Strength in agility: 4 ways HR and People teams can revolutionize ways of working

Grainne Shaughnessy
Published on 5th August 2020
4 min read

In our personal lives, very easy to turn on a dime. Whether we simply change our minds, or an external factor plays its part, we can decide that we need to change course and act upon it. 

Yet when it comes to business, it’s much harder to do. In fact, for HR it seems many teams simply aren’t set up to do so. Just 29% of 500 global HR and People leaders told us they were organized for agility, in our recent research report – and that was before the global pandemic.

In reality, it means that just one in three HR and People leaders were well equipped to act when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Agility means being capable of moving quickly and responsively – exactly what’s needed to cope with disruption. While pandemic has changed how we work in so many ways, disruption is ever-present in more normal times too, in today’s fast-moving global marketplace.

For HR, this means running the HR and People function and the business in a way that seeks to be fast, nimble, flexible and frictionless.

While agile methodologies – often used in software development – are helpful for teams, you don’t have to use the full methodology in order to become more agile.

So, how can you go about harnessing agility in your HR function? Here’s four key areas HR and People teams can focus on to adopt more agile ways of working.

1. Agile communications

Would you say your organization communicates effectively?

For organizations, the key to communicating well is through targeted and simple ways that resonate. So when it comes to agility for businesses, that means opening lines of communication across multiple functions, which enables the workforce to interact quickly and clearly in response to fast-changing situations.  

HR and People systems with a built-in portal can be a great way for organizations to communicate to their people. They allow you to communicate instantly and provide targeted and personalized messaging for employees. It might include a news board, policies or links to training sessions. You can also send push messages to alert employees when important new information is available, and importantly, employees have everything in one place.

Don’t forget that communication should always be two-way. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of sending one-way messages and not asking for feedback. You need to understand how your employees think and feel, and the only way to do that is by asking them.

Feedback doesn’t go to waste. In fact, employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.

2. Agile leadership

Are you a leader who embraces agility?

In today’s ever-changing environment, agile leaders need to create an environment where cross-functional teams collaborate, step out from silos and learn from each other. In addition, great agile leaders seek feedback, and have the right tools to focus on productivity and continuous development.

While true agile teams maybe cross-functional and blended, that doesn’t mean that traditional organizations can’t respond as quickly as those who operate as a flexible network. They can still move towards a more agile way of operating.

So how can your managers start to lead with agility in mind? It’s all about nurturing a great experience for employees.

Naturally, as humans, we dislike change so you’ll need to support your people to embrace it. Think: two-way communication, regular check-ins, and effective goals. If you can help managers do that, your employees are more likely to be on board with changes before getting into a new rhythm of working.

3. Agile workstyles

It’s a fact: employers who support agile workstyles are more productive. For the US, 85% of workers believe productivity has increased in their business because of greater flexibility.

Working flexibly often gets confused with remote working but it can include job sharing, part-time, compressed hours, flexitime, working from home and contingent working.

While some organizations have encouraged this for years, more traditional businesses are realizing the benefits that agile workstyles can have on employee engagement, particularly as technology has evolved to make it possible to be just as productive away from the office.

However, new and resilient ways of working require different support from organizations and leaders to ensure success.

Do you actively encourage workers and managers to promote flexible working? Give them tools and systems that make it easy to stay connected and collaborate from anywhere. Additionally, think about reforming work policies so everyone knows what’s expected of them in terms of hours, targets, meeting times, teamwork and communication.

4. Agile performance management

How do you track and manage performance?

In a more agile workplace, employees may work on shorter-term projects of different lengths. They may have different managers for these and work across functions to form effective teams. For that very reason, old-style performance management models, such as the annual appraisal, are on their way out.

An annual performance management process simply isn’t agile enough to meet the business needs of today, when priorities shift rapidly due to changes in the market. Individual objectives need to contribute directly to current company goals which can shift and evolve throughout the year.

To deliver great agile performance management, continuous conversations is an important ingredient. Managers should check in with their employees on a regular basis to find out about how they’re tracking towards their goals, their general wellbeing, any roadblocks they have in getting something done or any good news to share. 

Managers should also encourage development and innovation. Agile organizations aren’t comfortable with the status quo if it’s no longer effective, so managers should consider the value behind testing and changing the way things have been done before, if there’s a possibility that it could be more effective.

Agile performance management leaves employees feeling empowered and reflects in their work. Staggeringly, Employees whose managers involve them in goal setting alone are over three times more likely to be engaged then employees who aren’t involved.

Agility starts with you

How will your organization become more agile?

While contingency plans and resilience measures have been key to help companies recover and adapt in response to the global pandemic, you can’t plan precisely for every possibility. An agile culture across the whole organization makes it easier to respond to market challenges of all kinds.

If HR adapts to focus on an agile approach towards communication, leadership, workstyles and performance management, they’ll be able to steer the organization on a different course as and when they need to.

By fostering an agile concept across the entire workforce, your business can stay ahead and become more  resilient in the face of change.

For more insights and tips on agile HR practices that build in resilience and help organizations succeed, explore the eBook ‘Agility in HR: 4 ways to drive agile ways of working’ today.

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