What is Agile HR – How Can You Get Started

The future of work and agile hr is a global buzz, and they are here.

To develop a diverse, inclusive and sustainable workforce ecosystem, the role of the human resources (HR) must evolve and transform. Yet, many companies still practice the traditional and transactional HR that fails to equip leaders and HR professionals with the capabilities essential to meet today’s business turbulence and challenges.

The HR will need to serve as change champions and take the lead to develop a nimble and agile workforce ecosystem.

What Is Agile HR

As the name suggests, Agile HR is the application of “agility” to the function of Human Resource Management.

Agility here means developing agile and responsive management practices that include frequent feedback loops, and engaging teams in short work cycles and frequent retrospectives.

The concept of “agile methodology” came into being during the 1990s in the area of software development. The developers wanted a flexible (agile) solution to the stumbling blocks they were facing in the process of software development.

Over time, it has become a widely recognized management method across various functions, departments, and industries, adopting a proactive approach rather than a reactive one.

Agile HR is the Need of the Hour

In today’s 21st century volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) world, continuous change is the only constant.

Business leaders and Human Resources (HR) practitioners need to embrace a mindset shift.

They need to expand their abilities to navigate through the flow of challenges (internal and external), anticipate change, and make informed decisions to develop purpose and direction for their business.

Leaders and practitioners can make a significant impact in various functions/departments, business units, and the overall business by blending lean, agile, and design thinking principles/practices.

Companies like McKinsey, Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and others have conducted extensive global research and the findings show that organizations should be redesigned to be more agile responsive.

In today’s twenty-first-century business era, adapt to change and organizational agility are critical for business success and sustainability.

Some companies have begun to embrace an agile operating model and emulate lean-to-agile practices to manage their projects across different functions and industries.

This has led to user-driven approaches such as working in short cycles called ‘iterations’ or ‘sprints’, for continuous feedback and continuous improvement.

Agile Way of Working

To respond to the VUCA world, C-suite and business leaders need to adopt an agile operating model and make an intentional effort to build an agile organization. The attributes of an agile organization are shown in Exhibit 1.

Agile Human Resources

Companies are moving away from HR as an administrative and operational function to HR as a more strategic, agile, and people engagement function, and are implementing nimbler practices in their HR function & processes, thus transitioning to Agile.

The HR processes like recruitment, performance management, and learning and development are being redesigned based on an agile mindset and Agile HR principles.

HR leaders and practitioners are realizing that the Agile HR operating model can help them to respond better to a business need by setting priorities and operating as a self-organizing, cross-collaborative team driven by a common purpose and concrete goals.

Understanding Agile HR practices and applying the agile way of working helps teams to work better in a more structured & streamlined way, which in turn fosters work optimization and agility within the HR function.

The paradigm shift to Agile Human Resources is evolving at a global level and is transforming work and the workplace.

To make this shift meaningful, impactful, and sustainable, it is important for the leaders, HR practitioners, and teams to embrace a growth mindset (one of the manifestos of Agile PeopleOps Framework), and use the APF values, principles, practices, and techniques to their talent management processes to harness agility.

Traditional HR versus Agile HR

Traditional or transactional HR deals with routine employee life-cycle management and general administration.

In order to embrace a growth mindset, the APF way, leaders and HR teams should realize that transactional HR is outdated, and they need to move from a standardized, compliance-oriented function to a more strategic, adaptive, and personalized processes and Agile HR practices.

HR practitioners and teams should embrace the agile mindset, Agile HR principles & values, and elicit behaviors that are conducive for building agile teams and organizations.

They need to serve as key change champions in agile transformations. The tabular column outlines the difference between traditional HR and Agile HR (Exhibit 2).

 Traditional  HRAgile HR
StructureHierarchical structureFlat structure
Working StylePredefinedFlexible and adaptable
ApproachTop-down approach Self-organized approach
Team SizeFixed / Limited / ExtendBetween 5-7
RolesStandard Hybrid
Recruiting styleThe process ends by hiring the best fitEngage and re-groom best fits
Recruiting  platformJob portals, networking events, referrals, campus fairs, and consultanciesSocial platforms, crowd-sourced and gig platforms, referrals, internal mobility
Technical SkillsHRM software, applicant tracking systems (ATS), payroll, and office suites.Agile/Lean tools, data analytics, networking, research & development, advanced MS office functionalities
Business skillsInterpersonal skills, communication skills, critical thinking, and ethics Problem-solving, working & managing virtual projects/teams, innovation, soft (power) skills, and cognitive approach

Agile Human Resources Approach

HR leaders and teams need to create an integrated HR-Business solution by focusing both on individual competence and organizational work processes, workplace culture, and climate.

