Six HR leaders on their top tips for agile HR practice

4 minute read
We asked six leaders who demonstrate an agile mindset and who apply agile working methods what HR executives can do to become more agile. Here’s what they said
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Agile HR Meet the Human Focused Leaders

Start small and make mistakes

For those who are starting to look at agile HR for the first time, I can imagine it may come across as quite daunting. After all, one may become overwhelmed by thinking they have to change their entire way of working. The good news is that this is not true. The great thing about agile is that it is a guideline to be used to help you, not a strict process filled with bureaucracy. Start small and build from there. When you are looking at rolling out a new initiative to employees try some co-creation. Get some feedback from people before it’s finished then act on the feedback, iterate, and repeat.

Why not try a simple Kanban board approach on your next project or take a look at experience mapping. Pick one area that interests you and get that right before going for a big-bang approach. There are plenty of videos, courses and books that can help too. Good luck and I hope something goes wrong – that’s where the learning is.

Steve Othen, director of people operations & experience, Product Madness

Think in outcomes not outputs

So many people, as they embark on a move to agile ways of working focus on tools, ceremonies and a whole heap of buzz words. The reality is that agile is about a mindset- one where you place delivering value to the customer at the heart of the work you do. Tools can help with this, but they shouldn’t be your focus. We get lucky in HR, as our customer is right there so we can understand their needs and focus our energy on delivering the right things. I’d suggest any HR team about to embark on a move to agile do a few things:

  • Start small- pick one initiative and stand up a team who aren’t afraid to try new things out (and definitely get it wrong along the way)
  • Think in outcomes, not outputs- what will the impact be for our internal customers when we deliver this value?
  • Ask your customer questions all the time – is this meeting your needs? Does this work? Will it make work life better/more efficient/easier? If it doesn’t, scrap it and try something else. Don’t press on regardless just because you’ve already spent some time working on it. It’s time wasted, if your customer isn’t actually getting any value.
  • Don’t obsess over putting fancy tools in place from the beginning- stickies on a digital board will do the trick to get you started.
  • Above all- enjoy it. Agile HR was a real lightbulb for me - it’s pretty transformative stuff.

Aisling Winter, head of culture IAG Loyalty

Completely redesign the way you think and operate

For HR to remain relevant in today’s complex organisations we need to be more customer centric and collaborative in everything we do. By using design thinking concepts partnered with agile methodologies HR can map the employee experience to identify where policies and processes can be removed, revised or replaced. HR can co-create products and org design with non HR professionals to ensure business problems are solved and priorities are achieved. As a starting point, try something different, scale what works and build on your successes.

Mark McGuire, agile HR practitioner

Focus on achieving rapid change flexibly

Being more agile can really boost HR’s ability to become more responsive and adaptive to business needs, especially in today’s current environment where organisations are continuing to navigate rapid change. While this can result in having to make tough decisions in relation to policies, reward, and headcount (for example), HR leaders are in a perfect position to remove the red tape and focus on making commercially driven decisions to get quick results. This may, at times, mean making decisions that bend and flex policies – in the knowledge that the benefits outweigh any potential risks or associated costs to the organisation. Harness these strengths and expertise to introduce a more agile way of working when advising and supporting the business. 

Claire Williams, chief people officer, CIPHR

Be comfortable with cutting edge tools and be AGILE

HR will be AGILE when it follows these:

  • Ability – offer meaningful insights to the c-suite officials. The HR functionary should be multifaceted and if not an expert in cutting-edge tools like Python and Power BI, at least be comfortable with it and know people who can convert their tasks into tangible deliverables for the line functions.
  • Growth mindset –  allow people to thrive and contribute within the organisation and beyond.
  • Intrapreneurship – with the growth in start-ups and new business models, traditional line functions are merging and evolving. People should be developed in such a way that they become CEOs of their own workstreams.
  • Labile – change so quickly that even change seems routine in learning new skills and knowledge.
  • Empower – holding power is a thing of the past. Now delegate and see capable juniors grow the leader’s power. What capital was in the 20th century, power and knowledge is for the 21st century.

Aman Attree, chief human resources officer and president HR

Be a true partner to your stakeholders

For me, it’s how it should always have been. Be fully connected with what is going on in the business and be a true partner to your stakeholders.  Have conversations that lead to the co-creation of policies, processes etc that are fit for the business. Be collaborative, transparent. Listen to the different perspectives across the business and be ready and willing to adapt or change your thinking, policies and processes when it’s clear something needs a different approach. Make sure ownership and responsibility for people matters is distributed across the organisation, and that decision making is happening at the appropriate levels.

Joan O’Connor, head of leadership practice, 10Eighty

Leaders pictured in order left to right on each row

Published 12 January 2022
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