Agile-lite in HR | SSON Analytics

How can Agile transform the HR function?

With the rapid technological advancements (Intelligent Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Cloud, IoT, Augmented/Virtual Reality etc), there is no doubt that we are living in a world that is continuously being digitally disrupted.

In SSON's Annual State of Shared Services & Outsourcing Industry Survey Results 2018 (>620 Shared Services professionals participated), 23% have responded that they are embracing Digital Disruption with a "fail fast, learn fast" speed to market approach, e.g. Lean, Agile, Honest culture. 


Figure 1: SSON’s Annual State of Shared Services & Outsourcing Industry Survey Results 2018


Now, what does that actually mean? Agile (which traditionally originates from IT and software development) is a project management methodology that is highly iterative and flexible, whose primary focus is to deliver value to the customers faster through the collaborative effort of self-organising and cross-functional teams.

Over the recent years, we have increasingly seen the principles of Agile (without the complete adoption of protocols and tools from the tech world) applied in other areas of the business – also better known as "agile lite".  

For example, let's examine how agile can transform the HR function. The nature of hiring, developing and managing people is no longer what it was 50 years ago. With millennials representing the majority of the current Shared Services Centres (SSC) workforce (as reported in page 3 of this visual analytics report) and their changing expectations, coupled with rapid tech innovation, I believe companies are at a stage where it’s essential for them to transform or be left behind. 

Harvard Business Review’s article “The New Rules of Talent Management” is a great read for anyone who is considering adopting “agile-lite” practices in their HR Shared Services. I would like to highlight three areas how HR Shared Services can potentially redesign their talent practices based on agile principles:


1. Performance appraisals

  • Switch to frequent and continual performance assessments instead of the unpopular annual review to promote ongoing dialogue
  • Evaluations should be unique and cater to the various project groups

2. Coaching and working in teams

  • Invest in honing managers’ coaching skills.
  • Strive towards a better team dynamics for honest multidirectional feedback between superiors, direct reports and colleagues. This promotes better communication and alignment of careers aspirations, business goals and ultimately employee growth and increased engagement.
  • Team-focused talent management vs the traditional individual focus
  • By working in a team, they take it upon themselves to track their progress, overcome challenges together, generate insights to improve performance as well as have greater ownership over their work.

3. Compensation

  • Move away from the year-end salary increase
  • Salary increase should be allocated to employees who take on more challenging projects or go the extra mile
  • Rewards can also reinforce agile values such as learning and knowledge sharing
  • Foster a culture that inspires purpose and creativity.

No matter what benefits agile talent practices may bring to your organisation, we do have to take it with a pinch of salt that it is not for everyone (e.g. jobs that remain mainly rules-based). It is essential to evaluate whether agile is suited for your company and if possible incorporate the latest technology and appoint “change champions” to support the transition to being “agile-lite” in HR.


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