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Agile HR vs. agile HR: More than a difference in capitalization
Samantha McLaren

By: Samantha McLaren on August 22nd, 2019

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Agile HR vs. agile HR: More than a difference in capitalization

HR Operational Efficiency

Est. Read Time: 3 min.

For a long time, the only people familiar with Agile with an uppercase “A” were software developers. But over the past few years, the Agile methodology has made quite the splash, redefining project management and HR processes across a wide variety of industries. 

 

At a time when change happens fast and HR needs to be more nimble than ever before, Agile can provide a wealth of benefits to any company—but its design does require significant restructuring across teams.

 

Before determining whether Agile is right for your HR team, it’s vital to first understand what it is, what the key concepts behind it are, and how it will impact the daily lives of your employees. 

 

All Agile is agile, but not all agile is Agile

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An essential first step in breaking down Agile is understanding the distinction between agile with a lowercase “a” and Agile with an uppercase “A”. Sure, most employees and companies could benefit from becoming more agile—being as adaptable, responsive, and quick-thinking as possible. But while Agile certainly encourages and fosters the development of these traits among its participants, they're not one and the same.

 

Agile with an uppercase “A” is a project management methodology. It consists of a specific set of principles and practices proven to help teams work more efficiently and strategically—ideally producing higher-quality work in less time, while being more responsive to customer or employee needs. 

 

In contrast, the traditional Waterfall methodology is a more hierarchical, structured approach. Unlike Waterfall, Agile shines for its flexibility—and as all HR professionals know, in the business of managing people, flexibility is key. 

 

The overwhelming demand for agility  

As technology rapidly advances, the nature and expectations of work can change on a daily basis—and, many businesses are getting left behind. Agile can help companies become more agile and responsive in a landscape that increasingly demands it. But in order to make the transition to this model of project management, employees need to be open to revamping operations and completely rethinking the way they approach, manage, and execute their work.

 

To keep Agile as adaptable as it’s designed to be, it’s best implemented in small teams that continually communicate their progress, obstacles, solutions, and learnings to each other as well as their higher-ups. Every burst of work becomes an iteration of this communicative cycle. And by virtue of continually monitoring and reflecting on their projects—as well as receiving regular feedback—employees (and by extension, the company) maintain a constant flow of improvement. Plus, when big projects are broken down this way into a sequence of smaller deliverables filed in increments, they're shown to yield higher success rates.

 

Related article: 5 tips for a successful HR technology project

 

Laying the foundation for a successful transition

Since it was initially tailored to software development, there are a lot of Agile logistics that may not apply to your HR team. The now widely used term “Agile-lite” describes a variation of the method that allows companies to apply the general principles of Agile and reap the benefits—without integrating the many tech-specific tools and protocols that it traditionally comes along with. 

 

Regardless of how you approach integration, it must be a gradual process if you want to see success. 

 

“Trying to implement full scale Agile HR at one time is a recipe for disaster,” writes Wayne Tarken, a leading Agile HR consultant. “It will likely fail. It’s as much of a behavior change as a process change. As with any change, a gradual implementation over time is a more effective strategy.”

 

There are a number of ways to approach the gradual transition into Agile HR. A simple first step may be to focus on the most foundational layer of any company: its culture. 

 

Think about what aspects of your company culture you want to enhance, preserve, or reduce. Agile HR, with its emphasis on continuous employee communication, feedback, and learning, provides a basis for improving employee experience and engagement right alongside productivity. 

 

Along those lines, make sure your leadership is on board with the change to come. Set expectations and goals and ensure that everyone is participating. If only half the team adapts to the new way of working, you’ll have to re-evaluate the framework you set for the transition.

 

Download eBook The Key to Strategic HR: Process Automation

 

Smoothing bumps along the way

It’s natural for there to be some growing pains when HR goes Agile. Consider starting with low-risk projects until you’re comfortable with the methodology. This might seem obvious, but it’s a great way to help teams learn from mistakes rather than be bogged down by them—encouraging employees to determine and discuss what works and what doesn’t.

 

Continuously refining and readjusting the principles you use is the best way to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate hurdles before they arise. After all, if you’re not comfortable with change, you can never truly be agile—with or without the capital letter.

 

Having HR technology that supports the Agile approach is important and can help ease the transition for each and every one of your employees. An integrated HR Service Delivery platform can increase your company’s responsiveness to change and improve employee engagement every step of the way. Today, elevating the employee experience lies at the heart of every HR initiative—and a smooth transition to Agile can bring that heightened experience about even quicker. 

 

See how nimble, adaptable operations can lead to HR transformation in our interactive eBook: Less Time on Paper, More on With People: 5 Steps to HR Transformation

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About Samantha McLaren

Scottish-born Samantha McLaren is a copywriter and editor with a specialty for the recruiting and HR space. She has written dozens of articles on topics ranging from employee retention and engagement to employer branding, company culture, and management strategies.