Employee Engagement is HR’s Frenemy.

–How can Agile principles make it more our friend than enemy?

Employee Engagement has forever been an inherent HR responsibility. After all, it falls in the duty of HR departments to manage an employee’s journey in the workplace, from on-boarding to off-boarding and everything that falls in between.

HR is tasked to create a workplace culture that fosters employee engagement such as trust, integrity, two-way commitment, collaboration and open communication between the organisation and its employees.

This is about how we create the conditions in which employees offer more of their capability and potential”.

~David MacLeod

Are HR’s efforts to increase employee engagement working?

The bad news is that a whopping 84% of employees are merely “coming to work” and are not contributing fully to their teams and organization (Hayes, Chumney, Wright & Buckingham, 2019). This is shocking considering how much companies are investing both in terms of time and money in assessing and addressing employee engagement.

The good news is that if we focus our efforts on the right areas and ensure the right workplace structure is in place, engagement will rise. According to ADP Research Institute’s latest research getting the most from your employees comes down to two things: teams and trust.

Considering that in today’s organisations, talent is multi-generational, diverse, and even transient, how can HR and leaders create a workplace structure to elevate engagement through teams and trust to get the best out of every single employee?

It’s time to say hello to Agile HR

Agile isn’t just for tech anymore. Now it’s transforming how organizations hire, develop, and manage their people.

~HBR, The new rules of talent management, March 2018

For teams and trust to thrive in today’s fast-paced, change-driven and digitalised work environments, we need to focus on embracing agility both in business and in HR. By drawing on the customer-centricity of Agile, it places the employee at the heart of everything HR does. As a result, our work becomes more human-centric, with the aim of building user-friendly solutions driven by the needs of our people which are validated at each stage of development through employee experience and feedback.

A key component of Agile way of working is self-organised cross-functional teams who are empowered to solve customer problems and get things done. This approach fosters a trusting and collaborative culture.

You can’t expect different results doing the same things you have always done.”

So if you are embarking on launching your yearly engagement survey, think how you can approach it in an agile way.  If you are asking whether it means changing the way you approach assessing and addressing employees, the answer is: Yes!

So how do you tackle an engagement survey in an agile way? Let’s focus on how to address the action plan once the survey has been completed. Below are some ideas of how to create the action plan using some of the values and principles of Agile:

Deliver value iterativelyshare results sooner rather than later. Identify the main focus areas, share the rough output and collaborate with employees to design a solution. Even waiting a month is a month too long as you are losing on momentum.

Cross-functional teams: Empowering employees to identify and drive action from surveys can be more powerful in realising change than a top-down approach.  Build on the collective intelligence of cross-functional teams in an ideation process, where opportunities are re-framed as questions e.g. How might we help build a culture of trust in our organisation? Applying Design Thinking principles here are really useful.

Validate learning: Once actions have been identified, it is important to define the minimum viable product. This means our priority should be to deliver the minimum to satisfy the employee requirement or meet a certain outcome. The point is not to deliver every requirement or action identified, it is to improve the product or service based on feedback and iterate over time. Act Do Check and repeat the cycle!

Trust and Collaboration: Typically HR works on feedback results and action plans. Acting by the agile principles of trust and collaboration, teams should be in charge of the action plans as this concerns their engagement after all! This also means that you are giving your employees the chance to analyse their own results and prioritise what they feel is most important from the backlog.

Agile HR is reinventing HR practices and uncovering better ways of developing and engaging employees to deliver business value.

Are you ready for the HR evolution? Or shall I say revolution?


Rishita Jones
Rishita Jones
Creating happy, healthy, and engaged workplaces through purposeful HR practices and authentic leadership. What I am: I am a human of the world. A wife, daughter, sister, and a mother of 2. I am curious. I am a seeker and a soul searcher. I am a dreamer and a believer. I live for today and I show up for tomorrow. What I do: I chose HR on purpose, 14 years ago. I didn’t fall into it or get stuck in it. My love for what I do led me to live and work in 4 countries looking at what drives, motivates, and moves people. My professional journey of searching for more egalitarian ways of working, sense of belonging, and purpose led me to discover Agile. For the past 4 years, I have worked as a change agent in HR, bringing the Agile values, principles, and tools to individuals, teams, and organisations wishing to make a transition to more innovative, trustful, and team-centred ways of working. I am an accredited Agile HR practitioner and trainer, and a multi-linguist who seeks to carry forward the new language of HR.

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  1. Magnificent personnel management lesson in modern vision.
    I would just like to add a few considerations.
    Never before, after the COVID19 emergency, have companies found themselves having to reorganize their processes, communication and marketing. In all this, the role of HR has become even more relevant. Coordinating and activating remote employees has therefore become a priority task for HR departments who are suddenly now accelerating coworking further through digitalization and new collaborative tools. Many HR processes such as traction, selection, recruitment or people analytics must be promptly managed as far as possible at a distance.
    Many companies recognize that they need to embrace cloud technology if they want to modernize their HR functions.
    Moving to the cloud enables HR departments to integrate employee data with other corporate data, a critical step in enabling HR to support an end-to-end digital workplace.
    These new opportunities allow companies of all sizes to pursue one or more emerging HR trends that aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of their employees and ultimately improve their workplace. Increasingly, employees want to be members of a diverse society flooded with easy-to-use solutions that increase their engagement, promote their well-being and enhance their working life experience.
    Increasingly, employees want to be members of a diverse society flooded with easy-to-use solutions that increase their engagement, promote their well-being and enhance their working life experience.

  2. Thanks very much, Rishita.

    This upheaval gives us a chance to examine and redefine how we move forward. Why not have work and spirit approach confluence? As my friend Bill Taggart said, “Two things you develop before you need them are capabilities and relationships. You manage things, lead people. If you treat people like things, you’ll p*ss them off.”

    Even the term Human Resources has an implicit “thingness” to it. Why not just “People” or “Us” on the door?
    Anyhow, here’s a link to a podcast episode freshly completed with Gillian Thomson about heart, courage, and leadership. Enjoy!
    Have fun,

  3. This is terrific, Rishita. I’m disheartened by the 2018 data showing 84% disengagement. It seems to be decreasing rather than increasing and for those of us who work in this space it can feel a bit like we’re Sisyphus rolling the boulder up hill! I do believe that Agile HR can create great change, but they cannot do it alone. Leaders need to recognize their responsibility in building trusting relationships within their teams. We cannot count on systematizing human connection, it is something each individual needs to own. Equally, as organizations, we cannot expect people to own it if we don’t create the environment where they can feel the emotional safety to bring their hearts to work – which is the foundation of trust. That is where I see Agile HR being able to make the biggest difference.