How HR Can Make the Shift to an Agile Mindset

How HR Can Make the Shift to an Agile Mindset

As the digital age pressures organizations to rethink the way they design talent solutions, HR teams have begun adopting new, leaner practices already in common use in other business functions. The “agile” methodology, pioneered by software developers, is a highly iterative approach to design that relies heavily on end-user feedback. This approach can be successful in HR as well, but applying it requires functions to change not only their processes, but also their mindsets.

Most HR functions have traditionally designed HR solutions using the “waterfall” method, which includes an extensive requirement-gathering phase, after which a design team creates and implements the solution. A small group of users typically tests the solution only at the very end, shortly before wide-scale deployment.

The waterfall method (and the mindset that accompanies it) has historically served HR well because it’s ideal for an HR function aiming to solve as many employees’ problems as possible, for as long as possible. However, many HR functions are finding that their solutions aren’t as adaptable as they need to be to keep up with the rapidly-evolving demands of their end-users: i.e., employees. Employees want assurance that HR systems and processes will be personalized to fit their needs and will evolve as those needs change, but they’re also willing to supply detailed feedback to get there.

Enter the agile approach, which has gained traction thanks to its efficiency in responding to change. The workflow in an agile project draws a stark contrast from the waterfall method in that end-user feedback drives every aspect of the process. Whether an agile HR specialist is addressing issues in a payroll process, designing a new training series, or implementing a new HR information system, they collect employee feedback at every step along the way to guide their continued iteration, then continue refining products between design cycles until end-users are satisfied.

Of course, making the transition to an agile HR function and an agile mindset can be challenging. Here are six changes HR leaders can make to help embed the agile mindset in their teams:

  1. Commit to progress through iteration. Employees can often provide more insightful feedback to basic solutions than to complex ones. They also appreciate seeing value early in the process, rather than waiting for final products. Plus, iteration helps employees feel involved in developing solutions to their own problems, which builds trust with HR moving forward.
  2. Establish clear criteria for success and failure, especially on bigger projects. To accelerate progress without losing quality, be precise and transparent about what success and failure mean, so that your team can identify and resolve issues as efficiently as possible, and so that they move on quickly when it becomes clear their current approach isn’t working.
  3. Rethink the way you evaluate agile HR staff. Because the method relies on rapidly releasing and improving iterations, failure is inevitable and should be considered a natural stage in the product lifecycle. HR leadership should evaluate HR staff on their contributions to the progress of solutions—not just outcomes—to more accurately measure performance.
  4. Actively collaborate with employees to deliver the greatest possible value. Begin by clearly identifying the root of employees’ challenges and assigning feedback checkpoints. Maintaining an active feedback loop is essential because it drives improvement and reveals changes in employee needs.
  5. Select thought leaders, or ambassadors, to reinforce the agile mindset on HR teams. Ambassadors can provide the team with expertise on the agile process, hold team members accountable when they revert to old habits, and relay detailed feedback to leadership on how the transition is going.
  6. Focus on ensuring quality solutions and trust that scalability will follow. Tackle one employee issue at a time and incorporate new features as you receive employee feedback. As HR team members grow more comfortable using the agile framework and build productive relationships with employees, the speed of iteration will increase and HR staff will be able to target more and more workplace challenges.