Agile HR

HR is ideally positioned in organizations to change the mindset, systems, processes, and structures in such a way that teams and employees are supported in delivering customer value every day. For instance using leadership programs and development, employee engagement and retention, learning and development programs, recruitment, rewards and compensation, and organizational design.

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What is Agile HR

Renewing the HR competency in an organization so it supports Agile people and team is called Agile HR. Agile HR has four levels: the organization/enterprise level, team level, the HR toolkit, and naturally the HR department itself.

You can read more about this in our book titled ‘Agile HR.’


For whom is Agile HR: towards an Agile HR department

‘Be the change you want to see in others!’ Like any other team Agile HR departments want to stay in the loop about each other’s work, and jointly prioritize their work for the near future. Agile Portfolio Management is a way to avoid getting stuck in making plans and going through the motions in meeting cycles. When using Agile Portfolio Management is often becomes readily apparent that the HR department had too many projects and priorities. Making the right choices enhances the agility of the HR team. The Portfolio helps the HR team to create a situation in which everyone knows enough about each other’s projects to facilitate easy and quick decision making and respond to changing circumstances.

Quote by Farid el Baktit, HR Manager at the Ministry of Education, Culture, and science: ‘When we signaled a need within the teams to coordinate their work in a different way, we started experimenting with Agile Portfolio Management. We are now a year along our journey, our professionals report they have a better overview of the total picture/landscape, meetings have become more energized and they find it easier to connect with each other. The teams are getting better at and better at using their HR toolkit and activities to further our strategic goals. The feeling of joint responsibility for our goals is clearly going. Feedback in short cycles is driving us to have constructive meetings instead of paralyzing discussions about long term workforce planning.


HR in the vanguard of the Agile organization

HR is playing an ever larger role in adopting Agile ways of working. HR is no longer the guardian of job descriptions and the organization chart, but support the organization in the role of coach and lead in order to grow towards a flexible structure. This requires guts but also offers HR a beautiful opportunity to position itself in a more strategic way. In many Agile organizations we see that the HR competency is no longer limited to the join-develop-leave process because a part of that responsibility is picked up by the business teams.


Supporting stable teams in the business

When the number of stable, cross-functional, agile teams in the business increases, the question arises which HR responsibilities they can pick up themselves. Will they organize their own reward structure, learning and development, and recruitment? If so, this has a major impact on the role of HR. Below an example of how Transavia Airlines solved the recruitment question:

Daan Noordeloos, Circle Lead Organizational Development, Transavia: ‘Our self-organizing teams are highly involved in the recruitment process. Often someone in the coach or facilitator role will take the recruitment initiative. Job interviews take place with team members, supplemented with someone who fulfills the HR support role. Such a person serves multiple teams in this role.’

Generally speaking there is an opportunity for HR to formulate clear HR boundaries, measure the agility level of the team and train and develop leaders so the can support and protect stable teams.


Reinventing the HR toolkit

Many organizations are experimenting with new HR tools, such as apps colleagues can use to give each other feedback in real time, lowering absenteeism based in ways informed by HR-analytics and recruitment via recommendations on social networks. Agile HR used new HR instruments to help grow a new team-focused agile organization. By using such instruments, we are replacing the old ones.

Organize Agile advises and supports in renewing the HR toolkit for several subjects. For instance:

  • Performance and assessment. A volatile world requires a new form of performance management, a way that uses less formal ways of having a dialogue, and allows quicker interventions. Working with self-organizing teams especially requires considerable skill in and courage in addressing issues, and giving and receiving feedback.
  • Strategic personnel planning. Delivering a strategic personnel planning is often a difficult process, with limited results. HR Big Room Planning can be a solution to this problem. This allows team to share their needs for talent and skills and jointly take action to solve these issues together.
  • Recruitment. This subject creates a tension between hiring managers and (internal) recruiters. By improving cooperation between these parties and using Scrum and Kanban techniques we improve the inflow of suitable candidates. Naturally this requires also improve the pre- and onboarding flow using other Agile tools and techniques.


Working in new HR roles

Not all ways in which HR can support employees can be readily fit into existing traditional HR job descriptions. Instead we create space for new roles for HR employees. A role should be seen as a set of explicit responsibilities that together serve a clearly defined purpose. Roles can be constantly adjusted, depending on what the organization requires at that point in time. Examples of new HR roles can include: Purpose developer, employee journey developer, trend translator, employee happiness developer.

Example of a role: The Employee Experience (EX) Developer:

A new HR role does not need to be a full time job: it is a set of responsibilities that is required at that time. The EX developer example below is an example of such a role:

Purpose of the role: to improve the experience of the employee by making services to the employee as personal and pleasant as possible.


  • Mapping the employee journey: the most important touch points of the employee with supporting services (such as HR and IT services).
  • Research employees appreciation for current supporting services. Be it qualitative using for instance a Customer Effort Score: how can we ensure that organizing your personal HR needs is as simple as possible. But also quantitatively by using one to one conversations.
  • Keeping abreast of ‘working at your organization’ reviews
  • Launching improvement initiatives for HR services, in order to create personalized, pleasant experiences.
  • Employer branding: marketing your employership by creating an authentic and distinctive brand image to attract and retain employees.


How to start your Agile HR transformation?

Several changes are required in order to change the HR competency in a sustainable way. They can take place in parallel or one after the other.


Sprint 0 is the preparation for the Agile HR transformation. At this stage it is important to map the current HR pain points and opportunities. Agile HR training can help HR professionals shape the rest of the change. The next steps are to start refreshing ways of working for both HR- and affiliated teams (stream 1). To keep developing behavior and leadership and to teach leaders to coach each other (stream 2). Finally we need to redevelop the HR toolkit as described above (stream 3) and to support the organization in designing and developing stable agile teams (stream 4).


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