Applying Agile to Human Resource Management

Author: Nipsy Jhamb | Categories: HR Management

The term Agile Human Resources is pretty much in vogue these days. This has prompted HR managers, across organizations, to try and implement it in their environments. The problem though is that, not a lot of them understand the real essence and roots of the concept behind Agile Human Resources. Through this post, I wish to highlight the key principles that rule Agile and the benefits that one can derive from it.

Importance of Agile Human Resources in HR function

The HR function, as the enabler, needs to be more responsive to variations in the business, as compared to others. Incorporating Agile into an organization’s human resources function makes the latter responsive and adaptive to the ever-changing business demands. This leads to the organization as a whole being responsive to the needs of their customers, thereby achieving a holistic effect. Agile, as the word suggests, means being able to change quickly and easily.

Understanding Agile Human Resources

Before delving into the benefits and characteristics, let us first understand Agile and how it came to be.

The world saw a lot of changes happening between 2008 and 2012 – talent and skill imbalance, emergence of Big Data, and the second wave of Globalisation are just a few to name. The HR function collectively encountered quite a few challenges with regard to a talent imbalance. It’s not that there were no graduates, the problem was rather that there were no employable graduates for the positions that needed them, especially in India. Moreover, firms were moving onto hiring specialized candidates over generalized ones, and very few employees looked at a company as a long term option. Amidst all the shortage and chaos, there arose a need – a need for a new model of HR management. That’s when Agile HR was born.

Agile, described in one word, means adaptable; adaptable to changes in business. The concept was taken from the chapters of software development, but is relevant to human resources as well. There are two models of a software development cycle:

  • Water Fall Model

  • Iterative Model

The Water Fall model is a single iteration, unidirectional flow model with little or no room for improvement or changes at later stages. However, the iterative model has many iterations of development – also called prototyping. These help in taking feedback from the first iteration itself and applying improvements in the subsequent ones. As the process continues, it adds adaptability to the environment, facilitating easy implementation of changes. The concept of Agile is taken from this iterative model.

When it comes to HR management, Agile works on the four principles as mentioned below:

  • Adaptability

  • Transparency

  • Simplicity

  • Unity

In the age of changing business needs, adaptability plays a significant role. To avoid HR policies from creating ambiguity or confusion amongst employees, it is essential that they be simple and straight. Also, unity is required to ensure that everyone in the organization works together, instead of working disjointedly. This is especially relevant while creating cross processes in the business. Trust is crucial when it comes to describing the relation between managers and employees, and this can only be achieved via transparency.

One of the prime benefits of the Agile model is that feedback or response can be easily incorporated into a new iteration of a project or program, thereby leading the process to success. It is essential that all inputs from stakeholders are received at an early stage of the process – HR management can ensure this by applying Agile.

Benefits of Agile

  • Leadership training for all employees and not just managers.

  • A customer-centric organization from all facets of the company.

  • Breaking down the company to nimbler aspects; into small high-performance teams with their customised targets.

  • A stable value of cohesion while delivering the mission of the company.

  • Continuous and continual learning for all levels of employees.

  • Recruitment of experts over general managers.

  • Rewards and recognition on a peer-to-peer basis, not just boss-to-peer and no more of a bell curve.

  • Fostering versatility in teams.

  • Developing HR policies of transparent information.

  • Good employee engagement leading to employer branding.

  • Encouragement for direct feedback between employees.

A culture of learning and support for employees where they are independent and accountable to respond to a customer's demands is what Agile stands for. HR management is the body that can help create such a culture.


Definitely, moving to an Agile HR model in a firm is not an overnight process. Like every change that happens for the better, this too takes time and patience. Engagement and motivation are the first two challenges that an organization may face during the transformation. Also, not everything may be compatible with Agile – one such example is Scrum. There could also be external dependencies, which might hamper the process. And, finally you may not immediately reap the benefits as you had expected – this is where patience will come into play. This delay (not achieving immediate response) may make the process appear cumbersome and prompt you (your organization) to give up. However, if you’re in it for the long haul, everything will eventually fall into place.

In the end…

Agility not only makes the organization adaptable, but also leads to recruitment of adaptable employees that embrace change. This leads to better training, better performance management, and better compensation and benefits. Therefore, it is safe to say that Agility leads to an Agile Human Resource Management process that in turn proves beneficial to the entire experience for an organization.