What is Agile HR and Why You Need to Get Behind the Buzz

It is easier if I start by stating what Agile HR is not – it is not just another HR fad or buzzword. Agile HR is now a global movement that is transforming the world of work. A recent survey by Deloitte of more than 10,000 businesses and HR leaders across 140 countries revealed that 94% report that “agility and collaboration” are critical to their organization’s success. Furthermore, according to VersionOne’s State of Agile Survey, managing changing business priorities is the top benefit of agile, and 98% of respondents say their organization has realized success with agile.

According to a McKinsey report, agile companies have better overall organizational health than their non-agile counterparts.

What is Agility and what does HR have to do with it?

Having agility in a business means having an individual and unique organisational structure that allows the organisation to respond rapidly to changes in the internal and external environment without losing momentum and competitive advantage.

Adaptability, creativity, and resilience are three qualities essential to long-term business agility.

Innovation is often the key to long-term business success as companies that rely on best practice or ‘proven’ methods of doing things often find themselves falling behind the competition because they can’t adapt quickly enough to changes in the environment and business strategy.

From an HR perspective, and from a strategic point of view, HR’s role is to inspire and provoke new thinking by staying aware of context and trends and bringing this knowledge to all parts of the organisation.

HR plays a critical role in driving the people agenda and can drive agility in the business by ensuring employees have the skills and capability to respond quickly to changing business priorities and creating an infrastructure and processes that allow employees to re-group, re-focus and act quickly. Agility, in other words, means becoming nimble, able to move quickly and easily. For HR this means, transitioning from traditional ways of working to Agile ways of working by changing the focus from imposing controls and standards to empowering adaptability, innovation, and collaboration.

Going back to our roots

The history of the human condition is to seek relationships and form attachments with families and tribes. These groups self-organise and agree on rules to create a sense of safety and belonging, fight common enemies, or accomplish something meaningful.

In a business environment, tribes are teams that are connected by managers. These teams share the same purpose and goals and are working towards the same common vision.

Agile way of working is taking us back to these natural principles and instincts of working in small teams who self-manage, have each other’s back (psychological safety), and work towards one common goal.

How Agile HR works

So what does this shift to Agile look like for HR?  The HR departments that have evolved and those that add the most value to the organization ensure the focus is on fostering a bottom-up approach, encouraging efficient communication, and empowering employees to make decisions faster. Rigid plans, systems, and annual cycles don’t cut it anymore. HR must facilitate and support innovation and flexibility.

Below are the principles for Agile HR:

Principles of Agile HR by Agile People

What is apparent in the above is the primacy of the employee – people and interactions are more important than processes, policies, or rules. What’s more, the focus is on happy people rather than bureaucracy and rigid processes. The intention is to create a great working environment for employees and greater value for customers.

HR as an Agile Business Partner still has some way to go. However, as businesses become Agile they will require HR to fully embrace the same principles. And Talent Acquisition, Performance Management, Compensation and Benefits, Learning and Development as we know it now, will need to evolve to support the creation of small autonomous cross-functional teams, operating as part of a fluid network, rather than as a top-down bureaucracy


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. The goal is not to transform staff into agile resources. Rather, it is to stimulate the staff to spread the tools and agile values for product development.
    Another important aspect to consider is that this innovative approach is effective not only in agile companies, but in any type of business. This is because HR management, regardless of sector and type of company, includes some basic aspects that are the same for everyone. More specifically we talk about skills, roles, training.

    • Thank you for your comment Aldo. The true benefits of agile are more in the mindset and values than in the tools. The tools are a helping guide to achieve the mindset and help People operate within the principles. I totally share your viewpoint that agile way of working is applicable to all businesses who are interested in cultivating a culture of trust, collaboration, transparency and innovation.

  2. Thank you so much for this thoughtful piece, Rishita. While I absolutely agree that Agile HR shouldn’t be the buzz word of the month, it really all depends on how well businesses implement it and whether or not they stay congruent with the intention around it. If the commitment is truly on the people and ensuring that they’re happy and empowered, thus resilient and flexible, that takes a special organization to ensure that senior leadership behaviors support that intention. It’s far too tempting for some leaders to use a commitment to agility as simply a guise to get people to do more, adjust quickly, and do it in a way that disregards the humanity-side of things. To ensure that it’s done in a way that supports and lifts-up the human beings in the organization demands congruency at all levels, which requires courage on the HR front. Sometimes easier said than done!

    • Kimberly, thanks for such an important remark. Fake agile is all around us, and indeed it is being misused and abused by some. Leadership as you quite rightly say plays a big role here, in fact it starts with them displaying and operating the behaviours which are in alignment with the agile way of working. The truest benefit of agile is that it takes us back to our natural ways of being and doing – which is seeking connection with others, having their back and Working closely together to achieve goals.