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An agile HR leads to happier employees

Organizations pioneering the agile model demonstrate that the benefits of transformation cement it as a core component of next-generation HR.
Neel Gandhi

Advises leading organizations on how to strengthen their talent-management capabilities and build an HR function that operates as a true strategic partner and value driver for the business

Recruiting top talent, improving performance management and retraining the workforce were top priorities for one tech company.

Leadership, including a new CHRO, realized the answer to their main concerns required moving to a more agile HR model and, consequently, creating levels of excitement and motivation previously absent in the organization.

Top HR talent formed a pool of "internal consultants" to support business priorities, dedicating purpose-built teams to answer the need in a cross-discipline fashion, then disbanding to work on the next priority. Employees seeking to join this pool numbered three times those accepted and one-third were outside the HR department, reflecting broader enthusiasm for the new model—which is now being adopted elsewhere in the company.

In a well-managed agile transformation, results spur employee engagement across the organization and a faster response to emerging priorities. An agile HR model enables the allocation of resources to top business needs, generating these outcomes:

  • Critical talent initiatives are completed faster with better outcomes and greater visibility of value delivered. In one instance, the time required to deliver a new regional sourcing strategy was 75 percent faster than before.
  • HR staff can focus on generating clear impact while developing a broad base of skills. Our research indicates a 20 percent boost in employee engagement scores by using an agile model.
  • A more flexible pool of resources typically drives a smaller overall resource level in HR, more fully utilizing those already in place and increasing productivity through agile project delivery techniques. When a European bank deployed this model, HR realized productivity of nearly 25 percent.
  • A centrally managed pool of HR professionals permits visibility and control over initiative development and deployment, eliminating the siloed approach typically found in traditional HR organizations.

At a foundational level, an agile organization can scale dedicated resources rapidly to propel progress on key initiatives. This has immediate relevance to HR’s mission: Driving business value through talent.

What parts of HR should be agile? We divide work into two categories:

  • “Run” activities: HR systematically applies the same processes every time; standard processes run repeatedly by specialists.
  • “Build” activities: HR seeks to improve programs, capabilities and talent initiatives via a new learning program, high-potential development pathway or sourcing strategy—all ripe for agility.

The “standard” HR organization model usually possesses three pillars: Centers of Excellence (COEs), HR business partners (HRBPs) and operations/shared services. “Run” and “build” activities can get mixed up with the first two, so an agile HR model focuses on these areas by answering two questions:

  1. How many HR COEs comprise expertise-driven specialists, and how many concentrate on supporting execution and operations? A handful of people may provide cutting-edge expertise, but an agile staffing model generates stronger execution.
  2. Of embedded HRBPs/generalists, how many grasp the value agenda for the area they support, and how many furnish the “arms and legs” to adopt initiatives and respond to generalist questions? An agile HR model delivers more flexible staffing.

The flexible pool typically pulls from both groups: generalists that bring greater focus on how to engage business leaders for maximum impact, and junior COE resources that bring some specialized knowledge of best-practice solutions. Working together, agile HR teams offer a mix of business and HR knowledge, along with domain expertise that drives creative solutions. Simultaneously, key skills for everyone in the pool are more flexible problem-solving and initiative leadership.

Here’s how a European bank employed the agile model: It moved half of its HR resources into the pool of inner consultants working on bank priorities. It kept its COE and HRBP group, and its HR professionals’ pool supported these areas as business priorities emerged.

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Numerous issues must be addressed, when establishing an agile HR model, that require solid planning and change management within and outside HR. This sparks some near-term disruption, but organizations pioneering the model demonstrate that the benefits of transformation cement it as a core component of next-generation HR.

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