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Nicole O'Brien

Agile is still somewhat of a buzzword, for some organisations, it is their chosen way of working and they are ‘Fully Agile’. For others, the Agile Transformation journey is just beginning. Where continuous improvement and iterative approaches go back as far as the 1950s, ‘Agile’ Practices became popular in the early 2000s following the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which details the twelve core principles. Agile is no longer just a practice relating to software development, it has expanded across entire organisations where the workforce embraces and lives the agile concepts and philosophy.

 

What is Agile HR?

Human Resources is still arguably one of the most traditional areas of the business, tasked with maximising team member productivity, managing the employee lifecycle, and supporting the corporate strategy and objectives. Agile HR is an adaptable, more collaborative, highly efficient, and more trusting approach, in contrast to traditional HR. An agile HR function must be responsive, adapt quickly to change, and support a faster changing landscape through its core pillars: employee experience, agile mindset, organisation design, and culture.

These core pillars may seem like traditional HR yet are leaps apart when considering what is involved. Lean thinking and data analysis are critical success factors in organisation design when considering people analytics, AI, virtual workspace collaboration tools, L&D, defined roles, and career paths. Employee experience should be in a continuous improvement cycle focusing on Talent, Motivation, Engagement, and Comp and Bens. This should be underpinned by an evolved culture that embeds the Agile Mindset, while being customer-centric and value-driven.

The centre of the Agile HR function is focused on performance management and goal setting, that is more iterative and includes goals and compensation at the team level with increased visibility, a direct correlation and link to the company goals.

Agile HR is a very different way of working in comparison to standard HR functions and challenges some of the more traditional concepts and principles to create continuous change and improvement. By transforming to Agile HR, we enable the HR function to add value to the organisation at a faster pace by moving away from a transactional approach.

Where do you start?

Embedding an agile mindset across the organisation is a key step in achieving an agile way of working in all functions. The HR function is a key player in this movement and should lead by example. Traditional HR is focused on the design and delivery of processes and services based on HR Principles and best practice.

For HR to move towards agile, they must start treating employees as their customers, looking at continuous improvement and feedback from them to enhance their experience of the service provided by HR. This approach where we test, request feedback, learn and adapt is the Agile feedback loop.

According to our resident Agile Guru Bruce McMillan “Successful and sustainable Agile transformation is reliant upon an organisational and cultural shift in its ways of working driven by leadership, which is cross-departmental, transcending business and technology functions. Human Resources is no exception, and the importance of HR embracing a model of agility cannot be understated.

Agile thrives when a HR function is a key driver of continuous improvement and engagement, utilising a proactive and adaptable approach to attracting, equipping, and retaining the knowledge workers who populate an effective Agile community. Organisational Agile sustainability relies most heavily on HR to deliver performance management that is iterative, interactive and impactful to learning and growth.”

 

Agile and lean principles centre around a continuous improvement or kaizen philosophy that HR can include in their daily approach. Implementing a departmental daily stand up and asking three simple questions as below, is a great way to start:

  • What did we achieve not achieve yesterday?
  • Where did we have waste?
  • How can we improve today?

We can change the HR cycle from the typical quarterly, half-yearly and annual reviews to a faster and more iterative approach where teams hold stand-ups, weekly 1-2-1s, and monthly goal reviews. By having objectives that are visible across teams, we allow the organisation to move at a faster pace in a world where everything can change from one month to the next. Adopting this agile approach allows teams to replan as necessary and still have clear objectives.

Adopting some simple agile tools can support the change in mindset and ways of working. Kanban boards are a good start to task tracking and prioritisation facilitated by software such as Jira and Trello. We have found that MS Planner also works well for this. Miro for retrospectives and collaborative working and software to support more agile ways of reviews and goal setting.

Why move towards Agile HR?

The global pandemic over the last year and a half has highlighted the need for business agility regardless of size or sector. A truly Agile HR follows lean principles and is about the people, putting trust in them, investing in them to continuously learn, upskill and evolve, and having an optimised employee experience supporting continuous improvement and innovation.
According to Bruce Mc Millan “In an era of accelerating and ever-changing business landscapes, along with the rise of digital technology and disruptive competition, businesses are waking to the understanding that they must transform to survive.”

Traditional HR concepts are still the ones that are focused on in educational courses and give excellent foundations for HR departments. However, HR as a function is being constrained by models where there are specific owners, generalists, and specialists rather than having high-performing and multi-skilled teams who collaborate and build together.
Now is the time to truly embrace the Agile mindset and values, educate our teams, define what agile HR practices mean for your organisation, and support it with the right tools. By doing this we can ensure that HR is delivering value at all touchpoints and can adapt quickly to meet the growing demands.

Our Story

Two years ago, when I joined The Project Foundry we had no HR function, no tools, no careers page, and no performance management. In brief, we didn’t even have a traditional HR function let alone a plan to make it an Agile one. I am by no means an agile expert but the more I learned about and researched agile, the more I embraced the mindset and understood the benefits.

The Project Foundry has grown consistently over the last two years and with growth comes demand, the HR roadmap is a mixture of traditional foundations combined with a more agile way of working. We collaborate with other organisations to understand what they are doing in this area, learn from each other, and share what has worked and what hasn’t. We are not a fully agile HR function, but we are working in a much more agile way than traditional HR and will continue to embrace the agile mindset as we grow and mature.

Together, we have learnt and adopted agile ways of working that we incorporate into all our teams. Our adopted ways of working include:

  • snappy daily stand-ups
  • working collaboratively on all areas of the HR function
  • conducting retrospectives to get feedback and lessons learned
  • using surveys to give choice and get input from the wider teams
  • adopting a new tool, Frankli.io, for 1-2-1s, objective setting, and reviews, which allows us to determine the cycle cadence and link goals to the overall company goals

Through continuous evaluation and adaptation, we have developed our teams and work environment. Helping create an agile space that supports the delivery of value across the organisation, generating an excellent employee experience faster, so that together we can focus on continuously improving our services for our clients.