In recent years, there has been a movement within the HR industry towards what is known as ‘Agile HR’. This term refers to an approach to HR that is more flexible and responsive to change. It is based on the principles of the Agile Manifesto, which was originally created for software development.
So, what is agile HR? Agile HR is a term that is used to describe the application of agile principles to the HR function. It is about being responsive to change and adapting to the needs of the business. This approach is becoming increasingly popular as organizations strive to be more agile and responsive to the ever-changing business environment.
Agile HR involves moving away from traditional, bureaucratic HR systems and processes and adopting a more flexible, customer-centric approach. This means creating an HR function that is aligned with the company’s business strategy and can adapt quickly to changes in the marketplace.
If you are interested in learning more about agile HR, then keep reading!
What Is Agile HR?
The question that might cross one’s mind is, “Does agile work in HR?” The simple answer to this question is ‘yes.’
The Agile HR model states that the human resources job is not just limited to implementing controls, standards, compliance, and driving execution. But it is to facilitate, steer, and improve HR and organizational agility.
It’s worth noting that driving agility means steering programs that create adaptability, innovation, collaboration, and speed.
Agile HR is an innovative way of rethinking and redefining the HR function by moving away from the traditional HR operating model.
It focuses on cross-collaborating between and within different functional, project, or program teams (including HR) to deliver user-friendly value and experience to stakeholders (internal and external). Iterative feedback is yet another crucial component in Agile HR.
It simplifies how recruitment and other aspects of the human resources function operate to improve processes and harness agility, thus transforming HR and the organization.
Moreover, Agile HR practitioners have the flexibility and opportunity to contribute to the overall experience of the workforce.
In a nutshell, one can safely conclude that Agile HR is a drift from traditional HR’s rigid rules into a simpler model driven by feedback from everyone involved, from customers to employees to management.
One may wonder why this drift and transformation is happening now anyway? Why are organizations looking to suddenly include Agile in their way of doing things?
It is because of the fast, innovative world we live in and because user-driven or customer-centric models are better suited to be adaptable in the short term.
Agile for HR
Agile for HR (human resources) is a term used to apply the agile methodology, principles, and values to the HR function within an organization. Agile for HR aims to improve the effectiveness of HR processes and make them more responsive to the needs of the business.
In recent years, Agile for HR has been gaining popularity as more organizations have begun to embrace the agile ways of working in Human Resources. There are numerous benefits of practicing agile for HR, like enhanced collaboration and communication between and within HR teams and other functions and increased flexibility in delivering value and experience to customers (candidates, employees, and other stakeholders).
Why Agile is important in HR?
It’s important to realize that agile is the only solution in today’s fast-changing world. The core philosophy of agile is to deliver value to customers.
In HR, candidates, employees, and stakeholders are the customers. Multidisciplinary teams must collaborate to deliver value to the workforce and clients.
However, the transition to agile is not easy, as it requires discipline and perseverance. Agile is about adjusting and modifying. It is a journey.
Joe McCollum, a senior adviser to McKinsey, says, “In agile, you get back control; your voice is listened to, you help shape the work, you help shape the team dynamics. Everybody’s a doer, and you are much closer to the action than the traditional hierarchy.”
In the old traditional model, hierarchies cause people to not be in control of their work, and this acts as a barrier to change. The old model doesn’t encourage fluidity – a must in today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) and BANI (brittle, anxious, non-linear, and incomprehensible) business world.
Agile is pro-fluidity, and it requires the HR processes to be perfectly tuned such that people make decisions and act quickly. This is an antithesis to the people processes that move people hierarchically through the traditional structure, thus delaying the decision-making process and actions in delivering value.
Hence, “people processes across a flatter organizational structure, with reduced silos, require a different HR approach.” (McCollum J, 2021)
Comparing and contrasting traditional HR and Agile HR is vital to understanding why agile is important in HR.
Traditional HR versus Agile HR
Transactional (or traditional) HR processes involve routine employee life-cycle management and general administration. The structure is hierarchical, and the work style is pre-defined.
