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Agile HR versus Agile Employees



Agile is one of the highly used words in 2017 when talking about the trends in HR and Talent Management.  But what does it mean?  I always like to start with definitions: -

Agile - adjective

1.  able to move quickly and easily.  or

2.  relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterised by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.

When we say we want agile HR – which one of these do we want, or both?  

I looked at several definitions from noteworthy authors and concluded that when we talk about agile HR, what we mean is creating agile employees.  A few definitions to reinforce the point: -

Bersin by Deloitte – “… the agile model of HR is not just to implement controls and standards…but rather facilitate and improve organisational agility…driving agility means driving programmes that create adaptability, innovation, collaboration and speed.”

HR Reporter – “…an agile organisational culture requires staffing the organisation with flexible and adaptable people who embrace change…”

Accenture – “Agility = adaptability + speed + execution”

Orion HR – “Agility is specific to an organisation…what does it mean to your organisation, what are the characteristics, how important are they to your success…”

All of the definitions were about the employees, not HR.  Therefore if the culture, work environment, individual skill sets, measures and rewards, to name a few areas, need to be agile what should HR do, as part of the leadership team, to facilitate the agreed level of agility?   And it is not the HR function that needs to be agile (any more than any other employee in the business), but rather the policies, procedures and processes need to reinforce the company’s needs around agility.

If your organisation wants to increase its agility, what are the top HR processes and procedures that need to be transformed to facilitate the change?  Here are a few ideas: -

Recruiting – the speed and ease in which new people and skills are found to meet a business need is an example of where HR can change processes and procedures to increase agility.  HR can address areas such as: -

  1. Requisition process – how long does it take to get approval to hire?  Does it need to be the same for full-time permanent and the more independent worker?  Who can approve the hire?  Does it need permission?  The use of technology to workflow the requisition through the process quickly and identifying when the request is getting “stalled”.  These are examples of areas that HR can make changes to the processes to help facilitate a more agile organisation.
  2. Compensation and employee contacts – who decided what the reward offer is for a potential candidate?  How many levels of approval are required?  Can the hiring manager change the employee contract?  Again, these are processes that could be modified to create more speed and flexibility into the process.

Onboarding – the shorter the lead time for a new worker to become 100% productive the agiler an organisation will be.  What process and procedures changes could HR facilitate to increase the speed to productivity?  Could some of the training be done before day one of an employee?  Ensuring all the core components of the job is available on day one (passwords, IT, badges, security, etc.).  Closed-looped feedback from the new joiner on their needs over the first three to five days to ensure the training, coaching and management feedback is tailored for the individual to gain speed and confidence in their new role.  These and other areas could be re-engineered to allow an organisation to be more agile.

Learning – Is the design of the learning programmes done in a manner to increase speed and flexibility?  Are there technologies deployed that allow the delivery of learning “nuggets” when they are needed even if mid-task?  What is the approval process to take an education course? Who owns the budget for learning?  Are employees empowered to find their learning solutions?

These are only a few examples of where specific HR policies, procedures and processes could be reviewed and ultimately re-engineered to increase more speed, flexibility and agility into the business.  And there will not be a “one size fits all”, as not all processes need significant agility, for example, termination for gross misconduct, you would want this to be a very formal non-flexible process to ensure that there are no legal consequences in how the company executed a dismissal.   Other the other end of the spectrum there are processes where empowering the employee to make the decision will achieve the most flexible and quick response.

How HR can be more agile is to review which processes and procedures for the various employee types could be changed to allow speed and flexibility.  HR as a function does not need to be any more or less agile than other functions within the company.  What does need to be more agile are the processes and procedures, and in most cases, it is about delegation.

Approval and delegations are the biggest inhibitors to building an agile culture and employee mindset.   If there are more than one level of approval for hiring, compensation, terminations, promotions or other similar HR processes than speed and flexibility is reduced.  HR alone cannot remove all the approval levels.  There is a need for the leadership of the business to decide what level of empowerment they want to “authorise” so that decisions and actions move faster.  HR can recommend and in some cases remove the HR functions need to “sign off”.  But in many processes, around people and other areas, the leadership of the business have to want to drive a more agile environment and culture.

The level of agility in an organisation needs to be owned, measured and managed by the full leadership team.  Each function can help make the company more flexible by critically reviewing the policies, processes and procedures to ensure that they facilitate an agile culture.  It is not the HR function that needs to be agile it is the employees in the organisation.  And HR is an employee.

Mary Sue Rogers

Picture Credit Agile HR

Posted On : 07-05-17

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