Three Keys to Unlocking Agile HR

Drastic shifts in employee expectations, increasing remote work, and growing concern for employee well-being have put tremendous pressure on Human Resources (HR) to adapt its service delivery. As a result, it's never been more crucial for HR to foster organizational flexibility and people-centered solutions. In this blog, we'll show you the keys to unlocking more agile ways of working—a shift that drives solutions tailor-made for HR customer demands.

Based on our successful experience with departmental agile transformations, we recommend that HR consider three central transformation themes:

  • Design HR processes to be employee-centric
  • Reimagine HR ways of working
  • Consider a pilot approach

Key one: Design HR processes to be employee-centric

Successful agile HR teams drive value by placing the employees’ (i.e., their customers’) needs at the forefront – such as a strong leadership development program or seamless review process. Focus on three elements to develop an employee-centric organization:

  1. Co-create to increase value: HR must first understand the priorities and pain points for their employees before instilling the desired ways of working. Co-creation can help HR teams infuse the employee perspective. Identify co-creation opportunities through activities such as mapping the employee experience journey and moments that matter.
  2. Gather employee (customer) feedback: Listening to employees through iterative feedback sessions gives the agile HR team frequent opportunities to course-correct and prioritize what will deliver the most valued benefits.
  3. Assess constantly: Regularly prioritizing and frequently measuring HR activities' impact allows an agile HR organization to show the value delivered and inform the most relevant areas of focus.

High-value organizational outcomes are the result of these employee-centric activities.

Key two: Reimagine HR ways of working

Typical HR models, such as the Ulrich Model, involve sizeable Centers of Excellence (CoE). The result? Vertical reporting silos across the organization, such as recruitment and performance management. While, in principle, CoEs should work alongside HR business partners and share HR operations, the reality looks quite different. These HR teams often have their own objectives and priorities that hamper their ability to collaborate.

By creating a cross-functional team with membership across the CoEs, HR business partners, and operations, agile HR mitigates the silo effect that often accompanies traditional models.

Agile HR teams leverage collaborative groups that own a product or service from end-to-end, avoiding inefficiencies and lost knowledge from handoffs and transfers to other parties. These teams can deliver on customer needs and quickly reconfigure to adapt to new demands, creating organizational resilience and flexibility. The team serves the business based on the value generated and priorities (i.e., increase in employee engagement or satisfaction scores), not pre-determined relationships or roles. An HR team might find that these cross-functional end-working groups are created naturally through cyclical activities. Take, for example, year-end performance reviews: Talent, HR business partners (HRBPs), HRIS teams, supervisors, and total rewards (for any resulting merit reviews) come together to address customer needs. The key to agile ways of working is then to create comparable engagements for any new product or service. In other words, a cross-functional team assembles flexibly to meet a specified business need. For example, a revised onboarding offering may bring together recruiting, HRPBs, leadership, learning and development, and hiring manager representation.

Agile HR Team

Key three: Consider a pilot approach

When adopting more agile practices in HR, we recommend taking a pilot approach instead of transforming in one "big bang,“ for a minimum of one quarter, preferably two. Pilot a small, dynamic, and high-performing team with a specific cross-functional, time-bound initiative or project. Starting small allows the group to test the ways of working and become advocates. When your pilot team has completed at least one round of delivery to the business, such as conducting end-of-year reviews or onboarding a set of new employees, you can assess the success of your new team’s results as well as ways of working. Then, when successful, your pilot team can accelerate others through the transition as you identify other projects that would benefit from this agile approach. An agile pilot will enable teams to identify potential barriers, learn new skills, and experiment with limited risk.

To pilot agile within HR, the organization must understand where the strategic business priorities lie, how HR is involved, the most significant customer delivery opportunities, and which teams are most suited to pilot. Diagnostic tools and assessments, such as an HR maturity scale, can help uncover these elements. A pilot team can provide a proof of concept, but future teams need to fine-tune a nuanced approach that works for them. Experimentation and testing within the pilot teams can help HR transform towards a genuinely agile mindset.

Opening the door

To open the door to meaningful strategic opportunities, keep pace with rapidly changing business needs, and address employee preferences, HR must continue to infuse agility into how it operates. Today’s vanguard HR teams are no longer transactional personnel departments. Instead, they are wielding agile ways of working to become increasingly adaptive to business needs, more employee-centric, and more interdisciplinary. The outcome? Optimal value to the business. With the keys we've shown you in this blog, we hope you'll plan your own agile pilot and open the door to agile HR in your organization.  

For more thinking on this topic, click here to learn how HR can achieve operational flexibility and experiential, people-centered delivery. In addition, our white paper outlines the next steps for your operating model transformation.