Traditional HR always takes a top-down approach, and the roles are standard and siloed. Traditional HR is grounded more in a reactive stance towards employees, reactive to employee requests and disciplinary issues.
In contrast, Agile HR takes more of a ‘proactive’ and holistic approach. The purpose is to deliver value to stakeholders and maximize their experience journey. Agile HR prioritizes collaboration and co-creation, feedback, and innovation.
The below visual provides an overview of traditional HR versus Agile HR.
What is the modern name for HR?
If Agile HR is the way forward for the coming years, it is crucial to elevate HR to something more holistic and value-centered. Enter People Operations (or PeopleOps).
People Operations, as a function and industry, doesn’t consider employees as resources but values them as an organization’s competitive advantage.
It invests in the development, engagement, and enrichment of employees. People Operations considers the employee life cycle an integrated unified journey instead of a siloed one.
Enter Agile PeopleOps that can be interchanged with Agile HR in the rest of the sections in the article.
Benefits of Agile HR (Agile PeopleOps)
Agile HR (People Operations) is the new paradigm for current and next-gen HR. It requires a few shifts in the mindset, as illustrated in the Agile HR (People Operations) Manifesto.
When practiced, the Manifesto will yield the benefits (or value realization) at the individual, team, and organizational levels, as depicted in the visual below.
The Agile Manifesto for HR (PeopleOps) takes a global perspective and uncovers better ways of developing an engaging and enriched people experience by practicing and helping others practice it.
Team of teams over traditional hierarchies: Companies must bid goodbye to hierarchical-based organizations and welcome opportunities to create a synergistic network of teams, enabling organizations to adapt and innovate quickly in a VUCA and BANI world.
Growth mindset over fixed mindset: A growth mindset sees failure as a motivating springboard for advancement and mastery. Organizational members, including the top echelon, leaders, and HR, must embrace a mindset that helps them embark on learning agility.
Coaching culture over command-and-control: Leaders and managers must be the drivers for building an intentional coaching culture by enabling team members and teams to realize their potential.
Transcultural competence over cultural competence: To navigate the cultural dilemmas and differences in various socio-cultural settings, members must develop transcultural competence – the ability to recognize, respect, reconcile and realize the cultural dilemmas.
The Agile HR (PeopleOps) Manifesto attempts to break through the Agile manifesto barriers and calls for intentional change. It demands leaders and People Operations practitioners to embrace challenges, improve mastery, be more transparent, and coach one another through feedforward and feedback.
Implementing the Manifesto and the Agile HR methodology – Agile PeopleOps Framework – has multiple benefits.
- Increased cross-functional collaboration and co-creation
- Prioritization and transparency
- Streamlined and value-driven PeopleOps processes
- Regular check-ins and iterative feedback
- Regular cadences and continuous improvements
- Enhanced human experience (HX)
Agile Human Resources Approach
HR leaders and teams need to create an integrated HR-Business solution by focusing on individual competence and organizational work processes, workplace culture, and climate.
Agile HR doesn’t limit HR roles to administrative capacities; instead, they should develop T-shaped capabilities – having a deep knowledge of any given HR function with the capabilities to work across different disciplines.
Leadership teams should let go of control, provide more autonomy to teams, and build an environment of psychological safety to encourage individuals to experiment and learn from failures. Leaders and HR professionals need to nurture human experience and harness coaching culture. It is in fact the job of authority figures to make sure their employees and subordinates are happy and satisfied with all things relating to the workplace and its duties.
According to an article by Ashley Brooks, “Ensuring employee satisfaction is an important part of many HR roles. Most companies don’t want to be known for having an unpleasant work environment that employees can’t stand.” Unhappy employees don’t put any organization in the best of positions for one; customers lose faith in your service or product. Such a reputation affects recruitment as most employees might stir clear of such work environments.
Authority figures need to move away from micro-managing tactics and look toward getting results rather than dictating how employees get to resolutions. The Agile HR approach encourages communication and trust between organization members.
