Role of HR in Agile Organizations


Let me start with a few provocative statements:

If HR has to carve a role in today’s agile organizations, what were they doing a few years ago?”

In the spirit of such provocation (!), I’ve also heard, “Ms/Mr ABC is/was ahead of her times.” Well, it is so relative sir, “you were behind in time !!”

Part – I

The Lens:


  • How aware are we of ourselves?
  • How much of what I don’t know, do I know?
  • How much do I keep abreast with my organization’s context?
    • Market dynamics, customer base, competitor’s ecosystem, stakeholders etc.
    • Talent landscape; internal AND external, and am I only extracting from it, or am in investing in it.


  • Am I jiving with the organizations dynamic context or am I hellbent on just finding a market for my re-bottled old products (aka: performance appraisal practice, talent mgt/development, 9 box grid and so forth)?
  • Do I have the courage to articulate what my leadership may be blind to or ignorant (or arrogant)?
  • Am I able to steer a debate on the kind of identity we as an organization wish to live by? For example: Are we mere recipients from or are we influencers to global stakeholder and our customers. Or can we own up and say that we will walk the tight rope between being, both, recipient AND influencers?
  • Can the organization articulate this and live by it?

Part II

While agility is touted as a process, if we go by the literal meaning, it could mean one or all of the many meanings: viz, Nimble Footed, Sprightly, Supple etc.

By inference, if that be the meaning of Agile, an agile organization could imply a “network of teams within a people & customer centred culture that operate with dynamicity, to learn and deliver, while co-creating value for its context.”

Part III

How do we create networks

It will be worth trying to reflect and may be answer, two questions:

A-Who do we work for? And, if we can go little deeper, B-Why do we work?

We may have differing and varying response to question #A eg: my manager, my divisional head, my CEO, my global stakeholder etc. However, if we are somehow able to align the organization to agree on the purpose (i.e. question B) of our existence, we are creating a superordinate raison d’etre.

From this new-found alignment, will come the willingness to share ideas & resources, and not hoard them to satisfy the rebottled performance appraisal rut. The organization will be able to design itself based on skills & versatility where it exists and not with whom it exists!

People Centricity

Some wish list of basic things that organizations could attempt to build:

  • Employees, irrespective of roles (managers/leaders etc) are at least contemporary in their chosen function.
  • Offering ‘L O D’; learning on demand (like a Learning ATM!)
  • Empowered Managers manage budgets and lead their teams with autonomy (performance differentiation, promotions, rewards et al)
  • Team decides who leads them
  • New employee decides which team and manager to join (and not vice – versa)
  • Make HR redundant – make all your line/business managers the actual HR Manager!

Customer Centricity

  • Constant dialogue with customers (not only for new project or when faced with a crisis)
  • Spring a surprise (product feature/new product) to offer what they can’t foresee!
  • Solve their problems, as if they are yours (actually, they are!)
  • Develop your people to such an extent that customers what to hire them. (now challenge these employees on the job, excite and retain them!!)
  • HR on the floor

We need the HR professional away from her/his office and onto the business floor. We may call them Business Partners, however, if they are not visible where needed, there is hardly a meaningful partnership.

Design by Output v/s Design by Process

This is the crux. Over the years, we have seen many in the HR profession design with a ‘fixed’ output in mind. Let me explain; a problem was identified for which solution a had to be designed. By the time we reached the solution, the problem definition changed, as the circumstances & context changed. But, were we agile and alive to the changing context? Were we in constant synchrony with our business to anticipate and keep our proposed solution relevant?

Part IV – Tail Piece

Our other problem in HR is that we get too attached to our solution! So even after its shelf life is lived, we find it difficult to junk it and design the next version or a completely different solution. ‘Reinventing oneself’ is one word that often does the various seminar and speaking circuits. Sure, we could still talk about this in many more seminar and conferences, however, if we have the awareness, the courage and ability to be in the ‘present’, the rest will follow. We need to tune our orientation from ‘it worked in the past’, to, be in acceptance of ‘what is’ today, and therefore, ‘where am I and who am, today’.

Dear Reader, you will not get a straight jacketed ‘ten tips’ from my article. The joy and despair lie in going through the journey and finding your own ‘ten tips’, for I said, your context is so different from mine!

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Alok Mehta, Executive Director – Human Resources at Hexagon, has over 27 years of professional experience across Indian & Multinational Companies, in local, regional & global leadership roles. Previously Alok worked with companies like INTAS Pharma, Metro Cash & Carry, AstraZeneca Pharma, Deutsche Bank, and Motorola India. Alok is a fellow of Sumedhas Academy for Human Context and is on the Board of Chandigarh University and Xavier Institute of Social Service (XISS), Ranchi.


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