How can HR leaders incorporate an agile approach?

HR leaders are facing mounting pressure to cut costs, restore employee productivity and deliver on employee experience

How can HR leaders incorporate an agile approach?

While there is a growing consensus among HR leaders that HR should become more agile, there is an overall uncertainty about how to effectively apply the principles, according to Caroline Walsh, vice president in the Gartner HR practice.

Indeed, a Gartner survey of 253 HR leaders reveals that 63% of respondents report already using some variation of agile methods and principles within the HR function.

The majority of HR leaders (74%) report their organisations are experiencing a large agile transformation broadly as a tool for improving organisational outcomes.

However, recent Gartner research found that 78% of HR leaders have neither a defined strategy nor outcomes in place to guide their application of agile in the function.

Moreover, HR leaders are facing mounting pressure to cut costs, restore employee productivity, deliver on employee experience and execute the right policies for their employees.

According to Gartner, HR leaders can introduce agile principles through two main avenues: HR projects – by improving or creating new HR solutions, and the HR operating model – the formal and informal ways HR gets work done and delivers value to the business.

Gartner recommends HR leaders consider the following strategies to be more agile:

Create space for strategic thinkers to solve customer problems
Mark Whittle, vice president of advisory in the Gartner HR practice, said the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the need for all organisations to be able to quickly adjust to the changing circumstances.

“Adopting agile methods will enable HR to provide more relevant support and better solutions to the organisation at large,” said Whittle.

Read more: COVID-19: How to work at home and stay sane

A 2019 Gartner HR Structure survey showed that less than two out of every five HR leaders believe their function separates transactional and strategic tasks appropriately. Though HR leaders want to spend more time on strategic work, the current operating model and processes don’t allow for this.

Applying agile values require HR leaders to give strategic thinkers the space and tools necessary to solve high impact customer problems while minimizing or eliminating the need for these employees to work on operational tasks. 

Implement a proactive, customer-sensing HR model
Gartner research finds that only 29% of employees agree that HR understands their needs and expectations. Often, HR business partners work with the business and provide strategic support in understanding its needs, while trying to capture employee feedback in the moment.

Despite HR’s attempts to better understand its customers via engagement surveys, exit surveys and pulse surveys – and even more experimental techniques such as data scraping – its efforts often fall short of truly sensing customer needs. HR leaders should re-think their HR structures in order to identify the shifts in customer needs and determine where HR will have the most strategic impact.

Read more: COVID-19: Top priorities for HR leaders revealed

Manage work as investment portfolio rather than a set agenda
Gartner’s 2020 Agile HR Function Survey showed that only one-third of HR leaders agree that projects are paused or stopped if they are no longer deemed strategic and/or valuable.

Additionally, only 34% of HR leaders agree that resources are reallocated when there is insufficient support for employees to tackle priority work.

Rather than building an agile HR function based on a set agenda, HR leaders must manage work processes as an evolving investment portfolio. Doing so requires HR leaders to be more flexible and reassess priorities on a regular basis to ensure the highest priority projects receive the greatest investment.

“Progressive HR leaders are seeking new ways to ensure their functions provide value and drive results, and they are considering agile as a potential solution,” said Whittle.

“Incorporating an agile approach within HR leads to tangible benefits for the organisation and helps HR keep up with agile transformations occurring throughout the rest of the business.”

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