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Can HR be Agile?

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

With the ever changing demand from businesses and expectations from employees, can HR keep up by being agile?

Traditional HR often lacks agility because it is built on a hierarchical, top-down approach that emphasizes compliance and consistency over adaptability and flexibility. In a traditional HR model, decision-making is often centralized and may not involve input from employees or other stakeholders. This approach can lead to slower decision-making and a lack of responsiveness to changing business needs.


Additionally, traditional HR often relies on standardized processes that are inflexible and difficult to change. For example, annual performance reviews and formal training programs may not be effective in addressing the rapidly changing needs of the workforce. These processes can also be time-consuming and resource-intensive, which can make it difficult to respond quickly to changes in the business environment. If this is how HR operates, how can it support businesses that are facing rapid changes?


So the questions is, can HR be agile?



As everyone knows, business environment is constantly changing, and HR practices need to be able to keep up with those changes such as new technologies, changing business needs, and shifting employee expectations.


Now let us shed more light in this discussion, but first let's define what Agile HR actually means.


Agile HR focuses on how HR can apply the agile mindset to different working methods within the team, group, or organization. Organizations need not be agile to practice agile HR. Simply, it means higher collaboration, shorter work cycles, and more focus on group contribution. Under an agile approach, teams would work together to design, develop, and deliver an HR initiative, rather than each employee working independently according to the instructions given by the top management (Ranasinghe & YMSWV, 2021)




There's a number of reasons why HR needs to be agile these days and let us highlight some:

  1. Rapid technological changes: With new technologies emerging all the time, HR needs to be agile to stay ahead of the curve. An agile HR function can quickly adopt new technologies and adapt HR processes to leverage those technologies effectively.

  2. Shifting employee expectations: As the workforce becomes more diverse and multigenerational, employee expectations are changing. An agile HR function can respond to these changes by developing new benefits and rewards programs, and by creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

  3. Changing business needs: As the business environment becomes more competitive, companies need to be able to respond quickly to changes in the market. An agile HR function can help by quickly adapting to changes in the business environment, such as changes in staffing needs or the need for new skill sets.

  4. Greater emphasis on employee engagement: In today's workforce, employees are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to feel engaged and motivated in their work. An agile HR function can respond to this need by creating a more engaging and supportive work environment, with opportunities for learning, growth, and development.



Let's also differentiate what a Traditional and Agile HR looks like:


Agile HR is focused on creating a more flexible, collaborative, and responsive HR function that is better able to meet the changing needs of the organization and its employees. Here are some common Agile HR practices:



  • Continuous feedback and improvement: Agile HR involves regular feedback loops to continuously improve HR practices and employee experiences.

  • Cross-functional teams: Agile HR involves cross-functional teams made up of HR professionals, managers, and employees working together to solve problems and improve processes.

  • Agile performance management: Agile HR uses continuous performance management techniques that emphasize feedback, coaching, and recognition rather than traditional annual performance reviews.

  • Agile recruiting: Agile HR involves using short cycles to test and refine recruiting strategies, focusing on quality and fit rather than just filling vacancies quickly.

While it may take some time for many HR organizations to shift from traditional to Agile, some companies have already taken this route.




1. Spotify has taken an Agile HR approach to their organizational structure. They have adopted a "tribe" and "chapter" model, where employees are organized into smaller teams with a specific focus. This model encourages collaboration and innovation, and allows for greater flexibility and responsiveness to changing business needs (Mankins & Garton, 2017)



2. Unilever has adopted an Agile HR approach to their talent management practices. They have implemented a "talent marketplace" that allows employees to take on new roles and projects based on their skills and interests. This approach encourages employee growth and development, and also allows Unilever to quickly adapt to changing business needs.




Other companies are also challenging how traditional HR operates and are now shifting to a more agile way of working. But more then HR being agile, agility is now much needed across the organization.


So can HR be agile? Definitely, and it's a must! An agile HR approach encourages collaboration and communication, which can improve employee engagement, foster innovation, and lead to more effective decision-making. By adopting an agile approach, HR departments can become more responsive, flexible, and adaptive, and better equipped to drive organizational success. Ultimately, HR's ability to be agile can have a significant impact on the company's bottom line, making it a critical element in today's rapidly changing business landscape.



References:


Mankins, M., & Garton, E. (2017). How Spotify balances employee autonomy and accountability. Harvard business review, 95(1), 134-139.


Ranasinghe, V. R., & YMSWV, S. (2021). Agile human resource management. Human Resource Management in Challenging Environments, 23, 31.


Thoren, P. (2017). Agile people. Austin, TX: Lioncrest Publishing.


Unilever launches new AI-powered talent marketplace: https://www.unilever.com/news/press-and-media/press-releases/2019/unilever-launches-ai-powered-talent-marketplace/

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