Scrum Alliance and business Agility Institute state that, agile coaches’ biggest challenge in doing their jobs is leadership acting as a barrier to agility through resistance and a lack of understanding of the agile methodology. This information reinforces the importance of having authority figures not only on board with an agile transition but spearheading the process. People in positions of authority have so much influence in such situations; their taking the time to understand agile and its requirements makes the shift swift and effective.
The Agile methodology in HR also makes a clear demarcation between employee fun and well-being, once no organization or employer cared for such things in workers. Research has shown that overworked and unhappy employees make for bad business.
Agile’s focus on being human-centric and employee well-being has highlighted this difference. Fun and well-being at first glance seem like terms that are working towards the same goal but in reality, these things aren’t mutually exclusive. Companies like WeWork which went the ‘fun’ route as a form of engagement and improved work environment failed due to this lack of mutual exclusivity.
While We Work employees had leisure items on location like football tables, ping pong tables, and even alcohol at work their well-being was still criminally lacking. Many employees complained about how stressful it was to be forced to have fun all the time by an employer who demanded long hours from employees.
Fun is short-lived yet well-being is lasting. “A fun work environment provides only short-term rewards for employees. This doesn’t lead to lasting happy employees or work engagement,” says Survey Monkey. Well-being curbs issues like burnout, and stress and increases emotional resilience in employees.
The Agile HR approach is heavily implicit in technology, as the world evolves being tech-literate has become a vital skill. According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends, “as organizations become more digital, they face a growing imperative to redesign themselves to move faster, adapt more quickly, facilitate rapid learning, and embrace the dynamic career demands of their people.” Agile HR is preparing organizations and their workforce for these unavoidable changes in business and striving to make sure organizations stay ahead of the curve of progress.
Agile HR also approaches the subject of compensation in its fast-paced and evolving manner. Traditional HR works on an annual timeline for raises, market and performance evaluations, and feedback. Agile HR is in a constant state of assessing all these things which makes for better employee engagement and satisfaction and protects organizations. According to an article on the LucidChart website, “Regularly assessing your pay structures, benefits, and compensation packages can help organizations identify and reduce pay gaps, protect against wage discrimination lawsuits, and personalize compensation plans to attract and retain employee effectively.”
Traditional Hierarchies to Network of Teams
Many companies are undergoing a shift from traditional hierarchies to a network of team models. Organizations are making the educated decision to shift from authoritative traditional hierarchical systems that rule with an iron fist. With a network of teams, there is more of a collaborative approach to things that involves strategies that anticipates possible issues.
According to the Deloitte report 2017, 32% believe they are transitioning to design their organization to be more adaptable and team-centric. As per Deloitte, the top Human Capital Trend of 2018 is the rise of the ‘Symphonic C-suite’. 51% of the survey respondents rated C-suite Collaboration as very important.
The C-suite executives need to step out from their functional silos and work collaboratively across functions and departments to address organizational challenges and serve as role models for their respective functional or departmental networks of teams.
The Agile approach mandates HR be accountable and agile in functional areas, collaborate with organizational leaders to create a culture of engagement and co-creation, and ensure that this culture proceeds from the top to the operational level.
Rather than operating through a chain of bureaucracy with rigid mandates that can hinder progress in cases, having a network of teams opens the floor to a more adaptable way of working. This flexible route or work helps employees to conjure more effective tactics for projects and
Scrum and Kanban are the most common agile and lean methods used by HR teams. Scrum is a framework to manage work. It has well-defined roles, and time-boxed ceremonies and its three pillars are transparency, inspection, and adaptation. Scrum breaks down long processes in service delivery or product delivery in line with its three pillars. Scrum’s ceremonies and meetings as a whole provide teams with an opportunity to collaborate, go over items together, and resolve problems swiftly.
Kanban is a lean methodology that fosters workflow visualization and helps manage the ‘flow’ of work. Members use physical Kanban boards or digital boards like Trello, ClickUp Restya, and others to visualize the workflow. According to research conducted by Kanban University, “76% of respondents reported that Kanban was ‘effective’ or ‘more effective than other methods/frameworks they have used.”
