The roots of HR and agile businesses
The nuance in the above question may not be very obvious at first, so let’s take a look at how the role of HR has evolved.
In the industrial age, where the HR function originated, its purpose was to ensure standardised, measurable tasks, processes and results, eliminating the potential for deviations and basically any personal initiative. However, our modern 21st century companies need their people thinking on their feet, innovating and (re)acting fast, in order to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Due to a highly competitive marketplace, globalisation and interlinked economies, we find ourselves in “VUCA” times, which means that volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous situations are the rule of thumb.
This VUCA environment obviously favours quick responses to changing circumstances. The masters of anticipating, reacting to or even creating change can be found in the IT-sector with its many technology start-ups. These companies have benefited greatly from VUCA circumstances and were able to quickly evolve and conquer entire markets, all thanks to their agility and short decision-making processes, enabling them to pilot and implement software solutions quickly. In this setting, with several huge success stories to show for it (Google, AirBnB, Spotify, Netflix and Uber to name a few), the concept of “agile” working was born.
A lack of responsiveness and adaptability are simply no longer acceptable, so the need for mid- and largescale companies to act in the same way as start-ups, is the reality we are facing today. The challenge in this being that the extensive procedures and complex structures that are often in place in larger companies do not necessarily facilitate agility.
Evolution in HR design
The call for agile business operations is loud and clear, while HR policies and ways of working need to be able to back this up. So instead of behaving as a regulating entity, as it traditionally used to, the HR team needs to function as an enabler and incubator.
It is important to realise that this will have an undeniable impact on the standard HR approach of tasks such as hiring, professional development and performance management. What will (need to) be introduced is an inherent company culture of change and innovation, of self-organising teams that are being granted the freedom to operate within a certain framework, of constant feedback and of people-focused management, all of which to be supported by data, for measurable output.
This does not mean that all job descriptions and org charts are to be thrown out of the window. Accountability still remains a big factor, but responsibility will be assigned to multidisciplinary teams, led by an accountable leader. In this scenario, the role of the HR team is to bring about a shift in mindset throughout the entire organisation, focusing on people and sustaining a collaborative work environment, where team productivity and efficiency play a central role.
As applicable to any operational team, HR’s practices should be agile as well, with short cycles, regular reflections and course correction based on data. One way to achieve this is to work with regularly scheduled meetings (short cycles remember, so weekly or bi-weekly) with the HR team and in the case of recruitment-related issues, the hiring managers, to evaluate the impact of small changes in the language of job descriptions over a short period of time and (re)adapting it for the next cycle. Then monitor the impact, tweak and implement it again.
Or in short: Engage. Execute. Evaluate. Repeat.