Agile HR Likely to Transform How We Manage People and Work

Agile methodology, a project management innovation of software companies to more quickly update and move tech products and services to market, is making its way into the business mainstream, including the adoption of agile practices by HR departments.

In Harvard Business Review, Peter Cappelli and Anna Tavis provide many examples of how HR is going "agile lite."

“With the business justification for the old HR systems gone and the agile playbook to copy, people management is finally getting its long-awaited overhaul too," Cappelli and Travis say. But, they warn, "[b]ecause HR touches every aspect – and every employee – of an organization, its agile transformation may be even more extensive (and more difficult) than the changes in other functions."

However, organizations that don’t adopt improved agility measures, may pay the price.

Pamela Meyer, author of The Agility Shift, says that improved team and organizational agility is linked to more than improved time to market and increased market share. Agility also impacts brand relevance, the ability to attract and retain top talent, customer satisfaction and loyalty, overall competitiveness and profit margins.

"In a world of rapid change, organizations must be able to respond faster," Meyer tells HR Leads Business. "Such responsiveness does not come from prepared agendas and scripts. It comes from creating an agile organization — one in which people, teams and departments have the capacity to embrace change, and to create advantage out of the unexpected and unplanned."

How agile is your organization? 

Defining Agile Methodology

For Meyer, greater agility means creating more space for employees to improvise solutions, often on the fly. Control and planning, she believes, has its place, but also some serious limitations. And for many in HR and business, relinquishing control is frightening.

Meyer will be featured in an April 26, 2018,HRCI Webinar, The Agility Shift: Best People Practices to Create a More Agile and Competitive Organization, along with leaders from T-Mobile.

Steve Denning, in Forbes, defines the important components of agile methodology:

"First, there is a total obsession with adding value to the customer through continuous innovation. Second is descaling big complex problems to the extent possible into small pieces that can be handled by small cross-functional self-organizing team[s], working in short cycles and getting direct feedback from customers or end-users. Third is to have the whole organization function as a fluid network, rather than a top down bureaucracy, so that information can flow easily and quickly sideways, up or down. All of these three elements are part of a different mindset — a different way of thinking about [how] organizations function and how to get things done in the world."

Overcoming Agile Adoption Challenges

Agile adoption throughout an organization is not easy. Backers of heavy top-down planning, goal setting and waterfall methodologies are not easy to sway and often think of sprints and scrums as loss of control. Employee personalities also come into play. As personality tests often demonstrate: Some people are more comfortable with back-and-forth collaboration, while others want to drive. Some enjoy constant variety and are flexible, while others — perhaps due to more rigid job roles — work better when there is stability and more structured duties.

The opportunity here, as Meyer describes it, is to balance stability and flexibility, creativity and constraint. "Contributors, regardless of their personality profile, can learn to work effectively when guided by principles and practices designed to strike this balance."

Managers of people must also adapt new skills to adopt agile, with more focus on coaching and team performance versus individual performance. HR professionals, themselves, must adapt.

"The HR function will require reskilling," Cappelli and Tavis say. "It will need more expertise in IT support — especially given all the performance data generated by the new apps — and deeper knowledge about teams and hands-on supervision."

Agile brings modern tools to help organizations get things done, Meyer says, but often overlooked is "a people-centered approach" that helps leaders and contributors at all levels of the organization first make the mindset shift toward a more agile approach, and quickly adopt new ways of working that improve communication, collaboration and resource coordination across the organization.

It’s not enough to have systems and processes in place or to restructure your organization to enhance agility. "Without learning and talent development strategies in place to support the people and relationships on which agile success depends," she says, "you will see a disappointing return on your investment."

Attend the HRCI Webinar on the Agility Shift

On Thursday, April 26, noon Eastern Time, Meyer will share some of the keys to the mindset and practice shift at the center of the agility shift. She will be joined by T-Mobile learning leaders, Melissa Davis and Melissa Lanier, who are adopting agile at their company. Register and reserve you spot for this groundbreaking HRCI Webinar at ON24.