What is Agile HR? How can we get started with APF™?

So , you have all heard about the different stereotypes associated with the Agile HR people from memes, videos, standups, etc.

They do not respond to your job opening queries, they interrupt between meetings, they conduct too many workshops, they make you fill out too many forms….Pff…that’s a lot!

So , what does the HR actually do? More importantly what is this new, fancy, ‘Agile HR’ thing everybody is talking about? Well, let’s start with HR – HR basically involves managing people and addressing the employee concerns.

However, traditional HR can sometimes get a little too administrative. So the concept of Agile HR came into picture.

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 nimble & responsive management practices that involves constant feedback loops, and teams working in short work cycles & engaging in 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 the time, it has become a widely recognized management methodology across various functions, departments and industries, which adopts a proactive rather than reactive approach.

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 capabilities to navigate through the flux of challenges (internal and external), anticipate change and make informed decisions to develop purpose & direction for their business.

Leaders and practitioners can make significant impacts by blending lean, agile and design thinking principles/practices across various functions/departments, business units and overall business.

Companies like McKinsey, Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, and others have coducted 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 started to embrace an agile operating model and emulate lean-agile practices to manage their projects within and across different functions and industries.

This has led to nimbler user-driven approaches like working in short cycles called ‘iterations’ or ‘sprints’, ongoing 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 agile organization are shown in Exhibit 1.

agile hr

Agile Human Resources

As the business operating model is changing at a fast pace and the PeopleOps (traditionally referred as Human Resources/HR) function is the driving force behind what makes a team and organization successful, a paradigm shift has begun in the HR function and its related areas.

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 HR.

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

HR leaders and practitioners are realizing that 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 common purpose and concrete goals.

Understanding Agile HR fundamentals 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 growth mindset, the APF way, leaders and HR teams should realize that the transactional HR is outdated, and they need to move from standardized, compliance-oriented function to a more strategic, adaptive and personalized processes and 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  HR Agile HR
Structure Hierarchical structure Flat structure
Working Style Predefined Flexible and adaptable
Approach Top-down approach  Self-organized approach
Team Size Fixed / Limited / Extend Between 5-7
Roles Standard  Hybrid
Recruiting style Process ends by hiring best fit Engage and re-groom best fits
Recruiting  platform Job portals, networking events, referrals, campus fairs and consultancies Social platforms, crowd-source and gig platforms, referrals, internal mobility
Technical Skills HRM software, applicant tracking systems (ATS), payroll and office suites. Agile/Lean tools, data analytics, networking, research & development, advanced MS office functionalities
Business skills Interpersonal 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 should understand Agile HR fundamentals, learn, unlearn & relearn incrementally, and use feedback loops to continuously improve.

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 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 and across functions, projects and people.

The Agile HR approach mandates HRs to practice Agile HR principles, be responsive and nimble across functional areas and collaborate with the organizational leaders to create a culture of engagement & co-creation and ensure that this culture cascades from top level to the operational level.

Agile/Lean Methodologies

Scrum and Kanban are the most common agile and lean methods used by HR teams. Scrum is an agile 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 training schedule, get his ID and badge ready).

During Scrum cadences, the cross-functional team of onboarding specialist, 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.

Hence, Agile HR (or Agile PeopleOps), the APF way, is all about fusing human-centric mindset and principles with agile methodology to build an enriched and engaged workforce.

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

Design a journey map to include personalized touch points, validate the map with new hires, incorporate the feedback and experiment on a small scale to evaluate if the process fosters 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 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 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.



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