What is Agile HR? How Can We Get Started with APF™ ?

Agile HR or Agile Human Capital Management is no longer a global buzz but a staple in Human Resources (HR). HR needs to regularly evolve to build a distributed, inclusive, and sustainable workplace ecosystem.

Yet, many companies still practice traditional HR which fails to equip leaders and HR professionals with essential skills to meet today’s business trials and tribulations. According to an article on the website Kissflow, Agile, “…is an iterative and incremental approach to project management that helps teams keep up with the demands of the modern workplace.” Agile plays into the mandated evolving nature required of HR currently, the methodology is rooted in beneficial notions of continuous improvement, flexibility, quality, and transparency.

HR will need to serve as change champions and take the lead to develop a nimble and agile workforce ecosystem. According to the Harvard Business Review, “Agile isn’t just for tech anymore.” Now it’s transforming how organisations hire, develop, and manage their people.”

What Is Agile HR?

Agile HR is a new approach to managing employees that focuses on collaboration between managers and workers. It uses a set of principles called “agile” to help organizations make better decisions. These principles encourage managers to collaborate with their teams to solve problems together.

This is an innovative method of approaching the HR function and moves away from the traditional concept of HR with speed being one of the most valuable factors. There are risks involved, however, it is more efficient to collaborate when solving problems and to come up with ideas as a group. The focus is more on improving performance as a team rather than as individuals. It isn’t a “one size fits all”, so it is important to establish what works for that particular organization based on the needs of the people in team or business, the industry or perhaps the culture as a whole.

Collaboration and feedback in real time are essential factors in Agile HR. It simplifies how recruitment and other aspects of the HR function operate to improve processes that will transform the organization. Employees have more flexibility and opportunities to contribute to the overall experience of HR and how it operates whilst keeping up with the fast paced environment. The constant feedback processes drive the direction that employees should take in order to satisfy the needs of the customer and the business.

How can we start?

Agile HR is based on the idea that the best way to manage people is to work with them as partners. This means that managers should not only focus on what needs to be done but also on how to do it. They need to understand the goals of the organization and the people who will be affected by those goals.

This requires a shift in the mindset. Be open to embracing new ways of approaching the HR function. Although it may move away from the traditional concept of HR, being Agile allows the organization to be creative and experiment in order to evolve. Some of the methods to implement Agile HR include:

  • Set goals and define objectives. Small changes on a daily basis and in the short term can lead to significant changes in the long term which we can refer to as a ‘sprint’ – usually four weeks that are dedicated to completing an amount of work by a team
  • Empowering employees through better wages and incentives
  • Encouraging feedback to be given to team leaders in an ‘upward’ direction through surveys, weekly or monthly reviews and assessments
  • Frequent training and coaching sessions to keep up to date with trends and sharpening skill set

Ensure that technology is always at the core of the Agile HR processes. This will increase the speed at which the organization receives feedback from employees as well as clients. The platforms used as part of Agile HR allow organizations to keep track of all the stages of recruitment from job description preparation to the initial interview to onboarding all the way to off boarding and potential succession which are all usually handled by a talent acquisition specialist. Technology helps with the monitoring of daily tasks which means that employees will have to continuously keep learning as technology is advancing and rapidly changing.

Why should I care about Agile HR?

Agile HR is a new approach to managing people in organizations. It focuses on improving organizational performance through better use of technology and collaboration.

By implementing Agile HR, businesses are able to adapt to the now, unpredictable, constantly changing, world of work and its environment. Not only does it (Agile HR) provide value for the customer but provides the organization with faster, more efficient ways of problem solving.

  • It encourages employees to work together and merge ideas – there is an overall improvement in the employee experience which can add value to the business
  • It validates employees through the feedback they receive from supervisors and customers.
  • It increases adaptability to the constant change in the environment – both macro and micro factors
  • It leads to better results by being goal orientated
  • It allows the organization to measure the outputs as a priority to yield the required results – evaluation of results and keeping track of performance data is necessary in order to improve

Why Agile is important in HR?

‘Agile’ methodology was coined for software development during the 1990s. Developers wanted a flexible solution to the stumbling blocks they were facing. Software development is needed to address issues with projects not doing well or taking longer to finish, and communication between interested parties. While these issues were highlighted in the tech industry they are rampant in other sectors like Human Resources.

Over time, the agile operating model has become a widely recognized management method across various functions, departments, and industries; adopting a proactive approach rather than a reactive one. HR analyst Josh Bersin claims, “The Agile Model of HR states that human resources’ job is not just to implement controls and standards and drive execution- but rather to facilitate and improve organizational agility. This changes HR’s missions and focus. Driving agility means driving programs that create adaptability, innovation, collaboration, and speed.”

Today’s world is defined by volatility and uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), thus continuous change is the only constant. Business leaders and HR practitioners need to embrace a mindset shift. They need to expand their abilities to navigate the challenges (internal and external), anticipate change, and make informed decisions to develop purpose and direction for their business. According to a survey, “70% of agile organisations say that agile helps them achieve a faster time to market.”

Leaders and practitioners can significantly impact various functions/departments, and overall business by blending lean, agile, and design thinking principles/practices.

