An Agile State of Mind: Where We're at in HR

By Neelie Verlinden

Remember when we said it’s time to think about HR and Agile as two inseparable best friends? It was just before we had our Q&A with Tom Haak from the HR Trend Institute in November last year. He said he’d heard a lot about agilisation, but wasn’t seeing that much of it in the HR sector yet. He also pointed out (correctly) that talking about agile isn’t going to change anything if the industry doesn’t start to behave in a more agile way. This leads us to the question: did we speak about inseparable best friends too soon or not? Which is why we wanted to take a closer look at the current state of Agile affairs in the HR world. Today we are in an Agile State of Mind, finding out where we’re at.

A Quick Recap

First off, let’s refresh your memory, November is a little while ago after all. The Agile method dates from the early 2000’s and started with a bunch of top developers coming together to find a more efficient way of creating software. Before, projects used to be separated into 4 different stages: analysis, design, code and test. An important downside of this system was that if delays occurred, people would try to make up for the lost time by cutting short the test phase. This in turn had a not so great impact on the quality of the software.

Combined with other inconveniences linked to ‘old way’ of doing things and a rapidly changing world, this led to the arrival of Agile software development. Instead of dividing a project into individual stages, analysis, design, code and test are on-going activities. The main benefit of this approach being the fact that testing starts right from the beginning so that developers can correct things immediately if necessary. Since it’s first introduction almost 17 years ago, the Agile success story - faster, cheaper & customer orientated - has been picked up by numerous other industries. HR (eventually) included.

Facts & Figures

Now what do we know for a fact about Agile HR? That it has over 10 million hits on Google for example. Which may seem like a lot, but when you look up HR you get over 1 billion hits, so all is relative. If we dive a little deeper in the Google stats, we see that slowly but surely the interest in ‘Agile HR’ as a search term has risen. There was a big initial peak in 2004 - probably because someone yelled something about Agile HR for the first time back then - but since mid 2011 there has been a constant (modest) increase. Below you see the Google Trends 'interest over time' graph from 2012 till now. 

Image showing Agile HR Interest over time

Something a lot of people seem to agree on however, is that 2017 is the year that will see HR transform to be Agile. One HR Trend list after another speaks about how HR will ‘embrace Agile’ this year. Right, it should be noted though that this agilisation has been on similar trend lists before…

So what else is there? Do we have examples of companies actually using Agile techniques for their HR activities? Yes we do. In her top trends for 2017 article, Jeanne Meister mentions an Agile approach to recruit and develop employees and gives us a couple of real-life illustrations: a former global head of talent acquisition at GE Digital that applied Agile techniques to completely - and very successfully - change the way they did recruitment for instance. Meister also mentions the Agile approach being applied to learning and development: big companies such as IBM, Visa and Adidas are building smart digital platforms that make it easy for their employees to learn exactly what, when and how they want; basically on demand corporate learning.

According to the HR Trend Institute, Booking.com, Spotify and TomTom are good examples of companies that focus on improving the agility of their organisation. Their secret? They’ve either truly embraced the Agile approach or agility has come naturally as a result of their company culture.

Another company that applies a nimble way of working across its entire organisation is the Swedish firm DEK Technologies. Their HR department tries to constantly improve and this translates into different practices and tools. They use a so-called employee mood meter as a simple way to find out fast how staff is feeling for instance; think of it like the smiley face buttons you often see after you’ve been through airport security. And it works: When DEK Technologies noticed employee morale was declining considerably, they organised a conference for everyone in the company to share their concerns. Soon after, the mood meter started to show more and more green again. Go here if you want to read the full story.

So it seems like the Agile movement is (finally) getting some sort of foot in the door in the HR world. The awareness about this approach is definitely growing among industry professionals anyhow. Conferences are being organised - later this month there is an Agile HR Conference in Germany for example - and a lot is still being written about this topic.

A Long Way Ahead

But a few (big) companies experimenting with Agile doesn’t equal an entire industry being converted of course. The fact that ‘HR goes Agile’ has been on trend lists for years clearly shows us there still is a long way to go. Every big (culture) change starts with a change in mindset. First from management, because if they’re not convinced nothing will ever happen after all. The rest of the employees then need to follow in shifting the way they look at things. These kind of transformations obviously don’t take place overnight. And that’s fair enough, but knowing how hard it was to find any decent Agile HR adoption figures for this post I think we’re still a long way off Agile and HR being those two inseparable best friends.

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Agile HR is a state of mind and goes hand in hand with HR Technology. Another big thing in HR at the moment is the use of Predictive Analytics. Now that you had an update on Agile, we suggest you get up to date on Predictive Analytics as well! In our E-book we go way down the rabbit hole regarding Predictive Analytics in HR. And the best thing about it? It's free! Spread the knowledge!

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