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Agile HR | How HR teams can become more efficient in 2021

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there no longer exists a silver bullet when it comes to implementing processes and strategies in the business world. Gone are the five-year plans, and gone are the templates for success; with the rapid change we now face on an almost daily basis, a flexible, agile approach is truly the only way forward.

This applies to the HR function as much as any other corporate space. As we approach the advent of a new year, people leaders must be prepared to continue adapting and pivoting in order to achieve success.

What is agile HR?

Agility, of course, refers to the ability to adapt. However, in context of HR, the term has a more specific meaning. It is used to describe the ability to quickly evolve people practices in order to keep up with the changing business climate. 

Agility is relevant all the way across the corporate spectrum, but in HR, it is especially significant. Due to its non-commercial capacity, the HR function is often criticised for its inability to take action in a swift and decisive manner, which can lead to frustration among the workforce and the senior leadership. Therefore, in order for the organisation to remain competitive and successful, it is vital that HR is able to match the pace of the other functions.

In an article published on LinkedIn, ‘agile consultant’ Wayne Tarken posits that there are three core components to agility in the HR space: the capacity to quickly identify issues; taking less time to develop and implement responses; incorporating analytics and design thinking. 

Though agility is not a new concept in the world of HR, it is of course more relevant in 2020 than ever before – perhaps even to the extent that it has taken on new meaning. With the workplace having been entirely reinvented, and our ways of working having changed so dramatically, an agile approach is nigh-on essential for reconciling this.

What are the benefits of a more agile HR function?

In a Deloitte survey of 10,000 HR professionals from across the globe, 94% of respondents said that ‘agility and collaboration’ are critical to their organisation’s success. This speaks volumes of the impact agility can have in the HR space.

In 2020, agility is particularly important when it comes to the dramatic shift in the way we work and collaborate, and the increased digitisation that has come along with this shift. With remote work now the default approach, there is increased pressure for HR to cultivate and foster a thriving digital culture. If executed correctly, this will enable organisations to strengthen overall corporate culture, increase employee engagement, improve collaboration, and manage employee performance more effectively. And, with many employees now expecting homeworking as standard rather than seeing it a perk, getting it right can be key to attracting and retaining talent.

It is also widely believed that an agile HR function leads to happier employees – an especially valuable effect given the negative effects of COVID-19 on mental health. This stance is clearly conveyed in a paper published by McKinsey earlier this year. Entitled An agile HR leads to happier employees, the paper posited that metrics such as employee engagement see significant upticks as a result of agile models, with McKinsey research showing a 20% boost. The paper also reports a 25% increase in productivity as a result of more agile methodology.

How can I implement this?

Despite the proven benefits, many organisations may be unsure as to where to start when it comes to implementing a culture of agility in the HR space. What’s more, the broad and potentially vague nature of the ideology means that it could be approached in a number of ways.

That said, a number of sources appear to concur when it comes to one particular concept: define and articulate precisely what needs changing. For instance, in a corporate world where remote working has suddenly become the new normal, it may be the case that a number of processes have become outdated. This could include internal communication tools, talent acquisition software, or performance management systems to name just a few. In any case, it pays to identify precisely what needs to be pivoted and then to tackle it head-on.

With a clear direction in mind, the other key phase of implementing an agile HR culture should be much clearer: tracking and monitoring. According to the McKinsey study, “Successful agile transformations have shown the value of monitoring progress, evaluating behavioral change and its impact on performance, and running regular retrospectives to learn from successes and failures”.

With this approach, HR leaders can continually scrutinise the progress of various initiatives and strategies, and tweak as needed. And what’s more, with the wealth of technology at the fingertips of businesses in 2020, this should be a more seamless and intuitive process than ever before.

Barriers to becoming agile

While all of this will appeal to overworked HR professionals who are desperate to become more efficient, the reality is that day-to-day issues often take over, taking time away from value-adding strategic projects and the kind of proactive HR work that likely attracted you to the a career in HR in the first place. Traditionally, HR has been reactive, but in order for an organisation to thrive, HR teams need to spend less time fighting fires and more time thinking about the bigger picture.

One way to offload some of this burden is through outsourced Employment Law and HR support. This doesn’t mean replacing your internal team; it’s about taking employee relations issues off your hands through advice, guidance and document support, as well as making more complex issues less risky and more manageable by leaning on a professional that specialises in employment law. This extra support can help managers to become more self-sufficient and less reliant on you, freeing up valuable time and therefore enabling you to become more agile. At the same time, access to an added layer of legal expertise will give you confidence in your decision making and support you in executing ambitious people plans in 2021.

Improve HR efficiencies with Ellis Whittam

If you find that you’re hampered by low-level employee issues, our flexible Employment Law & HR service is the perfect solution. With dedicated support from legally-qualified experts, we can empower your managers to resolve issues before they escalate, guide them through common challenges such as absenteeism, and work with you directly on more complex cases. We can also provide MI reports to help you identify and address recurring problems, upskill managers in essential topics such as Equality & Diversity and Courageous Conversations, and help you to adapt to changes quickly and compliantly.

Find out more about our support for large organisations or call 0345 226 8393 to speak with one of our team.

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