What is Agility and How Agile is Your HR Function?

Agile en HR

HR function traditionally has been geared to create and implement HR policies aimed at the smooth functioning of the business with a long term perspective. As a result, all its activities around HR administration, training, recruitment, and other employee life cycle are mostly designed for steady-state business. With the onset of the digital era and the business dynamics resulting in the need for agility and quick adaptation, the HR function needs to redefine its functioning and orien­tation to business needs.

“The fundamental premise around cus­tomers, customer needs, business model, competition landscape and offerings is un­dergoing changes in the context of digital transformation and hence HR function too needs to become agile and supportive of the dynamic needs of the business. Building a culture of flexibility and shift in the focus to­wards delivering solutions has become im­portant in order to be counted as reliable partners to the business”

Just as businesses are recognising that customer experience is central to their suc­cess, delivering delightful employee experi­ence has to become the core of HR function. As a partner to business, the HR function has to play an important role in propelling the or­ganisation to the digital workplace. The use of ap­propriate digital technology required for its own function should be thought through carefully including the use of digital tools such as AI and robotic process automation to deliver superior employee experience. Learn­ing support has to go beyond the current ap­proach towards learning or content man­agement system.

Artificial boundaries prescribed for learn­ing should cease to exist and static content for learning should be replaced with dy­namic and personalised content, based on customised learning paths, encouraging continuous learning by providing access to innumerable learning resource inventories that could be curated on the digital platform from multiple avenues.

With talent continuing to be the key dif­ferentiator for businesses, the tasks related to acquiring, grooming and retaining qual­ity talent for growth and sustenance of the business would have to be managed with ex­treme care as resources would expect per­sonalisation and customised employee jour­neys during their association with the organisation.

Incorporating an element of agility into the HR function allows it to be nimbler and helps create an organizational culture that’s more responsive to the needs of customers. Agile software development has been around since 2001 when a small group of software professionals came together to develop a better approach to software development. It has since become the most popular approach, with a  2013 survey from Version One reporting that 94 percent of all software companies use Agile methods. An agile organization is one that’s able to change direction quickly and easily, and HR needs to be responsive to the ever-changing needs of such an organization. The four values of agile development are adaptability, transparency, simplicity, and unity. Incorporating adaptability, transparency, simplicity, and unity can help improve HR service delivery.

Adaptability is important in the face of ever-changing business needs, while Simplicity is important when designing HR programs and practices that don’t cause confusion, alienate managers and employees or try to accomplish too much. Unity applies with respect to HR working together and ensuring it isn’t working in silos or at cross purposes with the business. Transparency is important in gaining the trust of managers and employees and explaining why things have to be done in a certain manner. In recent years, disciplines, as varied as marketing, accounting, manufacturing, and more, have been successfully reframed in Agile terms, and Agile HR is gaining recognition as a means of helping the organization stay current and aligned with the realities of today’s talent requirements.

Many Fortune 2000 companies are implementing an Agile methodology. The bigger the company, the bigger the challenges are for scaling Agile. However, it’s not impossible. In fact, global 2000 companies like IBM are achieving success with the Agile methodology. In an agile environment, it’s also important for HR to be able to help manage change within the organization. HR needs to be responsive in its approaches to staffing the organization and planning, developing and rolling out HR policies, procedures, systems, and programs. Agility requires a culture of empowerment where employees have the authority and independence to respond to the needs of customers. HR can help to create such a culture. An agile organizational culture requires staffing the organization with flexible and adaptable people who embrace change. Agility also requires appropriate training, performance management, and compensation structure. 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. 

Example of Agile HR strategies include:

  • Training leaders at all levels of the company to act as hands-on coaches, not managers.
  • Designing the organization into small, high-performance teams that set their own targets.
  • Creating customer interactions within all groups and functions in the company.
  • Delivering a strong, focus minded and values to keep everyone aligned.
  • Creating systems with lots of transparent information, i.e., what are our goals? who is working on what project? who are our experts?
  • Building a focus on continuous learning and learning cultures at all levels.
  • Encouraging and teaching people to give each other direct feedback.
  • Hiring and promoting experts, not managers.
  • Implementing a strong external employment brand that attracts the right type of people.
  • Implementing systems of engagement, not just system of record, i.e. collaboration, information-sharing, project management.

HR as a function revolves around managing people and policies. A lot of the teams in HR are involved in managing HR operations. However, when it comes to launching a new HR initiative like a leave management system or conducting induction programs etc., then managing such projects effectively becomes key to their success. For that, it is essential for the various team members to work together as a cohesive unit. This is what Scrum can help HR teams with. 

HR was one of the business functions with a significant contribution to make towards the organization’s agility. Agile principles are key to supporting the kind of continuous learning, continuous talent acquisition, and transparent processes that enable organizations to attract, develop, and engage talent in the twenty-first century. One of the important tasks of a knowledge work facilitator is to facilitate the managers in an Agile organization. In fact, in a truly Agile organization, the managers are the knowledge work facilitators. Regardless of knowledge work facilitation is a separate role or part of a managers’ responsibility, knowledge work facilitators need to understand what it takes to be a good Agile manager.

Here are 10 tips towards Agile HR for Managers:

  • Before changing anything, make everyone aware of the cultural changes ahead 
  • Involve HRM in the Agile transition team 
  • Stop calling professionals ‘human resources’ and start with facilitating them 
  • Become an inspiring leader for professionals 
  • Give the teams the mandate to hire the best
  • Once the best are hired, make sure they will stay 
  • Challenge professionals to become experts 
  • Stop annual performance feedback and start continuous performance feedback
  • Change rewards, so people are motivated from the inside out 
  • Rewarding publicly, not privately

Today, HR is charged with redefining the workplace experience and engaging employees like never before while grappling with the many rapidly escalating people challenges – acquisition and retention, global mobility and compliance, employee learning and development, finding scarce and specialized talent, capturing and reporting accurate data – all while helping the business manage and predict people strategies that align with strategic business objectives. For an organization to effectively complete an Agile transformation, all departments need to be involved. And while the actual Agile frameworks may not have a direct impact on how day-to-day activities are handled within the Human Resources department itself, HR will definitely be impacted by their company going Agile. As a matter of fact, in the most successful transformations, HR is a driver of the change and a key hub that steers other departments’ success.

Today, organizations struggle to find the best talent, and once they do, they need to retain them; this is what makes them a competitive brand. That takes more than perks. Being agile turns the HR organization into an aware, responsive organization that evolves the company and culture on a daily basis. 


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