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Agile HR: what is it and why it’s the future

In today’s ever changing workplace environment, companies suddenly find themselves in need of responding and adapting to meet the shifting needs of consumers and employees. The HR department is usually a company’s first responder when it comes to significant business disruptions and as such, also faces the challenge of solving problems quickly and efficiently.
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Agile HR future

The notion of agility is being adopted across industries and has even turned into a buzzword in the last couple of years. But what does it mean to be agile?
First, let’s take a moment and look at what the agile methodology is, how it started and then how it translates to HR.

The Agile Methodology & its origins

When one hears the word agile, they can most commonly relate it to software development and project management. Working in an agile way essentially means breaking down a project in several stages and continuously improving them as you go along. Instead of having a “big launch”, teams deliver in smaller increments and rely on continuous feedback to have the process be faster and more reliable. 

The Agile methodology came to life when software developers needed to come up with a new way to manage their projects. Due to many software development projects failing, or simply taking too long to complete, industry leaders had to come up with another approach on how to tackle these issues.

It all started in Oregon, US, when 17 developers had a meeting to discuss how they could deliver new software at a quicker pace. The fruits of their labour came about a year later, when they created the Agile Manifesto and laid out 4 key values that would be at the epicentre of agile development. 

4 Key Agile Values:

  1. Individuals and interactions over Processes and tools
  2. Working software over Comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over Contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

With these core values, it was intended to shift the focus from the traditional way of delivering projects into a more effective and innovative approach. The focus was put on continuous development, continuous collaboration with stakeholders and improvement at every stage. 

What is Agile HR?

While the agile methodology started in software production, it wasn’t long before it got adopted into other industries, with the need for fast and efficient delivery being ever present in today’s world. However, adapting such an approach into other industries can prove to be challenging and sometimes even nerve wracking.

We are creatures of habit and we are so used to working a certain way, that even if our way might not yield the best results, we still continue to pursue it relentlessly. 

If you are asking yourself how to apply the agile methodology to HR, the answer might not be that obvious. Is it rather about an agile mindset that HR can adopt and learn from. This is fundamental if we want to keep up with the market. 

In order for HR to become more agile it essentially comes down to this:

  • Constantly challenging the traditional approach to HR by shifting towards a more practical mindset that’s in tune with a fast paced environment
  • Having a flexible approach of HR and adapting it as the workforce changes
  • Looking beyond traditional organisational hierarchies and creating cross-functional, collaborative teams, and
  • An HR function that supports an organisation that is more aware of consumer needs

Agile HR Principles (mindset shifts)

In order to drive HR towards being agile, it is very important for HR professionals to embrace a different mindset:

Mindset shift #1 – Cross-team collaboration

It is common for HR to operate in separate departments (e.g HR Admin, recruitment, talent management, etc.) with minimum to no cross-collaboration. An agile approach to HR, requires teams to have different and complementary skills, that allows them to work together effortlessly. 

That means having multiple employees from different departments sitting together in the same room and constantly collaborating and providing valuable feedback. Compared to a clustered traditional HR approach, this agile mindset shift would encourage co-creation which has proven to deliver more innovative solutions in the end.

Mindset shift #2 – Embracing change

Being faced with a volatile and fast-paced environment, it is more important than ever to be flexible and “go with the flow”, even if the “flow” leads you in a completely different direction. 

Who knows, your company might be better for it! 

The speed at which progress is made, is one of the most powerful aspects of an agile approach to HR. As opposed to a more traditional fixed approach, where a process would need to be 100% effective in order to be implemented. 

A mindset shift towards embracing change also encourages HR professionals to experiment and map the best methods of delivering. This might leave room for a bigger potential to fail, however that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that solutions are being developed faster and roadblocks are being crossed earlier. 

Mindset shift #3 – Continuous cycle

It is very common for HR in organisations to follow a traditional yearly cycle when it comes to remuneration, performance management, talent management and other processes. However, an agile HR approach would continuously assess the environment and circumstances in order to have an immediate reaction towards problems and a constant cycle of improvement. 

Why should companies adopt Agile HR?

The traditional workplace culture will inevitably change, as companies grow and develop, making it necessary to adopt innovative working practices. The pandemic has put the world on its knees and with hybrid & remote work being a standard practice, now more than ever there is an urgent need for businesses to step up their game. 

Here is where agile HR comes into play in startups, SMEs and corporates alike, who can benefit tremendously from implementing it into their working culture.

 Let’s take a closer look at some of those benefits:

#1 – Improved team collaboration

Agile HR is all about cross-team collaboration and working in project-based teams. An undeniable benefit is the increase in productivity and efficiency in teamwork, which ultimately is the key to any successful venture. By having an improvement in team collaboration it leads to increased employee motivation and engagement.

 A win-win!

#2 – Continuous feedback

An agile workplace has a continuous feedback system in place where it allows the whole team to contribute on a regular basis and ensure that productive changes are made when necessary. This allows HR to develop solutions that are relevant and effective, instead of optimising based on assumptions and need prediction.

#3 – Higher output measurement

Results are highly emphasised in the agile methodology and naturally Agile HR relies on dashboards and visualisations to track important data. This makes it easier and more reliable to measure output which in turn plays a valuable role for HR professionals to decide what changes to implement. 

#4 – Transparency

Transparency is at the heart of the agile methodology and the same stands for agile HR. Having a constant feedback loop with valuable insights from each team member fosters a high degree of transparency. Being on the same page when it comes to resolving issues and optimising business practices is necessary to move forward, especially in a world where information can easily get lost in translation.

Now, it’s your turn!

It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to adopt the entire agile methodology in order for it to be effective. It is rather about choosing certain practices and elements that best suit your needs. Consider it as embarking on an agile journey where the first step is understanding the agile techniques your team could use, then start small by putting them into practice. 

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