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Agile HR

Author: Arctic Shores

Agile’s been a quiet revolution in the world of work over the past two decades – encouraging greater collaboration and innovation through its focus on nimble, multi-disciplined teams. But can Agile work for HR in your business? We’ve looked at some of the pros and cons to consider before you make the leap.

Agile HR: not without sacrifice

There’s a brilliant Ted Talk by Martin Danoesastro that asks a poignant question – for new, better ways of working, what are you willing to give up?

Martin raises a valid point. We all want to work in the most effective, efficient and fulfilling ways possible, but such transformations rarely come without sacrifice. Before the pros (or even alongsidethem), there are cons to be considered.

This is especially so when we look at ‘Agile HR’. You’ll have probably come across ‘Agile’ by now, as it continues to capture the imagination with the three pillars of collaboration, curiosity and rapid iteration. But these benefits can come at some cost.

As it stands, just 6% of companies are truly Agile, despite Deloitte findings that 94% would be keen to make the switch. For all of you mulling an overhaul, we’ve looked at some of the likely hurdles, as well as the benefits of Agile HR, to help you make the best possible choice for your business.

The Cons


Agile, for all its benefits, is full of jargon. Talk of sprints, scrums and stand-ups already has us sweating, and that’s before we get to the ominous-sounding backlogs.

It’s to be expected that the movement’s got its own language – it’s been around for over 20 years! However, it’s clear that getting up to speed with the lingo will be an initial hurdle for your organisation to clear when making the switch. Businesses, and HR teams, will need to find ways to democratise what can seem like quite an opaque, techy world.


One of the leading lights of Agile has been Dutch bank ING. However, while their pioneering spirit is to be celebrated, what they rarely say is that part of their implementation process was to make 3,000+ headquarters staff re-interview for their jobs…

This saw hundreds of employees depart the company. It’s clear that, before HR experiences the benefits, there can be some short-term pain and instability. This kind of disruption suited a large company like ING, but you’ll need to ask yourself if such radical overhaul is the right approach for your business.


Agile requires company-wide implementation. So, for HR professionals keen to convert, be prepared to search for allies who can champion your cause across several departments.

This is because much of Agile’s ethos is to have multifunctional teams, with new levels of collaboration expected. You can’t have a fluid, dynamic HR team without similar levels of fluidity and dynamism elsewhere. This means a company-wide culture shift might be required. Do you have the resources available to spearhead this? If so, great! If not, you might need to consider whether Agile HR is a feasible step.

The Pros


Onto the good stuff. There’s no getting around the fact that, for those employees with the behavioural traits necessary to thrive in an Agile HR environment, engagement will inevitably increase.

This stems from two aspects:

  • Collaboration

Working with a more diverse cast of colleagues from both within and outside your team will expose you to new skills and learnings, as well as simply to new people! This can help develop networks and accelerate career progression.

  • Shorter work cycles

There’s no two ways about it: getting stuff done is satisfying, as most readers will know. Agile relies on shorter work cycles, with micro-projects often lasting just a few weeks at most. Short cycles allow for more frequent task completion, leading to that buzzy feeling of accomplishment. This approach, a far cry from the quarterly or annual initiatives historically run by many HR teams, will naturally boost engagement.


It’s now widely held that happier workers are more productive. If the two effects outlined above take hold in your team, expect to see increases in both individual and team productivity.

Much of this comes down to how Agile shifts our perceptions of the ‘work unit’. With output traditionally gauged per head, Agile encourages us to look at the team as the new work unit. This creates a sense of joint ownership and intellectual safety, that can improve both the ability to solve problems and the rate of project completion.

In other words, by shifting this viewpoint, both teams and individuals can ramp up productivity.

Saving the body? Or just losing the arm?

This is just a rough sketch of the challenges and benefits involved – we’d encourage you to think hard about how Agile will affect your business. Are you a large incumbent firm being outmanoeuvred by smaller challengers? Then Agile HR may well be for you – the initial sacrifices may well be worth it.

However, if you’re a far smaller team with less time on your hands than a White House press secretary, you’ll need to mull over whether the short term pain is worth the long-term gain.

Want to learn more about evolving your HR strategy? Arrange a demo with Arctic Shores here!

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