Agile Making the Rounds: Are Your HR and TA Teams Next?

Agile has transformed the software development world, but it’s not stopping there. These days, many non-tech teams are starting to embrace an Agile mindset as a way to break down silos and finally achieve high-impact results — saying goodbye to the chaos and inefficiency some archaic practices tend to trigger.


In fact, the 2019 State of Agile Report tells us that 97% of businesses practice agile development methods. But Agile adoption isn’t across the board: 78% of Agile principles aren’t practiced company-wide. Think about your company. How many non-tech teams have yet to implement Agile? Which of these should be the first to start?


If human resources and talent acquisition comes to mind, you’re spot on. Of course, because Agile HR and TA has already taken flight — and been wildly successful for companies like ING as its HR team rapidly transformed the broader organization before redesigning their own — you don’t really need to question if it can shape your company for the better, but how (whether that be sourcing more of the right candidates or strengthening your existing team to engage them for years to come).


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What is Agile (or Agile HR and TA for that matter)?

Though the first instances of Agile date back to the 1950s, a group of 17 free-thinking software developers brought this mindset to life in 2001 with the Agile Manifesto — a collection of four values and 12 principles to develop software better, faster. With it came a new era of software development fueled by an emphasis on:


  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan


Still today, it empowers teams to escape excessive (and sometimes all too rigid) planning processes, and communicate with customers throughout the lifecycle — versus only at the beginning and end — to deliver products that delight. It’s about constantly evaluating progress to improve, testing out new ways to reach your end goal and shifting gears when you discover your “solution” is a fail.


The Agile Alliance defines Agile as: “The ability to create and respond to change in order to succeed in an uncertain and turbulent environment.”


Introducing Agile HR and TA

Because of its proven success in the tech universe, Agile adoption has moved far beyond software development. Organizations across sectors are now implementing these practices company-wide, positioning non-tech teams to reap the benefits. Enter Agile Human Resources and Talent Acquisition.


The concept behind Agile HR and TA is much like Agile for dev teams. It cuts some of the red tape associated with traditional processes and policies, which often produces inefficient teams that aren’t encouraged (or able) to create, innovate or experiment. In place of these systems and mindsets, HR and TA teams can be more responsive during times of change, find modern ways to attract top talent and deliver more value to both candidates and employees.


Asking yourself how HR and TA typically functions, and how that might be different than an Agile approach? Actually, it’s not uncommon that these teams follow the Waterfall model, which is quite the opposite of Agile.


In short, Waterfall is a linear, less flexible approach to moving projects forward. Generally, a solution is designed and executed step by step, and no phase begins until the prior is complete. Because gathering feedback on and testing the final product is done only after execution, corrections can be more difficult to make. What’s more, because directives are given in a top-down manner, an HR team might be solving problems that, in the end, aren’t really problems at all.


Here’s an example: The way an organization gathers, understands and acts on employee feedback might either lean Waterfall or Agile. Under a Waterfall approach, feedback could be collected once a year by an outside consulting company, and with a long lag time between the survey and results release. With Agile, employee feedback may be performed in-house on a regular or ongoing schedule, providing real-time data that can be put into the right hands to take action quickly (and then remeasure to see how those changes are making a difference).


Is Agile HR and TA right for your team?

The first step to knowing if your HR and TA should embrace Agile will likely take some digging and insight from your teams: Ask why. What do you want to achieve by adopting an Agile mindset? How would your teams and company benefit? What problems do you need to solve (and how can Agile help solve them)?


Maybe your talent acquisition team comes to mind. After all, they’re not just riding the ebbs and flows of acquisition in general, but the competitive nature of tech and its ever-changing trends, job market fluctuations, hiring manager skill requirements and so on. And one of the more common struggles an acquisition team experiences? Sourcing and attracting quality candidates — the ones that not only have the right blend of skills and experience, but mindset and values that align with the company’s.


Now, when and how does your acquisition team source talent? If they follow a more traditional method, they may only be searching for candidates when a position becomes available.


On the other hand, an Agile approach leans on continuous talent acquisition. This means that candidates receive personalized, engaging experiences across channels (including social) that starts the moment they interact with your brand for the very first time.


This approach is especially beneficial if competition for the talent you’re looking for is high because even if they’re not actively looking, many keep their options open for the next big thing as passive candidates. (So, even if they’re not ready to make a move yet, they’re more likely to consider your company in the future if they have a positive experience with your brand off the bat).


Or perhaps your team struggles with tracking and staying flexible to changing workflows, causing them to duplicate efforts or drop the ball on promising candidates altogether (resulting in poor candidate experiences and missed opportunities for your company). If so — and if you’re not already doing this — try having daily 5-10-minute meetings (aka standups), where every member talks about what they accomplished the day before, the tasks for that day and any productivity blockers. You can even start using a kanban board to visualize workflows or which candidates are in each stage of the hiring process.


Other Agile HR and TA strategies you can implement include:


  • Encouraging leadership to work closely with recruiters on an ongoing basis, from defining must-have versus nice-to-have skills to nailing down what values are important for candidates to have.
  • Delivering and promoting a purpose-driven mission and set of values to both attract the right candidates and build a strong, unified team.
  • Collecting in-house, real-time employee feedback to establish better practices, address concerns, track experiences and build trust.
  • Promoting continuous learning and professional growth by creating year-round programs, rather than only reserving training sessions for underperformers.
  • Creating solutions at the source, testing and iterating as you work your way to a final solution, as opposed to following a Waterfall model (project management as a top-down approach).


Taking the right steps to implement Agile HR and TA

By the time you’re ready to take action, you’ve hopefully worked with your HR and TA teams to identify pain points and ways to streamline efforts.


Once you identify and agree on the problems to solve (e.g., lack of interested candidates, team inefficiency, low employee engagement, high turnover), prioritize them. On top of the impact each issue has on your company overall, consider the time and effort it might take to implement a particular Agile method, any associated costs and estimated outcome.


Tip: Learn from other teams at your company. Any teams that practice Agile? Then connect with them. There’s a good chance they’ll be delighted you want to follow in their footsteps, and they can be a great resource throughout your journey.


Keep in mind, for a lot of non-tech teams, Agile is uncharted territory. Most likely, there will be an adjustment period and some missteps along the way, which means it could be a good idea to start small rather than going all-in straight away.


In fact, Tracey Waters, Head of People Engagement and Development at Sky UK, explains how its HR tested and adopted Agile (you can hear the full interview at CRF). She says: “I think another pitfall to avoid is people thinking too big. I need to do my whole team, all my work, all at once, now. And the smarter way to do it is to run some experiments to try some different things.”


A bit of Agile can go a long way

Agile may be rooted in software development, but that’s not to say that the issues HR and TA teams face can’t realize the same benefits. And if you’re dealing with déjà vu (the same problems over and over again), maybe it’s time to think radically and start collaborating closer across functions to revamp the old ways of delivering products and happy experiences.


You never know, you might see the benefit of Agile within two weeks (as Sky UK did). But regardless, it takes time. After all, Agile HR and TA isn’t just a set of practices — it’s a philosophy.


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