How can Agile support an HR Transformation

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How can Agile support an HR Transformation
Agile is now finding strong growth in industry and functions outside of software development.     Last time we looked at Agile in Marketing, in this article we are considering how Agile can support a HR Transformation.

In this mini-series we will be exploring “What is Agile…” in different functions, and why it’s working and how you can implement today. As learned from previous ADAPTOVATE reports, Agile is now finding strong growth in industry and functions outside of software development.     Last time we looked at Agile in Marketing, in this article we are considering how Agile can support a HR Transformation.

Agile HR.

We are familiar with the typical challenges HR teams face. Including:

  • Too many ​meetings and no clear decisions or actions
  • Too many silos and things get done by relationships
  • Making things complex for ourselves
  • Saying “yes” to too much which compromises delivery

There are 3 areas where Agile can support a HR transformation:

  1. Use Agile ways of working in HR to do HR work (be more efficient and effective in doing HR work)
  2. Change how HR and business teams interact
  3. Change HR polices and processes to enable scaling of Agile across the business

In 2018, Anna Tavis, a clinical associate and professor of Human Capital Management at New York University, wrote a milestone piece in HBR called HR goes Agile (co-authored by Peter Capilli). In this article they discussed the groundbreaking changes for organisations in their performance management utilising new ways of working.

Travis later discussed in a podcast for MyHrFuture, that, “I think a lot of people use agile metaphorically. They don’t really understand that there is a specific methodology that is associated with it and there are some tools that are enabling agility in organisations that need to be introduced before we even start talking about agility. So, agility for organisations and HR means a lot more than just being nimble and responsive”.

There are two distinct relationships between Agile and Human Resources (HR).  The first is Agile “for” the HR team.  The second is HR “for” an Agile function elsewhere in the business.  Let’s look at both.  

Case study:

In a large global bank we saw the HR team shift their ways of working to deliver on their purpose.

Accelerate the people agenda (Agile “for” HR)

HR needed to transform to deliver on their strategy and support ways of working. In order to do so, they needed to streamline product and service development to free up leaders to focus on more strategic concerns.

The organisation was looking to HR (HR “for Agile) ​

As agile adoption grew within the business, HR increasingly fielded requests for support in the new model such as: how do we conduct performance management, develop people and define career paths

Agile for HR

If you’ve worked in companies where the HR team sit scratching their heads on how to market to their customers (talent), then you should be engaged with this article.   Why isn’t there a marketer at the team meeting – surely they would be the right person?  Why isn’t there finance either? 

When you bring cross-functional teams together (in scrum teams) to deliver for a single function (in this case HR) – your ability to make faster decisions will rapidly increase.   Thus, the recruitment pipeline will result in less applications, but better quality applicants. However it’s worth considering that HR can adapt agile to its needs rather than adopting technical versions like scrum.

It’s only an example of how agile can impact a function like HR, but it’s key.  For it to work, all the other pieces need to be addressed, starting first with an audit of the division or organisation. (See end of article for the step by step approach to implementing agile into HR.)


Digitisation and innovation in HR has accelerated the uptake of agile.  “Looking again at Performance Management and then some other processes that were beginning to align with the much more incremental iterative way of working, we realised that definitely it has to do with the digitisation of HR,” said Travis.

So, Agile in HR simply means applying the Agile principles in how you make decisions and approach the work in HR.

To further our example above, through the implementation of Chapters, you may have all the Marketing leads working together (in a chapter) to increase capability and then some will take it back into their HR scrum team.   This holistic and cross-functional approach will develop a more engaged HR workforce, as well as increased success with the people they are serving.  That is, hiring and retaining top talent.


When implementing Agile at scale across a large organisation, one of the first areas we need to invest time in is HR.  Without HR understanding the underlying principles of change in workforce structure, it will unravel.   

So even if your Agile implementation is with the software team, or the marketing team,  there will be changes with how employees work together and what capabilities will be needed.   HR needs to be involved.

So bringing both Agile for HR and HR for Agile together – we have the term AGILE HR

People Centric Business

Agile HR is all about aligning your HR organisation so it can be more in sync with employee outcomes, and less based on individual HR silos.

This is important for two main reasons:  

  1. HR becomes even more focused on the end-to-end employee experience
  2. HR roles become more interesting for the HR team members, because HR offer business leaders more value through real partnership to solve their most important problems

Agile HR is predicated on the notion that one of the most information-rich data sources regarding a particular process or program is the collective of people who are actually involved in the process/delivering the work,” says Patrick Fitzgerald, senior consultant in the US.

Organisations that co-create the working environment and experience with the people who are actually involved experience a myriad of benefits such as improved productivity, increased employee satisfaction and enhanced retention.

Furthermore, organisations that leverage the collective intellect and creative capacity of their team members invariably innovate faster than those organisations that confine the creative agency to a few individuals.   Agile allows organisations to do this.

ADAPTOVATE’s HR op model design principles aim to strike the right balance between both autonomy and collaboration on one hand, and empowered people with authority on the other.

How to start introducing Agile HR

As with introducing any new major remodel into a function or division, it requires some team members or consultants who understand the principle of what you are trying to achieve.  The list below (as seen in our recent ‘Agile in Marketing’ article) doesn’t change no matter what function you’re introducing this new way of working to.

This quick list below runs through what a typical approach may be to get HR teams fully functioning in their new operating model.

1. Have an external entity run a diagnostic to assess where teams are sitting on the 7 enablers

2. Analyse the diagnostic findings, interpret the results and identify themes

3. Recommend a coaching plan to uplift capability in areas of immediate need

4. Start with one pilot team and learn by doing. Test and learn

5. Engage stakeholders to share learnings and feedback from pilot

6. Iterate the coaching plan based on feedback from the pilot

7. Expand the pilot to include more teams

8. Continue to engage stakeholders and work together to identify the tipping point when agile can be rolled out at scale across HR.

9. Now that teams are working “agile”, look forward to transitioning the teams to an agile operating model to drive efficiency and effectiveness by working in Tribes and Chapters

In Agile HR experienced practitioner Riina Hellström’s article she gives 10 practical examples of Agile HR.  Listed below, we recommend you read the full article to understand each.

  1. Agile in Learning
  2. Agile HR as an HR operative model
  3. Agile for a HR project
  4. Agile HR in an Agile Transformation
  5. Agile HR in redesigning a process
  6. Agile HR in organisation change
  7. Agile HR in a Company Value manifesto work
  8. Agile HR in an Audit
  9. Agile HR in redesigning a performance management system
  10. HR team writing a manager’s handbook in an agile way

SOURCE: 10 case examples of Agile HR – Agile is here to stay! Riina Hellström

To discuss more on how we can help transform HR operating models with using new ways of working, contact us now.  We will  respond within 24 hours.

Thank you to the following Contributors:

Patrick Fitzgerald, Senior Consultant, Los Angeles
Murray Foltyn, Senior Consultant, Sydney
Paul McNamara, Partner and Managing Director
Rachna Verma, Senior Consultant, Sydney



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