It’s time for HR to think agile

19 Feb 2019 By Taralee Brady

The methodology behind iterative development could also help sharpen our people practices, says Taralee Brady

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) which recently held its annual alpine gathering in Davos, 2019 brings “unprecedented uncertainty, fragility and controversy”. WEF’s 2019 outlook is of direct relevance to us as HR professionals. Why? Because we are tasked with ensuring the most valuable assets of any business – employees – are equipped and ready to meet these challenges head on. 

One HR revolution which is gaining speed, and certainly plays into this idea, is the concept of agile HR. Because while many people will have heard of the concept of agile in the workplace, there is so much more to it than flexible hours or team working methodologies.

Originating in the IT sector, agile is an approach and set of principles that trains us to use incremental, iterative work sequences to build products and services that are higher quality and have faster delivery times. It’s now spreading across all parts of the business; agile HR is based on engaging employees to build self-motivation and encourage collaboration and is measured in terms of employee satisfaction levels and trust among colleagues.

Given that HR teams engage every team and employee, increasingly we find ourselves introducing agile approaches or leading ‘agile transformations’. In 2018, Deloitte found one in four UK employees said they were not performing their best at work and almost a third admitted they were not engaged with their work. Such damning figures show many age-old HR methods have expired and now is the time for HR teams to implement agile across their organisations.

How can HR be agile?

What does agile HR mean for HR policies? A few striking examples have recently leapt out at me:

  • Rethink traditional appraisals – IBM has publicly stated it overhauled its appraisal system. Agile promotes constant feedback and open dialogue when building a product or delivering a service. Why not provide constant feedback on employees, so they don’t have to wait six months for a review when they are told what they have done badly? IBM believes employee engagement explains two-thirds of a customer’s satisfaction, so new organisational frameworks that prioritise the employee’s experience and satisfaction are critical.
  • Review your bonus structure – A major UK financial services company ended the top-down remuneration committee method of awarding bonuses. Instead, employees at all levels were encouraged to nominate colleagues who deserved a bonus. Agile advocates an end to top-down management structures, empowering employees and building consensus. The new approach ended the culture of entitlement, stopped HR colluding with senior management and often led to teams being awarded bonuses together, really solidifying collaboration and consensus – in short, it was truly agile.

While these are just two examples, there are many ways HR practices can be made more agile – leveraged to modernise, refresh and ultimately put employees’ satisfaction at the heart of what you do.  

In 2018, my organisation, Scrum Alliance, the global membership, coaching and certification body for agile, commissioned Forbes Insight to research the benefits of adopting agile, connecting with those who had successfully undergone agile transformations. Almost six out of 10 respondents reported improved employee morale and a greater ability to attract top talent. I predict that number will increase even further as organisations continue to reap the benefits of agility.

Our research also found almost a third of respondents reported that long-serving employees were the biggest detractors of transforming into agile enterprises. A central focus this year will be to work with organisations across the UK who want to adopt agile HR frameworks to enable their business to thrive. We understand that HR practitioners are integral to making that happen. Perhaps next year, WEF will discuss how agile HR helped businesses tackle “unprecedented uncertainty, fragility and controversy” in 2019.

Taralee Brady is senior director of talent and organisational development at Scrum Alliance, the largest global not-for-profit certification and membership organisation for the agile community

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