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Agile – The new HR Mantra!

Dr. Anju Kumar
With change in technology, fluidity and volatility in the global economy, organization failure and success will hinge on how “agile” businesses will be. According to the Agile Alliance, Agile is “the ability to create and respond to change in order to succeed in an uncertain and turbulent environment.” The VUCA world of business demands that businesses be nimble and responsive as unexpected changes in the landscape are recurrent. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity embodies today’s global markets. New products and services are being created at a dizzying speed. Inflexible plans and rigid hierarchies may work when the world moves slowly and predictably, but in a vortex, they block innovation, waste time, and prevent organizations from taking advantage of new opportunities.
What is Agile HR
Agile HR takes its antecedence from agile software development, a continuous iterative, collaborative process which makes incremental changes on a continuous basis. When applied to HR, agile principles change the focus from imposing controls and standards to empowering collaboration and innovation. In adopting agile HR, an organization needs to make available the same functions in terms of hiring, professional development, and performance management, incorporating the changes in culture and style of working of organizations. Reorganizing HR as an agile discipline can help HR create a more robust organization, with the agility and openness that’s required to navigate through the realities of the VUCA vortex.
Emergence – Agile HR
Josh Bersin in 2012, at the annual HR conference by Deloitte had proposed on how HR can add value towards building an agile workplace. According to him, HR could contribute significantly towards making the organization Agile. Agile principles tend towards, supporting continuous learning, continuous talent acquisition and processes which are transparent and facilitate organizations to attract, develop and engage talent in the twenty first century.
Salient Feature- Agile HR
Table 1 showing Traditional HR VS Agile HR

Sl No
Traditional HR
Agile HR
Remedial approach to learning
Continuous learning environment
An employee who under performs in a current role or needs to prepare for a new role is assigned training to achieve a specific performance level.
Employees are given myriad opportunities to learn and stretch themselves independent of a specific, job-related goal
“Recruiting” mind-set
Continuous talent acquisition
As jobs become available, the search for candidates begins. Once the best candidate is identified, the talent acquisition process is complete
Organizations invest in their employer brand and cultivate ongoing relationships with talent across multiple channels
Opaque talent processes
Transparent access to talent information
Talent management is owned by HR, and the processes by which talent is acquired, evaluated, and developed are proprietary and inaccessible
Talent management is facilitated by HR, which empowers employees to take ownership of their own development. Employees understand and are active participants in talent acquisition, evaluation, and development processes.
Siloed objectives
Unified mission and values
Jobs are discrete elements in a complex system. Job requirements are related to specific workplace tasks.
All jobs directly support the mission and values of the organization, and all employees understand how their on-the-job performance supports these elements of the organizational culture.

Implementing systems
Piloting small initiatives
Large-scale systems are carefully researched, resourced, and deployed over the course of many months or even years.
Small-scale initiatives are piloted within a specific team, job family, or business unit. Feedback is gathered early and often to determine whether the initiative should be expanded or scrapped.
HR as “system of record”
HR as “system of engagement”
The HR function is focused on record-keeping and defensibility. Employee files and records of HR activities and outcomes track progress and note issues. HR success is measured in the completeness of documentation.
The HR function is focused on engaging employees to enhance self-motivation and encourage collaboration. HR success is measured in terms of retention, employee satisfaction levels, innovation levels, and organizational goodwill and trust.
Integration – Agile HR
Most HR processes work in an annua
l or at the best quarterly cycles. While agile adopts short cycles. Regular feedback and reflection, subsequent course correction based on evidence collected are the key aspects of Agile. Integrating Agile into HR processes is the challenge. There is limited published knowledge as to how to do this.
The three key areas where Agile will affect HR are, new career paths and possibilities, updated job descriptions to attract top talent and revamped training and development processes.
ING, a global financial institution of Dutch origin, is a good example of an organization which adopted Agile HR.ING which was a pioneer in adopting agile, realised that having the right people to practice and refine new processes was important. To prove this, ING made every employee at its headquarters (nearly 3,500 people) re-interview for their job. It was shocking to note that 40% of the employees ended up in new positions or separated from ING. This was not because of a lack of skill sets (their skillsets were very much relevant) but a lack of the right mind-set, one that could embrace the uncertainty of a software-based organization while seeking out new, better ways to deliver that service. Here the HR team played a very important role in understanding, and determining the agile mind-set; which staff members possessed it, the employees who could be trained in the agile mind-set and who had to be let go. The HR team, to further understand what makes Agile cultures nimble, responsive, tech centric and attractive to top talent, visited and did a case study on digital companies like Spotify, Netflix and Zappos.
Agile cannot be evaded anymore. The VUCA model is here to stay, and so is Agile. CEO’s are turning towards HR leaders to create an agile workforce, to capitalize on new opportunities and to take on deep rooted challenges. Bold internal policy transformations, a new approach to hiring, and paradigm shifts in company culture could become part of the transitioning to Agile.  The growing need for Agile HR is evident. Improving time to market, continuous learning, responsiveness, and collaboration are the other advantages of adopting Agile HR. Agile is now the new HR Mantra!