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Agile HR: What Kind of a Beast Is It and Why Does It Matter?

Agile used to be firmly ‘a tech thing’ but now it’s becoming, somewhat nervously, ‘an HR thing’.

Some of the world’s most successful businesses – like GE, Pfizer, Deloitte, KPMG, Johnson & Johnson, P&G, IBM – are successfully harnessing agile HR, but almost everyone else lags behind.  

Until now.

This post is for you if…

  • Water-cooler talk about agile HR has you in a please-don’t-ask-me sweat
  • You get the principle of agile HR but you’re still on the fence
  • You’re firmly off the fence but aren’t sure how to start walking the walk.

Get prepared for tomorrow and keep reading to find out exactly what agile HR means, why it matters and how to push the agile agenda without endlessly smashing your head against the wall. 

What is Agile HR?

 

Harvard Business Review define agile as “a move away from a rules- and planning-based approach toward a simpler and faster model driven by feedback from participants”.

It’s about adopting the structures, attitudes, processes and tools to become more flexible, more nimble and faster in your decision-making and actions. So within the HR arena, we’re talking about changing how you hire, manage, promote and empower your people.

The Agile Manifesto gives twelve principles that underpin the agile movement which, although written for software developers, are widely applicable.

This includes ideas like:

  • Prioritizing face-to-face communication
  • Creating self-organizing teams
  • Empowering and trusting people to be their best
  • Simplifying and streamlining tasks
  • Welcoming change
  • Emphasizing constant cross-functional communication
  • Creating regular opportunities for group feedback and evolution

Then there are a collection of techniques and methodologies that help bring this agile mindset to life. The daily standup, for example, is the most common agile technique, used by 90% of respondents to the 12th State of Agile report. Sprints are another – with sprint planning used by 88%.

On the methodology side, the most common by some distance is scrum – which 56% of respondents use. The scrum methodology is simply a framework for an agile way of working, by building a feedback loop around short projects (sprints).

Tools and terms aside, agile is essentially about empowering cross-functional teams to collaborate towards excellence on short, task-based projects while reflecting on their progress and constantly growing from one project to the next.

That’s what agile HR is. Here’s why you should care.

Why Does Agile HR Matter?

 

The best way to showcase the benefits of agile HR is to explore what the key HR touchpoints might look like if you agile-ified them.    

  • Agile recruitment: You build cross-functional hiring teams for each requirement. Managers give real-time feedback so the candidate profile is adapted and agreed daily, including hard-to-quantify ideas like culture. You’re less likely to hire badly as a result, saving significant time, money and stress. You use a workflow visualization tool to track hiring progress, identify bottlenecks and monitor hiring cycles. Time-per-hire decreases dramatically. Hard-to-fill roles become easier. Everyone involved in hiring has visibility over candidates so you can spot crossovers and get the right people into the business without delay. 
  • Agile onboarding: Onboarding no longer sits solely with HR. Managers and colleagues form a cross-functional onboarding team where everyone has responsibility to get new hires on track. You use onboarding software to automate key tasks, simplify HR’s workload and seek new hires’ feedback regularly. New hires are engaged and supported to become more productive, more quickly. Existing employees lose less time to the new hire learning curve, so overall organization productivity increases.
  • Agile performance management: Your people use continuous performance management software to give feedback on people they work with, (sideways and upwards, as well as down), project by project. This continuous data forms the backbone for regular check-ins, which replace the outdated and ineffective annual appraisal. Managers co-set goals with employees rather than top-down annual goal-setting that can’t adapt to change. Managers are empowered to add genuine value with meaningful performance management; employees get the support to grow.
  • Agile rewards and recognition: You recognize good performance and can offer rewards and recognition in real-time. Better benefits mean your people are better motivated and so more productive and higher-performing. You track market rates and adjust your own compensation regularly to stay competitive, which has a fantastic effect on your employer brand. You create a culture of retention, which means hiring becomes easier and you keep people longer and your business gets the talent that powers commercial success. 
  • Agile learning and development: You analyze data to understand the skill gaps in your organization and get the right people into the right training so they can grow the skills to grow the business. Your training spend is more efficient because you can allocate training accurately, so you can achieve more with the same. You have a digital training platform that delivers engaging, flexible training that’s tailored to real-world scenarios, so employees learn better, faster. Employees can easily track their progress, highlight goals, request training sessions and book face-to-face appointments where needed.

That’s why agile HR matters. Because agile HR can improve every. single. metric. you care about, not just overarching business metrics. Because the world of work has changed. And technology has changed. So today, agile HR is a much better way of doing things.

So let’s finally address the big question. How?

How Do You Put Agile Into Action? 

 

There’s admittedly some resistance to agile HR, including a not-insignificant amount from HR itself. Deep change across systems, processes and people is needed, which can be difficult to confront and can put people off. 

Indeed, the 12th State of Agile report shares the three biggest obstacles to agile, and all three refer to cultural difficulties: 

  • 53% - organizational culture is at-odds with agile values
  • 46% - general organizational resistance to change
  • 42% - inadequate management support and sponsorship

To move forwards you’ll need a convincing business case to build HR influence and secure senior buy-in from leaders who can champion change from the top-down and start shifting cultural reluctance.

You’ll also need your own people to recognize the need for change, because HR will desperately need re-skilling to meet these new demands. People who won’t change will eventually become obsolete. 

Then the practical side. Agile HR is as much about the tools and technologies that facilitate an agile mindset as the mindset itself. Which means you need to invest into the right tools to drive changethe most helpful factor in scaling agile for 41% of 12th State of Agile respondents.

As with any initiative, your best bet is to start small to prove concept before you scale.

To start embracing agile HR, you don’t need to transform recruitment, onboarding and L&D in one fell swoop. Instead pick the touchpoint you believe will deliver maximum returns for minimum effort, trial it across one business area and learn and refine as you go.  

After all, that’s agile.

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Topics: HR
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