What Is Agile HR – And Does It Lead To Happier Employees?

May 10, 2021

What Is Agile HR

Agile working practices have been readily adopted within companies' sectors such as software development, revolutionising organisational culture. The tenets of an agile approach need, however, to be extended to supporting business functions, such as HR, for the benefits to be fully realised.

Stagnant, reactive HR processes can become a blocker to your company’s pace of work, hindering productivity and efficiency. Agile HR refers to an integrated, actively engaging, self-reflective process in which the HR department works to shorter cycles, has a good understanding of each company department or team’s needs, and evaluates and course corrects regularly.

Effective HR needs to be agile – providing all necessary services and roles in a proactive manner that is responsive to the changes and advances within the wider company environment.

What is Agile HR?

Agile HR represents a strategic approach to HR management that is proactive, efficient and capable of effectively supporting collaborative and cross-disciplinary working. An agile HR department is embedded within the company and its organisational culture and mission.

To be agile, a HR department must have a good grasp of how each department or team functions, and what is needed to sustain and aid these working practices in order to maintain or stimulate progress.

An agile approach includes understanding the importance of soft skills and their placement within teams, recognising that – unlike most hard skills – they are difficult to teach and embed if not already possessed.

Regarding performance management, an agile HR model values teamwork, collaboration, and personal and professional development (it all its forms, not just the strictly quantitative). This marks a shift away from the value previously placed upon individual contribution and outdated business metrics – which often constitute performance measures that lack full meaning or impact in a progressive and agile working environment.

Agile HR signifies the adoption of a flexible, reflective and forward-thinking mindset throughout your entire organisation, improving product quality and profit.

Agility is an approach that constantly encourages innovation, and agile HR helps to ensure organisational agility is realised.

Why Does HR Need to be Agile?

HR departments are often left out of agile overhauls and organisational reframing. Optimisation of the product or service development process takes precedent, while HR, despite providing the backbone to the organisation, is overlooked.

This is a missed opportunity.

If your HR team is embedded within your organisational culture and well versed in the nuances of company operations, it will understand the functions needed to enable faster progress. A team that understands the company’s departments, objectives and goals will be better at identifying the mindset sought from employees and new talent acquisitions.

An agile HR team is more efficient at placing the right candidates in the correct roles and ensuring existing employees progress in the best direction to reach their potential as they evolve with the company.

An agile approach to HR helps to ensure the work of the HR department delivers its intended value by encouraging and supporting progress, rather than unintentionally hindering it.

Adopting an Agile HR Model

Agile methodologies focus upon delivering solutions faster, through incremental steps. These steps allow for ideas and approaches to be tested, consistently reviewed and adjusted, improving efficiency and leading to faster implementation times.

Traditional HR practices are highly structured and hierarchical, largely focusing upon standards and rules. A successful agile HR model is not rigid, but iterative, with looped systems in place to ensure feedback is valued and incorporated, and employees empowered.

Agile approaches to management can be meaningfully applied to HR to encourage a business environment that prioritises collaboration, innovation and the people at its core.

4 Steps to Create an Agile Approach to HR

agile hr approach

1. Prioritise people Your HR team deals with the talent that forms your organisation, delivering your recruitment and employee experience. HR practices, such as recruitment processes, performance reviews, learning and development programmes and pathways of progression, all need to place individuals at the forefront.

Understanding and analysing employee behaviours will help to create a personalised HR offering that meets employee needs and reflects the diversity of thought and approach present within a strong team.

HR experiences should add value and positively impact employee satisfaction, operating rapidly to maximise talent and provide constructive evaluation and support.

2. Be adaptive An agile approach to HR must be flexible, intuitive and respond effectively to changing circumstances. The approach of your HR department should be adaptive, centered on where value is being created in each instance.

Diverse organisations have different departmental needs, so any processes in place should be tailored or necessarily adaptive to allow for different ways of working. The tools used should be appropriate, with an understanding that they may not be suitable for employment across the whole organisation.

Most importantly, HR should be able to react to change rapidly. With adaptive processes built into the operation of the department, your HR can adjust not just to allow, but to advance progress.

3. Embrace collaboration Siloed working hampers the innovation that occurs through connecting and collaborating across departments. It is important that HR processes create and support an environment in which collaboration can take place and is actively encouraged.

