Can HR really be truly agile?

Topics: Agile, HR

My team and I are currently on a journey towards an Agile way of working. So, what is Agile? Well the best answer I can give at this stage in our Agile adoption is that it means different things to different people. Certainly, Agile is a methodology and way of working, but it’s also a set of values and way of communicating too.

As a software business, Causeway has made the decision to embrace Agile across all areas of the business, including HR. I personally believe that this is ultimately the right choice, and will allow areas of the business to challenge long held conceptions, break down siloes and become more nimble. However as I write, we are in the first throes of adoption. I must confess that it seems at times that there are as many questions being raised as answers given as to how a methodology initially designed to streamline software product development can work in a people and process centric environment like HR? Perhaps it would help to go to the source and consider the 4 key principles on which Agile is founded:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation.
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change over following a plan.

So, let’s try and interpret these 4 key values into my HR world and forgive me if I slip into HR jargon....

  1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools – I would prefer to use language like ‘People’ and ‘engagement with people’ over ‘policies’ and ‘process’ and this is the 1st area of angst for us poor HR people. As much as we place very high value on People and Engagement (if we didn’t, then frankly we are in the wrong job), policies and processes are a necessary part of what we do, due to having to comply with the law and ACAS codes. It’s also how we apply fairness in the workplace and gather management information through metrics. But how are we going to balance the very real need for process and documentation with an Agile working environment and what emphasis do we place on each?
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation – I interpret this as ‘workable solutions’ over ‘comprehensive documentation’. Again though, an area of angst for us. Let’s face it, we are problem solvers. If an employee or the business has a people problem, we are brought in to solve it. So, the workable solutions bit, is something that again, I would consider HR to specialise in. However, we also have to comprehensively document what we do, how we do it and justify why we have done it in case we are challenged.
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation – Now, the question for me here is, who are HR’s customers and once we know the answer to that question, how can we best collaborate with them? For me, our customers are the business and our employees, but do you agree? We recently sent out a survey to who we perceive are our customers and once we receive the feedback, we’ll no doubt will have some further clues on how best we collaborate with them. I won’t even begin to think about defining the different types of contracts until later!
  4. Responding to change over following a plan – Now, this is something that I believe we are very comfortable with in HR. As problem solvers, we appreciate that circumstances will vary and that not all problems have the same solution, so I believe we naturally adopt an iterative approach.

So, as I touched upon initially, lots of thoughts and lots of questions raised. Some areas of Agile working naturally align themselves with HR and Employee relations. Others seem diametrically opposed. Either way, the adoption of Agile is prompting a huge amount of dialogue, both internally within the department and with our colleagues in other departments. And that can only be a good thing. 

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