HR practitioners use lean methods to visualize HR workflows (like recruitment, onboarding, team training, quarterly goals, and others) and have disciplined cadences to foster constructive and meaningful conversations.
For example, a Recruitment Specialist can use a Kanban tool (like Trello) to chart out the new hires’ onboarding process workflow. The board can have lists/columns like pre-onboarding, during onboarding, and post-onboarding.
For each list, the Specialist can create cards to describe the activities (like pre-onboarding may entail the team sending out forms to the new hire to sign up, setting up a training schedule, and getting his ID and badge ready).
During Scrum cadences, the cross-functional team of onboarding specialists, IT/operations team, recruiter, and other stakeholders can refer to the Trello board and have constructive conversations to celebrate wins and ideate as a team on how to reduce delays and optimize the workflow.
Organization members aren’t mere resources but are human beings who are instrumental in leveraging the organization’s competitive advantage. Research shows that an engaged and committed team can help organizations succeed and thrive.
The APF approach creates principles with a human-centered mindset and a rich agile methodology in HR. According to research done by Survey Monkey, “Happier employees are more engaged. And engaged employees show increased productivity as well as a far lower rate of absenteeism.”
The Agile HR mindset requires leaders and HR teams to use design thinking principles and techniques (like empathy mapping, brainwriting & brainstorming, storyboarding, and journey mapping) to understand their customer’s needs, motivations, and expectations to design better people-centered solutions.
To elevate the human experience, the HR teams must design a journey map to include personalized touchpoints, validate the map with new hires, incorporate the feedback, and experiment on a small scale to evaluate if the process fosters a positive candidate experience.
Agile HR understands the value of a human-centric approach to things, in any organization where people are involved their satisfaction and happiness matter. This also involves looking at trends and social matters that affect one’s human capital. While in the past employees tended to prioritize their work, research from Survey Monkey indicates that millennials and Gen-Xs are more likely to prioritize both, happiness at work and home compared to baby boomers.
The human capital of today is not looking to sacrifice one for the other when it comes to career and private life. This is an important shift organizations must adapt and factor into their structures as the human experience is constantly changing. Ignoring this would negatively affect any organization’s bottom line.
According to research, coaching culture (one of the APF manifestos) is highly correlated with an organization’s performance and employee engagement & enrichment.
To build this culture, managers need to be intentional facilitators and coaches. HRs need to provide deep-dive knowledge and support to the managers and collaborate with them as partners & co-creators to create a coaching culture.
HR teams must evaluate success in terms of employee satisfaction & engagement levels, innovation and co-creation levels, organizational trust, and integrity.
Today business is not solely about maximizing shareholders’ profits, but it’s more about providing better opportunities for more stakeholder involvement and maximizing the shareholders’ value.
Long-term business success mandates HR professionals and leaders to be people-centric. They need to put their people first and create value for internal customers (employees), external customers, and end-users, thus building a great place to work.
Frequently Ask Questions
What is Agile HR Management
Agile HR management is a new approach to HR that focuses on speed, flexibility, and collaboration. The goal of agile HR management is to create a more responsive and adaptive HR function that can quickly adapt to changes in the business environment.
What is Agile in HR
The term “agile” has become increasingly popular in recent years, especially in the business world. Agile methodology is a type of project management that is designed to be adaptable and responsive to change.
In human resources (HR), agile is a term that is used to describe the management of people in a way that is flexible and adaptable. HR professionals who work in an agile environment are constantly looking for ways to improve the process and make it more efficient.
What is Agile HR Certifications?
Agile HR Certification is a program that provides certification to Human Resources (HR) professionals who want to verify their expertise and embrace agile values, practices, and ways of working. The certification is provided by the Agile HR Consortium, which is a group of leading HR agility practitioners, researchers, and coaches.
Agile/PeopleOps certification certainly plays a key role in building one’s own People Operations or Human Capital Management career. If you plan to expand your job role or broaden your portfolio, this is the best time to do Agile PeopleOps Certification. Are you eager to adopt a learning agility journey and strengthen your professional career? If yes, connect with us, and our team will extend the necessary guidance and support. You can subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with our new and upcoming posts.