In today’s Agile HR era, the HRs role should not be limited to generalists and administrators, instead, they should develop T-shaped capabilities – having a deep knowledge in any given HR function with the capabilities to work across different disciplines.

Leaders and HR teams must understand, learn, unlearn and continuously scale Agile HR Fundamentals and use feedback loops for continuous improvement.

The leadership team should let go of control, provide more autonomy to the team, and build an environment of psychological safety so that the organizational members get the opportunity to experiment and learn from failures.

Traditional Hierarchies to Network of Teams

Many companies are undergoing a from-to shift – moving away from traditional hierarchies to a network of teams’ models.

According to the Deloitte report 2017, 32% believe they are transitioning to design their organization to be more adaptable and team-centric as they have understood the importance of a team of teams.

The top Human Capital Trend of 2018, as per Deloitte, 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 network of teams.

Organizational leaders and HR practitioners/teams need to create an integrated cross-functional collaboration experience between tasks, projects, and people.

The Agile approach mandates HG to practice Agile principles, be accountable and agile in functional areas and collaborate with organizational leaders to create a culture of engagement and co-creation, and ensure That this culture proceeds from the top level to the operational level.

Agile/Lean Methodologies

Scrum and Kanban are the most common agile methods used by HR teams. Scrum is a framework to manage work.

It has well-defined roles, time-boxed ceremonies, and is built on three pillars – transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

Kanban is a lean methodology that fosters workflow visualization and helps manage the ‘flow’ of work.

To visualize the workflow, members use physical Kanban boards or digital boards like Trello, ClickUp Restya, and others.

These agile methods can be used 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 Trello board or any other Kanban tool can be used to chart out the workflow of new hires’ onboarding process.

The board can have lists/columns like pre-onboarding, during onboarding, and post onboarding.

For each list, cards can be created to describe the activities (like pre-onboarding may entail the team to send out forms to the new hire to sign up, set up a training schedule, get 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/or ideate as a team on how to reduce delays and optimize the workflow.

People Experience

The leaders and HR teams should understand that the organizational members are not mere resources but are human beings who are instrumental in leveraging the organization’s competitive advantage.

Research shows that an engaged and committed team of people can help organizations succeed and thrive in today’s turbulent and volatile business environment.

Therefore, the Agile, APF approach, is about creating principles with a human-centered mindset and a rich agile methodology in HR.

The customers of HR include candidates & employees (internal), and vendors & agencies (external).

To build a better people experience at workplaces, the Agile HR mindset requires the leaders and HR teams to use design thinking principles and techniques (like empathy mapping, brainwriting & brainstorming, storyboarding, journey mapping) to understand not only their customer’s pains and gains but also their needs, motivations, and expectations.

A better understanding of these needs and expectations can help HR teams to design better people-centered solutions.

For example, the talent acquisition team can use a design thinking approach to understand a candidate’s experience during each stage of the hiring process.

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.

Coaching Culture

Companies are moving away from traditional hierarchies to an agile-centric way of operating in a network of cross-functional teams.

Research shows the importance of coaching culture (APF manifesto) as it is highly correlated with an organization’s performance and employee engagement & enrichment.

To build this culture, managers need to be intentional facilitators and coaches, and HRs need to roll out their sleeves to provide deep-dive knowledge and support to the managers and collaborate with them as partners & co-creators to create a coaching culture.

The success of HR function is evaluated in terms of employee satisfaction & engagement levels, innovation and co-creation levels, organizational trust, and integrity.

Today’s 21st-century business is not solely about maximizing shareholder’s profits but it’s more about providing better opportunities for more stakeholder involvement and maximizing the shareholders’ value.

To make agile transformation a reality in today’s Agile Human Resources era, HR leaders and teams should embrace an agile mindset, practice the Agile HR operating model.

And embark on a continuous learning journey to hone their knowledge and skills on evolving modern practices in HR.

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 (that is, employees), external customers, and end-users, thus building a great place to work.


Agile/PeopleOps certification certainly plays a key role in building one’s own HR career.

If you are planning 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?

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