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Agile HR: what does it even mean?

Agile represents different things to different people – depending on your perspective, this can range from establishing flexible working right through to introducing a philosophy formed of a series of disciplines and principals that enable workflow to happen more effectively.

In recent years, a movement has begun in which the introduction of agile principles is growing beyond its birthplace of tech and software development into all business areas from sales to finance to HR, and everything in-between. So what?

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The world we live in today is more volatile and ambiguous than ever before. References to the VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) crop up regularly, so responding to changing workplace environmental needs is vital to business success. We need to be more nimble and able to pivot as necessary.

Agile principles can give us a basis to build workplace cultures that embrace deliverables being achieved through incremental iterations, with continuous feedback loops, and self-organised teams that challenge the traditional approaches to organisational hierarchy.

All these things combined enable workflow to be more efficiently managed, thus meeting the needs of customers more effectively.

The tech industry has been in on this secret for many decades, using agile principals initially in the software development arena. But the secret is certainly out and many of the core principles of agile can be applied in daily work and large scale projects.

The use of simple techniques such as working in sprints – a time-boxed period in which a self-organised team agrees to deliver on a series of tasks from a defined backlog of work.

During the sprint period, the team commits to holding a daily stand-up, a 15-minute progress check which drives momentum on the work that needs to be completed, but also creates an environment of shared accountability without the need for traditionally hierarchical leadership.


Where does HR come in?

Globally, business leaders are waking up to the benefits of introducing agile principles across their organisations, and while they can be simple to apply, what’s not so simple to develop is the mindset shift and the adaption in leadership behaviours that comes with it.

This is why HR is best placed to play the vital role of driving the culture change which comes in partnership with the introduction of a new working philosophy.

Not only this; HR can play a part in role modelling the experimental mindset required to test and learn how agile principles support both day-to-day work and strategic projects, thus demonstrating to the business that agile can be used in multiple contexts.

Most recently, there has been an increase in the appetite for introducing agile and the realisation that to do this well organisations need dedicated resources to make it a reality, hence the introduction of the role of agile coach within HR teams.

The agile coach supports the implementation and culture change required to truly bring an agile workplace culture to life. They work with leaders on developing skills around emotional intelligence with the hope of fostering a psychologically safe work environment which encourages open and honest feedback.

While at the same time as addressing the mindset element, the agile coach plays a role in educating business areas on the fundamental tools they can use from the agile umbrella to help improve work deliverables.

What’s the future? More and more, organisations will see the benefits of agile with the last two years pivotal to the history of the workplace. Agile is going to play a role in us realising the scale of change with hybrid working and shifts in employee expectations.

Agile has arrived and is here to stay. HR needs to be at the heart of it.   


Nebel Crowhurst is vice president of people at Into University Partnerships