What is Agile HR?

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Agile HR – what is it?

Agile HR is all about responding to human capital needs (at organization, team and individual levels) in a quick, positive and engaging way. It involves policies, processes, and people (the 3P’s) but with stronger inclusion of strategic and systems thinking, servant leadership, appropriate agile methodology & practices, process re-engineering, feedback loops and learning the culture.

Why do HR (Human Resources) need to be agile?

The 21st-century business is undergoing an immense transformation for value-driven products /solutions delivery and the degree of responsiveness to customers. To stay competitive and sustainable in this volatile and disruptive business landscape, organizations are transitioning to an agile organization model, characterized by, alignment around mission, vision and values; adaptability; cross-functional teams’ collaboration; growth mind-set; value-based customer services; and continuous improvement, to name a few.

As being agile has become a strategic necessity for organizations, it is essential for HR leaders and practitioners to sit down in the driver’s seat, fasten their seatbelts, and embark on their agile journey to lead the organization adopting newer perspectives. In today’s disruptive digital era, as many projects are being executed in an agile way (short iterative work cycles, incremental improvements and continuous learning), HR is required to keep up with these changes, or even think ahead. This paradigm shift is possible only when HR transitions from a transaction and routine-based function to a more transformational- and humane-centric function.

Let us try to understand some key differences between Agile and traditional HR.

Traditional HR is inclined towards developing standardized policies and procedures while Agile HR mandates HR leaders and practitioners to design flexible and adaptive programs, processes and embrace digitization. Unlike traditional HR, Agile Human Resources advocates a psychological safety environment, so that organizational members get the opportunity to experiment and learn fast from failures.

Instead of doing a routine and transaction-based employee life-cycle management coupled with general administration, HR leaders need to create integrated HR-Business solutions by focusing on individual competence and organizational work processes, as well as culture and climate. In today’s agile era, HR role cannot be limited to generalists and administrators. HRs need to acquire T-shaped capabilities – having an in-depth knowledge in any given HR function with the skills to work across different disciplines.

As companies are shifting away from traditional hierarchies with command-and-control culture to an agile-centric way of operating in cross-functional teams, HR leaders and practitioners should step up to cross-collaborate with their peer leaders to create a coaching culture.

21st century business is not solely about maximizing shareholder’s profits. Long-term business success demands HR professionals and leaders to be people-centric. They need to put their people first and create value-driven solutions for internal customers (that is, employees), external customers and end-users.

The visual below outlines the key differences between Agile and traditional HR.

Agile vs Traditional - Culturelligence
Human Resources

How can HR be agile?

HR leaders and practitioners need to understand the essence of Agile HR that encompasses operations agility, people management agility and cultural agility.

Operations Agility is the ability for an organization to adjust and change its internal and external operations to suit employee or customer needs. This can be as simple as updating a policy based on employee feedback/changing market conditions or moving a factory to a lower-cost area to ensure customers are still getting quality stuff at their best rates. To be responsive this way, organizations need to establish ways to sense customer and employee sentiments. This can be done with surveys or traditional KPIs. Most importantly, only organizations with high operations agility respond quickly and directly, to feedback.

Similarly, People Management Agility is all about feedback, but instead of viewing through an operating lens, the organization constantly looks for affirmations for change to their human capital strategy – how to recruit and retain top talent for today, and retain (especially when the labor market is moving towards gig economy). Given the ever-changing world we are in, it is important to ensure that organizations are looking for talents that would help accelerate growth of the company. At the same time, talent acquisitions teams have to be trained to emphasize on reducing recruitment costs and creating deeper employee engagement. Recruitment and retention – supports one another through Cultural Agility.

Cultural Agility is lynchpin of an agile organization, particularly when it comes to Human Resources. It is fundamentally believed that feedback should be constant, and that we (employees, the organization as a whole) should act on that feedback. An organization that has high cultural agility is self-aware of its strengths and weaknesses. Its members are adaptive, inquisitive, and have a shared belief system that drives decision making across the organization. They support one another, and always look to deliver value and quality.

When designing flexible programs and/or creating engaged workforce, HRs should take into consideration operations agility, people management agility and cultural agility.

Who are some of them who have already experimented and been successfully using Agile in HR?

The summer of 2015, had mostly been the hottest for the ING group, when they decided to shift their entire traditional method of operations to agile models. They still call their transformation journey ongoing, as it is all about continuous improvement. ING believed in minimizing bureaucracy and empowering people more. Every employee in the organization was put on “mobility”, and asked to reapply for positions within the “new” organization. The intense selection processes focused more on culture and mindset. Gradually the new people model was also created, with the agile performance management model in place.

Interested to read about ING’s complete Agile transformation Journey? Please go through the below Mckinsey article.


At PICUS, there are no annual salary raises for workers. Salaries are adjusted frequently based on research from the job markets, and one of the agile principles of learning and knowledge sharing is applied, and hikes are provided to employees picking up difficult projects, and performing beyond expectations. Trello boards are used in recruitments, and sprints in talent management systems.

Interested to know how the PICUS team implemented agile in HR? Please go through the below link from their official website.


HR function includes many sub-functions like talent acquisition, performance management, learning & development, compensation & benefits, and above all, employee engagement. It is imperative for HR leaders and practitioners to take one-step at a time and begin the Agility movement for each of the sub-functions. A glimpse of Agile movement HR is available at Agile-HR Solutions

To learn more about how Agile solutions in HR can be practiced in your organization, connect with us here.



Christopher Goscinki, Divya Narayanan, and Lakshmi CV