Companies like McKinsey, Deloitte, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and others have conducted extensive global research. The findings show that leaders and practitioners need to redesign organizations to be more agile for success and sustainability.

In today’s twenty-first-century business era, adapting to change and organizational agility is critical for success and sustainability. According to Deloitte, “78% of U.S. government executives surveyed believe the use of agile and DevOps methodologies is having a significant positive impact on their organisation.”

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. To respond to the VUCA world, C-suite and business leaders need to adopt an agile operating model and intentionally build an agile organization.

Agile implementation has led to user-driven approaches such as working in short cycles called ‘iterations’ or ‘sprints’, for continuous feedback and improvement. It is also important to note that organisations that had completely adopted agile before the Covid19 pandemic performed better than their counterparts in customer satisfaction, employee engagement and operational performance.

Image showing importance of agile hr.

What does Agile mean for HR?

As the name suggests, Agile HR is the application of “agility” to the function of Human Resource Management. Agility means developing agile and responsive management practices that include frequent feedback loops and engaging teams in short work cycles and regular retrospectives.

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

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

The Agile HR operating model can help organisations respond better to business needs by setting priorities and working 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 work better in a more structured & streamlined manner, which fosters work optimization and agility within the HR function.

The paradigm shift to Agile Human Resources is evolving globally and is transforming work and the workplace. Shifting to agile also calls for a mental shift from organisations and their employees.

Leaders, HR practitioners, and teams need to embrace a growth mindset (one of the Agile PeopleOps Framework manifesto) and use the APF values, principles, and methodology to make the paradigm shift meaningful, impactful, and sustainable thus harnessing agility in talent management processes.

Agile in HR also means leaders/HR practitioners have to actively take the time to celebrate success, the success of an individual and teams. According to a journal by Stephen Miller, “…94% of employees who receive positive recognition on a daily basis reported being satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. Job satisfaction translates to high productivity and quality; it also means employee well-being is good which all trickles down to benefit an organisation in a never-ending cycle of positivity.

Agile in HR means focus; goals and objectives are clearly defined along with roles and duties. HR practitioners are asked to not only handle employees but they are required to have an interest in their professional journey. “Make a point of talking with employees one-on-one about their future career goals and what the expectations are for them to achieve these goals at your company,” says Brooks.

This strategy not only puts employees in the best position professionally speaking in any organisation it helps leaders read their people. By being invested in employee careers organisations can hand pick those fit to lead, they can lean into the advantages and curb problems by detecting weakness early.

Traditional HR versus Agile HR

Traditional or transactional HR deals with 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.

The traditional recruitment process ends once the recruiting team hires the right talent. The team uses traditional recruiting platforms like job portals, networking events, referrals, campus fairs, and consultancies.

Traditional HR is grounded more in a reactive stance towards employees, reactive to employee requests and disciplinary issues. Agile HR has a more of a ‘proactive’ approach to things; strategies are in place to anticipant problems, address weaknesses and lean into strengths.

The technical skills that HR professionals need to develop are limited to HRM software, applicant tracking systems (ATS), payroll, and office suites. The business skills are limited to interpersonal communication, critical thinking, and ethics.

To embrace a growth mindset, the APF way, leaders and HR teams should realize that transactional HR is outdated. They need to move from a standardized, compliance-oriented function to a more strategic, adaptive, and personalized process.

HR practitioners and teams should embrace Agile HR principles & values, and elicit behaviours conducive to building agile teams and organizations. They need to serve as crucial change champions in agile transformations.

Organizations that practice Agile HR have a flat structure, and the work style is flexible and adaptable. The approach is self-organized, and the Scrum team size varies between 5 to 10. The roles are hybrid. The recruiting team works toward engaging and elevating the talent management experience.

Recruiting platforms are modern technology-based, including social media, crowdsourced and gig platforms, referrals, and internal mobility. Technical skills are built on Lean tools, data analytics, networking, research & development, and advanced MS office functionalities. The business skills teams develop are problem-solving, working & managing virtual projects/teams, innovation, soft (power) skills, and a cognitive approach.

In comparison to traditional HR, Agile HR opens organisations/companies to a world of possibilities. Career paths can manoeuvre in any direction and aren’t restricted to traditional HR’s liner and fixed patterns. Talent management has moved away from being a ‘need only’ process.

It has been transformed into an ongoing process that also looks to establish organisations on appropriate platforms and create a custom made catalogue full of potential talent. The custom catalogue ensures that organisations aren’t wasting time when it comes to hiring. When positions and opportunities open up Agile HR personnel have a catalogue of qualified individuals to choose from, in a sense a screening process for quality employees has been conducted beforehand.

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 organisation 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 organisation 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; them 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 wellbeing, once no organisation 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 wellbeing 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 organisations 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 organisations and their workforce for these unavoidable changes in business and striving to make sure organisations 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 organisations. 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. Organisations 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

Agile/Lean Methodologies

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 to send out forms to the new hire to sign up, set up a training schedule, and 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 ideate as a team on how to reduce delays and optimize the workflow.

Human Experience

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-centred 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-centred 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 organisation 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 organisations must adapt and factor into their structures as the human experience is constantly changing. Ignoring this would negatively affect any organisation’s bottom line.

Coaching Culture

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.


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 upcoming posts.

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