duty every day. It is amazing to see the personal development the HR team members have been through and how it has propelled their careers. I’ve witnessed HR colleagues who have developed from purely operational recruiters into strategic talent managers.”

In other words, this transformation isn’t just changing the way we source internal and external talent, but the mindset of HR as a whole is changing. As Dr Hubert concludes: “HR is working much more in tune with our strategic business goals. Our message to all our HR colleagues is this: use every opportunity you have to raise the bar and lead organisation change through agile projects towards an adaptive culture. You won’t be disappointed.”

For more information about Avature ATS please visit