The talk of agile human resources has been discussed vigorously over the last decade or so, with most parties taking one of the two extreme positions – the 'absolute nonsense' position and the 'best thing ever' position.
As is often the case, the concept of agile human resources is probably not going to be best described by either of the two extremes. In other words, it will be somewhat of a mixed bag and in the right environment, it can actually be a great way to do HR which is why we should give it at least some attention.
What is the agile method?
Agile method originates from the world of software development. More precisely, agile software development was standardized in the early 2000s when a group of developers met in Utah to formulate this new way of developing software. As opposed to the old, waterfall methods, their new method entailed developing software in increments, responding to newly-formed circumstances, working without strict hierarchy, and, in general, being more agile. If you want to read more on the history of the Agile movement and what agile means, this article is a great place to start.
Over the years, agile has been adopted by an extremely large percentage of development companies and even the 'dinosaurs' like Microsoft realized that this approach boasts far too many advantages to be discarded as a fad. It also inspired the proliferation of tools to support this way of doing software development, such as project management tools which managers were quick to adopt to enable greater project control.
Of course, it didn't take people long to start putting agile in front of other concepts, and HR was one of them.
The (unrealistic) shift from strategic
The most prominent change that the traditional HR practices would have to undergo in order to be called agile is that they would have to become far more reactive than they are today. Here also lies the biggest problem with agile HR.
Namely, one of the tenets of sound HR approach in any company is that the efforts are well thought-out in advance and then applied through a comprehensive and coordinated practice. On the other hand, at the core of the agile method is a certain dislike for everything that is formalized beforehand and which holds tight reins over the subsequent practical process.
Adopting an entirely reactive HR practice would probably be impossible, and keeping HR 100% agile would therefore be more a mental exercise than anything practicable.
The virtue of adaptability
While purely agile HR is probably not a realistic proposition, there is much to like about the adaptability aspect of the agile approach.
HR has its way of becoming too set in its ways, especially in large organizations where people come and go at a more "industrial" rate and where certain practices have not been revalued for years, if not decades. In such situations, HR becomes more of a nuisance and chore than anything else and it loses the sight of what is important.
Moreover, this kind of HR practice is often applied to smaller companies where it definitely has no place due to the chaotic nature of these businesses. In such companies, HR practices that are more adaptable could be just what the doctor ordered. Namely, these smaller companies experience sudden shifts all the time and their HR needs shift as well.
Even when large corporations are in question; this more adaptable approach will show better results, work better with other departments and provide solutions that will have an obvious and noticeable positive effect on the bottom line.
More than adaptability
There are many people who think that turning something agile means nothing more than making it more reactive than strategic. They are wrong. There is more to it and when we are talking agile HR, we must consider these other aspects as well.
For example, a big part of agile is the improved collaboration and the segmentation of projects and teams. This is probably something that only the largest companies will be able to do since they will be the only ones with multiple HR projects and teams going on at any given time.
Agile HR will also entail a change of the established HR roles and emphasize small victories that will work together towards an improved HR practice on the company level.