Agile in HR: What You Need to Know in 5 Minutes

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘HR’? And how about ‘agile’, what image does this evoke? One probably doesn’t immediately lead to the other, does it? And yet together, agile and HR are starting to become more and more like a popular couple. As we know how challenging it can be to stay fully informed on a myriad of different developments, we’ve gathered all you need to know about Agile in HR. To read whenever you have 5 spare minutes in your busy schedule.


The Agile approach originally comes from the field of software development and has been around for about 15 years. It all started with a few developers coming together to find a more efficient way of creating software. Up until then, projects would often be divided in 4 different phases: analysis, design, code and test. One of the biggest disadvantages of this so-called Waterfall system was that if there were any delays, people would try to make up for the lost time by cutting short the test phase; obviously this had an impact on the quality of the software. Other downsides were the lack of visibility — people never knew exactly where they were in a project — and the fact that developers only got to test their designs at the end. The latter basically means that you don’t know if you’ve built a decent, well-working piece of software until it’s too late.


The Agile approach doesn’t divide a project into different individual stages. Instead, analysis, design, code and test are on-going activities. You can also look at it as a bunch of mini-projects, together creating the bigger picture of the main project. This way of software development has several benefits, the most important one being that testing starts from the very beginning. This allows developers to correct things right away if need be. For customers the Agile approach is better too; they get to make changes without it costing them a fortune.

Since its first introduction in 2001, the Agile approach has become the most popular way of software development and today, a vast majority of software companies is using Agile methods. And the Agile success story — faster, cheaper & customer orientated — hasn’t gone unnoticed, because pretty much any other industry has picked up on it. So now, after marketing, finance and plenty of other business sectors, HR is finally starting to catch up.


Now how does all this Agile theory apply to HR, right? Well, for starters, if all other departments in the organisation are ‘going Agile’ it seems inevitable for HR to follow. But besides simple peer pressure, an Agile approach to HR and all its 21st century challenges, is crucial for the agility of companies as a whole; one can not truly function without the other. An example from Bersin can be found here. But given the countless developments in HR and HR tech recently, it’s shouldn’t come as a big surprise that an agile team of HR professionals is needed anyway..

Let’s have a look now at some more tangible aspects of Agile HR. Elements you can keep in mind, or even implement once you’re going Agile. Here are a few thoughts:

1) Stay Small

In terms of your HR team that is. This is no rocket science; a small team is more nimble than a big one, so it’s easier to implement changes and adapt to new developments.

2) Embrace Change

Being agile means always being ready for change when the business needs it, at any given moment. Your processes should be set up accordingly, which means you want to avoid heavy procedures that are difficult to change. Stick with the bare minimum when it comes to documentation — as long as it’s in accordance with the law of course. At the same time, encourage your team in such a way that they’re constantly prepared to do new work activities.

3) Cut Back on the Meetings

Sit down for a moment and list all the weekly, bi-weekly, monthly and so on meetings you have. Write down the average amount of time you spend on every one of them and add it all up. The result most probably is staggering, isn’t it? Think about other things you could have done during that time and if they would have contributed more to the business than all those meetings. If the answer is yes, then cut back on certain meetings or organise them more efficiently. You only get to spend your time once, so make sure you spend it wisely.

4) Feedback

We’ve spoken about feedback and its importance before, so regular readers know you need to do more than just a once-a-year, 20 minute review. When it comes to the agility of your team though, feedback is even more vital. Why? Because it will help people to grow continuously and if you think someone is going slightly in the wrong direction, a bit of simple feedback can get them back on track. Create an environment of regular feedback sessions and make sure your employees know they can give constructive feedback on the management too.

5) Freshmen

It’s good to have a solid team of people that have been working together for a long time: everyone knows each other and they know exactly what they can expect. Over time, the team members have learned to respect one another and there is a sense of loyalty towards the unit. And yet sometimes, a different perspective from a young professional that’s freshly out of school can be a good thing. It keeps people sharp and might lead to a little boost of innovation.

6) Hands Off

Let people do their job without interfering, that’s basically what this one is about. Have faith in your team and give them the space to do what they do best. For these self-organising teams — as they are called — to function, they need to be made of the right mix of people and it needs to be super clear who is responsible for what. Here you can read more about building this type of team.

7) Keep Things Simple

Agility is about moving permanently. Therefore you want to keep the number of policies you have in place as low as possible. Even if it’s tempting to say ‘we need to create a process for this and that’, avoid unnecessary red tape. Solutions don’t have to be perfect, they have to work well and be easily adaptable. As Tom Haaks put if beautifully: “While you are working on your perfect solution, the world has moved on, and your solution is no longer perfect.”

Agile is the way forward when it come to 21st century HR. Changes coming from the (Millennial) workforce, software developments, and customer behaviour, push HR departments into a different way of operating. If the HR function isn’t nimble, it’s impossible for the rest of the organisation to become agile. It’s time to start thinking of ‘Agile’ and ‘HR’ as two inseparable best friends.

On Your Way Out

Now before you go, don’t forget to download your free ‘Beginner’s Guide to Predictive analytics in HR’. In it, you’ll find everything you need to know to take your first steps into the wonderful world of Predictive Analytics. Get it here:

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