Even if a collaborative approach is fundamentally built into the fabric of the organisation, non-agile HR practices have the potential to delay or prevent advancement.

In an environment with strict controls and standards, being pre-emptive and working closely with legal and compliance can prevent any roadblocks.

Organisational agility – which, alongside adaptability, is achieved through collaboration and the innovation it inspires – should be facilitated and driven by the HR department.

4. Experiment An agile HR management team should be willing to experiment, testing out new practices and approaches to solve old problems. The incremental structure at the heart of an agile approach lends itself to experimentation, evaluation, adjustment and re-evaluation, leading to constant improvement.

HR is used to working rather more unimaginatively than other sectors, with workstreams subject to highly structured processes. Agile HR seeks to depart from this, approaching HR as a process that undergoes constant learning and evolution. It needs to have the flexibility to match.

Do not be afraid to experiment and amend accordingly in response to what emerges as the best fit for your company’s needs, objectives and culture. Note that an experimental approach also leads to greater levels of engagement from employees.

8 Practical Actions to Build Agile HR

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To help to create the agile approach to HR management needed within your organisation, consider the following practical actions:

1) Allow your HR department time to see different teams at work and to understand their ways of working

Informed HR practice, based around knowledge of how each section of the company operates, will lead to improved operational efficiency and employee satisfaction.

2) Schedule regular meetings within your HR teams to track progress and discuss how things are evolving

Referred to as retrospectives, these reviews help to evaluate the decision-making process, explore challenges or areas for improvement, cultivate team buy-in and develop a sense of ownership over the end results. This approach can be valuably extrapolated and applied by the HR team company wide as part of performance review practice.

3) Encourage knowledge sharing within the HR department

Both between recruitment teams or individuals, as well as between departments, in order to learn from experience and gain insight to further optimise processes.

4) Rethink your organisational chart

Group employees by factors such as experience on past projects and campaigns, performance, expertise and cross-departmental or sectoral skills. This will help to identify any organisational skills gaps and highlight training and development needs, as well as assist in forming stronger cross-functional teams.

5) Conduct an Organisational Network Analysis (ONA) to highlight the social capital present within your business

This insight can be used as supplementary data to aid understanding of company performance and productivity, helping to inform HR decisions.

6) Find a new working cadence by shortening your HR cycles

HR commonly works to quarterly or annual cycles, which do not allow for an adaptive or iterative approach. Shorter cycles, employing what are known as sprint HR solutions, link directly to business outcomes instead of fixed, largely irrelevant cycles. They also encourage a model in which feedback is continuous.

7) Monitor and analyse each HR offering on a regular basis

Also, seek feedback upon the evaluation process itself. It is important that employees feel their concerns or grievances with the system are heard and that they have the power to further evolve the approach.

8) Seek to increase and embed knowledge about agile solutions throughout your organisation, at all levels

All department and team leaders should be versed in supporting the delivery of sprint solutions. Alongside this, develop the coaching skills of your managers so they can enable teams to work at their best.

Employing these actions will help your HR to embrace the progressive organisational shift - from hierarchical structure to networked organisation – and provide suitable support company-wide.

Does Agile HR = Employee Happiness?

agile hr

Agile HR has the potential not only to improve organisational momentum and profit, but to increase the satisfaction and happiness of employees.

The iterative processes that characterise an agile approach to HR allow time and space for employee feedback. Research by McKinsey & Company indicates that using an agile model – involving the co-creation of employee experience through better tools and programmes to capture feedback – can boost employee engagement by 20%.

A continuous feedback model creates a sense of mutual respect between employee and employer, as opinions and ideas are taken on board and lead to tangible improvement in efficiency and quality of delivery.

An agile approach also allows talent to be resourced more effectively. Research by McKinsey found that an agile approach to talent acquisition allows resourcing strategies to be delivered up to 75% faster. The approach is more effective in identifying the optimal talent needed, leading to better performance and increased employee satisfaction in role.

Research by Deloitte indicates that employees now expect a better designed experience and new models of delivery for increased accessibility, ease and engagement. Agile organisational design can ensure that the employee experience is not only thoughtfully tailored but has motivational impact.

Employees are happier when they feel inspired and valued by a collaborative, reflective and human-centric approach – an environment agile HR management helps to create.

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