Articles & Resources > HR >

Agile HR Can Lead to Improvements in Recruiting and Talent Acquisition

Agile HR Can Lead to Improvements in Recruiting and Talent Acquisition

HR professionals having an office meeting

Last Updated April 8, 2024

Business agility has become increasingly important as human resources departments vie for ways to gain a competitive advantage in recruiting, developing and retaining employees.

Increasingly, Agile methodology is helping play a role in these areas. Originally created for the software industry to help streamline development while improving the product, Agile has been adopted by other industry sectors such as government and project management. Collaborative and adaptive by design, Agile can help improve team collaboration, product speed-to-market and efficiency and overall customer satisfaction.

HR is another industry which can benefit from the tenets of Agile methodology. This article will explore how forward-thinking HR departments can apply Agile to HR and begin to move away from traditional HR approaches.

New Rules in a Digital Age

A diverse workforce and a Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by technology has given every area of business both the need for change and the tools to make it. Agile, with its emphasis on fast feedback cycles, customer service and incremental development and value, provides a method for implementing changes in the most efficient way possible.

In the article, “The New Rules of Talent Management,” Harvard Business Review calls this new approach “agile HR.” The article explains that HR is going “agile lite,” by moving toward a simpler, faster model that encourages feedback from participants. It’s becoming a bigger issue for those who specialize in HR management.

Agile HR requires changing HR functions to support a responsive and adaptive department that is more flexible in matching workforce fluctuations to demand and more responsive in how HR functions support the organization.

Business leaders recognize the need for change. In its thought leadership report “Achieving Great Agility: The Essential Influence of the C-Suite,” the Project Management Institute reported that 84% of executives surveyed agreed that organizational agility is necessary to succeed in digital transformation.

Further, 92% believed that “organizational agility, or the ability to rapidly respond to market conditions and external factors, is critical to business success.” However, only 27% of executives considered their organization “highly agile.”

Applying Agile to HR

Applying Agile to HR has become such a central part of organizational strategy that it was a featured topic at the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conference. The session “Making Agile Work: HR’s Role in Empowering Success” was led by Dr. Tracy Brower of consultant Steelcase and Laurent Bernard, Vice President at Global Talent Management.

The two told SHRM that the principles of Agile, while better known in the tech industry, translate well to HR. They said that “putting people over process speaks to both the advocates that HR can be in the organization and the way that HR can model the values that put people first.”

They also noted managing talent, developing leaders, fostering team skills and putting the customer first as ways HR can apply Agile. That latter area could involve bringing internal customers that HR serves into designing programs and policies, as well as providing them methods for giving feedback.

Brower and Bernard listed a number of Agile tools and techniques that can be applied to HR. They include Scrum, which provides a framework for faster product development, and Kanban, which is a method for managing workflow through a process made popular for its use in Lean Six Sigma.

This combination of Agile and Lean can work for HR departments. Brower and Bernard said that Agile is “the best-suited methodology” for developing new systems and that “this is complimented by Lean which offers best practices for excellence in execution.”

They noted that size does not matter in terms of implementation. HR departments in large, medium and small businesses can all benefit from Agile. The key is that the entire organization is onboard.

CIO magazine also offered Agile methods that can apply to any area, including HR. They include the following.

Deliver Value Faster

There is planning in Agile, but it happens fast and often congruently with work. Agile calls for a progression of steps – plan, develop, complete, test and release. All this is done in a sprint, which is a shorter time period to complete a project phase. The process is then repeated but improved with immediate feedback from stakeholders.

Work in Chunks

Large projects can be overwhelming. The smart approach called for in Agile is to break a project into smaller chunks or segments, distributing the work across a project team based on the strengths of each team member.

Capacity, Not Speed

Faster work cycles are a goal of Agile, but they happen as a consequence of using Agile principles. What typically happens is that teams increase capacity – they can do more in a shorter time frame once they have the right resources, tools, skills and knowledge. Also, the proper sharing of work and the reduction of waste in a process can help increase capacity.

Constant Iteration is Better Than Failure

Agile emphasizes learning the work by doing the work. This constant flow of work and changes made from feedback can help create methods that work best for each particular HR department. Not all approaches may work for everyone. However, this approach offers a solution to planning a project, completing it and then discovering that it has failed. Whatever errors there are in a process, Agile helps make sure they are identified and solved quickly and early in the project.

Agile HR Examples

The website provides examples for how HR departments could take the principles of Agile and apply them directly to HR.

They advocate spreading skills around to leaders in other departments. This includes interview skills, which could help open the door to people in departments outside of HR participating more in the interview process. They also recommend focusing on finding talent than approaching human resource challenges from a “function-oriented” mindset. Finding talent should be a continuous process. HR departments can also play a key role in developing an Agile-focused culture of continuous improvement at an organization.