Building an Agile Organization Begins with Agile HR

In today’s fast-paced, innovation-driven business environment, agility is the name of the game. If your organization isn’t nimble, it’s not keeping pace

You’ve probably heard a lot the past several years about “agile organizations.” These companies are designed to execute strategy quickly, innovate faster, and easily adapt to business or customer needs.

SEE ALSO: Why HR Is Obsessed With Employee Performance Check-Ins

If your organization is going to become agile, it needs to start with HR. That’s because HR is no longer just about operations and people management. It’s a strategic unit that delivers business value in terms of cost savings, efficiency gains, and growth capability—all of which are key aspects of agile organizations.

If your organization is going to become agile, it needs to start with HR. Click To Tweet

So to make the transition from traditional to agile, HR needs to change its focus from imposing controls and standards to empowering adaptability, innovation, and collaboration.

Why Organizations are Moving to Agile

Agile originated as a software development methodology designed to improve responsiveness, productivity, and efficiency. Built on collaboration, team-based culture, and continuous improvement, agile development is ideal for today’s short-term projects and rapidly changing business environment.

According to VersionOne’s State of Agile Survey, managing changing business priorities is the top benefit of agile, and 98 percent of respondents say their organization has realized success with agile.

According to a McKinsey report, agile companies have better overall organizational health than their non-agile counterparts.

Agile companies have better overall organizational health than their non-agile counterparts.

Companies of all sizes and across industries are now using it throughout their organizations. Facebook, Google, Spotify, Netflix, and Zappos use the approach, and even more traditional companies like ING have transitioned to agile.

“Our objectives were to be quicker to market, increase employee engagement, reduce impediments and handovers, and, most important, improve client experience. We are progressing on each of these,” said Bart Schlatmann, who helped with ING’s transition to agile, in an interview with McKinsey.

HR plays a critical role in building an agile organization. From revamping the organizational structure to facilitating better engagement, agile HR helps a company respond to changing business and workplace expectations.

How Agile HR Works

So what does this shift to agile look like for HR? It’s realigning your organization to respond to the change and uncertainty in today’s business environment. Rigid plans, systems, and annual cycles don’t cut it anymore. HR must facilitate and support innovation and flexibility.

Here are some key differences between traditional HR and agile HR:

  • Traditional HR drives alignment and execution. Agile HR fosters expertise, collaboration, and decision-making.
  • In traditional HR, managers are taskmasters. In agile HR, managers are trained to become coaches.
  • Traditional HR trains employees for new roles. Agile HR creates a continuous learning environment for employees.
  • Traditional HR implements systems of record. Agile HR implements systems of engagement to facilitate collaboration and information sharing.
  • Traditional HR has annual performance reviews. Agile HR establishes continuous feedback throughout the year.
  • Traditional HR measures success by compliance and documentation. Agile HR measures success in terms of retention, employee satisfaction, and innovation.
In traditional HR, managers are taskmasters. In agile HR, managers are trained to become coaches. Click To Tweet

In order to make the transition, HR has to let go of some reins so it can operate at a strategic level. It has to be ready to empower managers to oversee employee development, which can build better trust, communication, and engagement.

Implementing Agile HR into Your Organization

It’s one thing to know the benefits of agile HR, it’s another to implement it in your organization. Change is never easy. But if there’s a unit uniquely equipped to facilitate transition, it’s HR.

Here are some common tips for implementing agile into your organization.

1. Gain Internal Support

One of the biggest challenges of building an agile organization is lack of internal support. In fact, 45 percent of people recognize it as the primary barrier to scaling agile. Your move? Start small.

Implement HR in one team or department as an experiment and learn by trial and error. If the experiment is successful, you have data to sell the idea to executives.

45% of people recognize internal support as the primary barrier to scaling agile.

2. Get Consistency in Process

You can test agile in one area, but eventually, it must spread throughout the company. If not, it’s going to cause a mess.

According to Scrum Alliance, 70 percent of agile practitioners report tension between their teams and the rest of the organization. Remember, agile is about fostering flexibility and innovation. You can’t have one department moving fast and another slowing up the process because it doesn’t have the same flexibility and adaptability.

You also can’t take some aspects of agile and neglect other key elements, as ING learned. “Some people formally embrace the agile way of working but do not let go of their existing organizational structure and governance,” Peter Jacobs, CIO of ING, told McKinsey. “That defeats the whole purpose and creates more frustration.”

3. Use Common Tools Across Teams

If you’re going to have an agile organization, you need common tools throughout the organization to facilitate engagement and development. One of the best tools is an ongoing, real-time feedback solution.

Ongoing feedback works seamlessly with an agile structure because it lets employees know how they’re performing throughout the year. Since most people are working in short-term project cycles, it makes sense to provide feedback throughout those cycles to maximize performance and development.

Having a goal management system is also important because it aligns individual and team goals with business objectives. It also helps managers track progress toward short-term and long-term goals, and allows for adjustments along the way. That’s much better than an annual performance review.

Being agile is no longer an option — it’s an organizational necessity.

Being agile is no longer an option — it’s an organizational necessity. Companies that lack agility or are limiting the approach just to IT teams are losing their competitive edge and stifling the hallmark of today’s business—innovation.

HR needs to be the change driver in this area. It can put the right people, processes, and structure in place to help organizations be responsive to ongoing changes.

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