Agile HR

What is Agile HR?

Posted by Colin Tan on July 25, 2019

Agile HR is one of the trending terms for HR professionals, but have we got it all wrong?

I’m sure a day doesn’t go by in any business without the word ‘Agile’ being thrown around. Every organisation is looking for ways to be more Agile in order to survive in today’s VUCA environment. And with this, HR professionals are being challenged to facilitate and support  this change, calling for them to go Agile HR. But what does it mean to be Agile and what is Agile HR?

Unfortunately, the term Agile is being misrepresented and misused in businesses today. This is causing a whole lot of confusion and misunderstanding for many HR professionals as well as the businesses they support.

Organisations are labelling the tough decisions they are forced to make as ‘Agile’ in order to put a positive spin on unpopular decisions. So, let’s clear things up…Agile is not about removing necessary layers within a structure, nor is it about eliminating the role of the manager, and it is not about moving to activity-based working. 

Agile is a mindset! It’s an attitude towards how things get done. These attitudes are best summed up within the Agile Manifesto (see below) which declares that as Agilists, we value:

Now this doesn’t mean that we completely disregard what is on the right. It just means that we value the items on the left more. And whilst this may sound simple, it is easier said than done. A change in mindset for individuals, teams and organisations means unlearning old habits and ways of working which are deeply embedded – something we know as HR professionals isn’t an easy task.

So how do we live by these new attitudes? What does it mean to go Agile?…. There are a number of different Agile frameworks (such as Scrum, Kanban and XP Programming) which have been designed and built to support these Agile values. Scrum is the most highly used framework across Agile teams and whilst it originated in the early 1990’s to improve software development, it is very quickly growing into other functions such as HR, marketing, finance – each looking to realise the benefits Scrum brings to both the team and the product/project they are delivering.

Scrum is essentially a way of working. It is a framework in which cross-functional teams develop products/projects in an iterative and incremental manner. Scrum allows these teams to focus on delivering the highest business value in the shortest time. It is not a set processes, techniques or a definitive method, but rather a collection of techniques and processes that are designed to enable a team to work smarter, be happier and collaborate more effectively, all whilst continuously improving the product and ways of working through regular and ongoing feedback loops. 

When we apply this to HR and consider what Agile HR is all about. It is important to note that the true definition of Agile HR is two-fold:

  1. Firstly, it is about HR adopting Agile principles within how they operate and deliver as a HR function. This sees HR operating in Scrum teams with set roles, activities and artefacts to deliver their HR strategy.
  2. Secondly, it is about HR re-thinking and innovating their people processes to better suit an Agile organisation.

To sum this up as beliefs and attitudes, the Agile Manifesto has been adapted to describe what Agile HR values (see below). And just like the Agile Manifesto, whilst there is value on the right, it is all about valuing the items on the left more.

But before HR go about innovating their people processes and labelling these changes as ‘Going Agile’, HR must first learn, adopt and experience Agile principles in the way they go about their work as a function. It is important that HR themselves shift their mindset and experience this new way of working first hand before they go about changing how they support an Agile organisation. Its starts in our own backyards first!

As an HR professional with over 15 years experience across both generalist and specialist roles, I see the value Agile brings to addressing some of the challenges we face as a HR function. I am eager to share this with HR so that they too can realise the benefits Agile brings to all teams, not just software teams. To do this, I have collaborated with AxisAgile to bring Agile to HR and helping HR teams transform the way they work.

To find out more about our Agile HR training and coaching, please contact us at!

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