3 Steps to More Agile HR Structures

July 21, 2020

Contributor: Mary Baker

As HR rethinks the current HR operating model to be more agile, these three steps will help to define strategy and outcomes and ease execution.

As agile continues to be applied to areas and functions outside of IT, HR leaders hope to capture benefits for their own function, such as improved alignment to organizational priorities and rapid changes, as well as better, more relevant support. The challenge is how exactly to do this and where to start.

In a Gartner survey of 253 HR leaders, 27% report they are making changes to their HR operating models to be more agile. “But while there is a growing consensus among HR leaders that HR should become more agile, there is an overall uncertainty about how to effectively apply the principles to rethinking the HR structure,” says Caroline Walsh, Vice President, Gartner.

“ The most common question HR leaders have is, “How should we change the way we run the function?” ”

Learn More: HR Operating Model of the Future

Lack of strategy

In fact, 78% of HR leaders said they have neither a defined strategy nor outcomes in place to guide their application of agile in HR.

Facing mounting pressure to cut costs, restore employee productivity, deliver on employee experience and execute the right policies for their employees, HR leaders have the opportunity to use agile principles to redesign their HR operating models.

The most common question HR leaders have is, “How should we change the way we run the function?”

3 agile principles to help redesign the HR operating model

To help HR to answer this question, Gartner has translated agile principles into three agile HR key success factors for redesigning the operating model.

1. Create space for strategic thinkers to solve customer problems

HR’s organizing structures and processes often result in silos across major workstreams, poor visibility from team to team on common challenges, and difficulty prioritizing strategic and transactional work. A 2019 Gartner HR Structure survey showed that less than 40% of HR leaders believe their function separates transactional and strategic tasks appropriately.

Although HR leaders want to spend more time on strategic work, the current operating model and processes don’t allow for this. 

To successfully apply agile values, HR leaders must give strategic thinkers the space and tools necessary to solve high-impact customer problems while minimizing or eliminating the need for these employees to work on operational tasks. 

2. Implement a proactive, customer-sensing HR model

An agile HR operating model must continually gauge shifts in customer needs to identify where HR can have the most strategic impact. Yet, Gartner research finds that only 29% of employees agree that HR understands their needs and expectations. Often, HR business partners work with the business and provide strategic support in understanding its needs, while trying to capture employee feedback in the moment.

Despite HR’s attempts to better understand its customers via engagement surveys, exit surveys and pulse surveys — and even more experimental techniques such as data scraping — its efforts often fall short of truly sensing customer needs

HR leaders should rethink HR structures to enable their teams to identify the shifts in customer needs that determine where the function will have the most strategic impact.

Learn More: Apply "Agile" to the HR Function

3. Manage work as an investment portfolio not a set agenda

Most HR functions approach planning by conducting strategic planning sessions and conversations at a regular cadence; however, this approach can make it challenging to change processes. According to Gartner’s 2020 Agile HR Function Survey, only one-third of HR leaders agree that projects are paused or stopped if they are no longer deemed strategic or valuable. Additionally, only 34% of HR leaders agree that resources are reallocated when there is insufficient support for employees to tackle priority work.

Rather than building an agile HR function based on a set agenda, HR leaders must manage work processes as an evolving investment portfolio. Doing so requires these leaders to be more flexible and reassess priorities on a regular basis to ensure the highest-priority projects receive the greatest investment.

“Incorporating an agile approach enables HR leaders to ensure their functions provide value and drive results and helps HR keep up with agile transformations occurring throughout the rest of the business,” says Mark Whittle, Vice President, Advisory, Gartner.

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