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How HR Teams Can Apply the Agile Methodology: A Complete Guide

GettyImages-874036172The global pandemic engulfed the world and forced many to leave offices and start working distantly, posing unprecedented challenges to human resource (HR) teams who had to learn the hard way how to do their job differently.

 Their duties are still the same: interacting with the labor force in many ways (hiring, training, firing, or settling disputes). Lockdown or not, HR departments are a crucial component of any company's corporate structure.

It is a fundamental physics law: rigid structure breaks unless it is sturdy enough to withstand pressure. It may not be the case with your company, meaning that you need a different approach to survival, which forms the basis of any evolution. You either have to be the toughest or adapt, and adaptation means being agile, which is also the name of the methodology applied in various circumstances, including human relations.


What Is The Agile Methodology About?

It all originated as a practical approach to software development with incremental continuous planning and improvement. This came opposite to the old Waterfall approach, where projects were developed linearly according to the requirements based on customers' information in the very beginning.

Scope of both the Agile and the Waterfall models stretches further than software development alone. It is about project management in general. In fact, "Agile applies only to IT" is one of the most common myths around it dispelled by the Association for Project Management. 

In a broader sense, agile management implies delivering project results at each step of its life cycle. According to Deloitte's research of global human capital trends in 2017, 79% of executives rated agile performance management a very high priority. 

In human relations, agility can transform the whole system to work with human capital - one of the six major capitals distinguished by integrated reporting. This includes developing products like motivational schemes for talent retention but goes much further and affects various types of interaction.


Being Agile With Your People

The idea may sound easy but requires cultural changes. HR teams have to be capable of self-organization to choose the optimal way to achieve desired results in constantly changing conditions and uncertain environments. HR manager becomes more of an aide, removing obstacles on the road followed by the team.

One of the main ideas is that core business functions had already switched to more short-term adaptive approaches, allowing fast adaptation to changing circumstances. It is a new business model to follow in the new reality.


What is Needed for Agile HR?

According to Anna Tavis, clinical associate professor and academic director of the Human Capital Management Department at NYU School of Professional Studies. many people see it metaphorically and do not comprehend the methodology's specifics. She calls it "accelerated-style delivery," a new type of performance management instead of the old Waterfall approach.

She witnesses examples in sometimes renowned organizations like Adobe. Surprisingly, in many cases, those in charge of transformation didn't realize where it came from. The correct answer is "from everywhere" because this transformation radiates throughout the whole corporate structure. People are just following the suit.  

Not every company's HR unit necessarily has all of the following as components in its structure, but ideally, those functions should be present within the following:

  • Recruitment
  • Training, continuous professional development
  • Remuneration, bonuses
  • Health and safety
  • Employee relations
  • Compliance

So what does it mean to put those functions under the umbrella of the Agile methodology?


Making it Digital

Digitization will introduce a more aligned and iterative way of working in HR. This means thinking differently, outside traditional HR performance evaluation. 

This implies new Agile ways of software development like Scrum framework, with small teams of ten or fewer members, divide their work goals to be completed within certain timeframes. This usually takes from two weeks to one month, if it is about software development. 

The initial emphasis on IT was later extended to new areas like sales or marketing. Still, with that in mind, it is not a big surprise that IT companies pioneered Agile transformation as they were able to focus their professional competencies and work experience on the development of new products.


Agility in Services

A simple example: billable hours are the amount of time spent by employees on any project compensated accordingly from the customer's payment by a certain hourly wage rate. The approach fits perfectly into the Agile framework as it allows service providers to charge their clients correspondingly to the number of service hours provided. The service aspect's importance is probably why service companies are second-best in terms of success in Agile methodology implementation after IT companies. 

Different from software development, internal corporate services are like the "upper level" of Agility. It is a more systemic view of how the whole organization knows exactly where there are opportunities for process acceleration as part of change management and where the people are needed to make it all happen. For example, organizational network analysis is a formal method to analyze social interaction between people within the corporate structure.



As seen by Anna Tavis, the final aspect of the Agile approach is a proper implementation of behavioral economics. If ignored, it equals building train tracks on the mud: they won't hold safely there. 

Wrong design means that people won't be doing what they are supposed to or won't do with the desired speed to justify transformation. It is closely interrelated with the organizational structure and its design in general.


Making Agile HR Real

Transformation of that sort requires careful planning and involvement on all organizational levels, from the very top to the bottom. As it was mentioned above, the change is universal. However, what wasn't mentioned are effective communications both on transition and with the Agile approach to process management already in practice. Otherwise, how would process participants inform others on the accomplishment of their part of the job?

Being Agile is the new reality of today. The business environment was constantly changing even before the pandemic – the crisis only made it a bit worse. Darwin's evolution theory says you have to adapt to survive. Agility is all about it, whether in human relations or somewhere else.

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Author's Bio: Nancy P. Howard has been working as a journalist at an online magazine in London for a year. She is also a professional writer in such topics as blogging, HR and marketing.

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