Resources for Agile Humans


Every aspect of today’s businesses must evolve to reap the rewards of business agility. That includes the human resources department. HR needs a paradigm shift from viewing humans as resources to viewing themselves as facilitating, supporting, empowering and enhancing the experience of each and every employee. This article provides a new perspective of the typical employee lifecycle and real actions that a traditional HR department can take to begin their Agile journey. To thrive in the continuous change characterizing the world today, HR must be re-imagined, upgraded and refocused on the humans who make any of it possible and who make all of it matter.

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HR is undergoing a transformation. In fact, business as a whole has been transforming for the last few decades: how businesses sell, market, strategize and solution, recruit talent, enable learning and development and more is all being re-imagined, upgraded and refocused on the humans who make any of it possible and who make all of it matter. Today HR has taken center stage of this change, itself transforming to be more conducive to business agility.

In this article we aim to demonstrate that Agile HR provides resources for humans with Agile values. This means that, in the Agile organization, HR is empowered to and accountable for equipping people in the Agile organization with the relationships, mindsets, tools, and experiences to thrive in complex times.

Agile HR is a movement to infuse Agile values – collaboration, transparency, rapid feedback, iterative & incremental value delivery, empowerment, and more – into the process of employing and empowering the human systems that unlock business agility. How to do that is not always clear, so here we offer some insights based on experience, research and our deeply held value system. Drawing inspiration from Simon Sinek, this article aims to “Start With WHY,” then HOW, and finally WHAT:

  • WHY is it absolutely imperative for HR to focus on increasing its agility?
  • HOW can traditional HR shift mindsets to support business agility and thus precipitate change in other business units?
  • WHAT actionable steps can you take to start this journey?

Further, we will attempt to demonstrate three things:

  1. How an Agile HR department facilitates, supports, empowers and enhances each and every employee’s experience
  2. How other departments in the organization, including brand, marketing, and recruiting support the success of the Agile HR department
  3. How the entire system creates a ripple affect beyond the organization that can nonetheless benefit the organization in the long run To do so, we will follow the arc of the typical employee lifecycle in 6 stages: Attract, Recruit, Onboard, Develop, Retain, Transition.

Fake it ‘Til you Make It?

Perhaps it seems like too much work to become a truly Agile organization. Perhaps your strategy for attracting agilists is to simply sprinkle words like “Agile” and “Scrum” throughout your materials, in hopes that no one will ask you exactly what you mean. While that may serve in the short run, technology has shifted the power dynamic more in favor of prospective hires. “In the past you might have had companies that weren’t great to work for, but only a small circle of people knew about it,” says IBM Chief HR Officer Diane Gherson.1 “Now the whole world knows about it, because it’s on Glassdoor—and that’s turned companies into glass houses. People can look in and see what’s going on and make judgments about whether they want to work there in a way that they weren’t able to before.” Glassdoor, Facebook, Reddit and others are tools that radiate company values as well as compensation packages, employee frustrations and office scandal. What this means is: you can’t fake agility… for long.

Sites like Glassdoor and Reddit have turned companies into glass houses. People can look in and see what’s going on and make judgments about whether they want to work there in a way that they weren’t able to before.

1. Attract: The Siren Call

The job of the Agile HR department begins well before there is a new hire sitting in the hot seat. In many ways, HR is at the mercy of the organization’s brand presence: When the company brand and company vision are well aligned, as is the case with tech giants like Google, Apple and Amazon, then HR and recruiting should have no problem hiring good talent. In some ways, the same is true for all companies drawing from pools of highly talented candidates, who often decide to work for a company well before they put pen to paper. The proof is that people will work for a comparatively smaller salary for a brand that they align with well.2

Shared values motivate agilists to seek out Agile organizations

As Dan Pink pointed out in his seminal work “Drive,”money is only so good a motivator.3 One article puts a dollar amount to the threshold at which money ceases to bring people happiness: $75,000.4 “For people who earn that much or more,” the author writes, “individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money.” Other factors are at play when it comes to happiness in life and work.

This brings us back to your brand. In our experience, shared values motivate agilists to seek out Agile organizations. Many high-profile companies are vying for the same pool of qualified and experienced Agile practitioners, so your brand needs to differentiate itself. If you are looking for capable agilists with more than just the perfunctory training experience and if you are looking for the best of the best in the Agile world, the pool is shallow indeed. Your differentiator is your ability to demonstrate authentic agility. By creating and maintaining an Agile working environment, you are also creating and maintaining an Agile brand. This serves as a siren call to agilists who refuse on principle to work any other way.

By creating and maintaining an Agile working environment, you are also creating an maintaining an Agile brand.

While it may seem like HR can’t do anything about improving their company’s Agile brand cred, we identify three impactful actions they can take:

  1. Give culture fit a higher priority over other hiring criteria.
  2. Work closely with leadership to elevate the priority of business agility related initiatives.
  3. Work with marketing and brand to radiate these initiatives and related successes to the employee market. Together these send a message both to your organization and to applicants that business agility is more than just a buzz word to your business.

2. Recruit: Meaningful Connections

Community and human connection are paramount in Agile. The process for making first contact with agilists tends to happen at the Recruit stage, when someone in the organization reaches out to a prospective candidate. This can be the make-or-break moment for agilists. Agilists have taken time and effort to re-train their speech and mental models. For some, it can feel cultish, and frankly some agilists can be overzealous and intolerant of other viewpoints. A lot of this is a result of being part of a small group of people who knew better ways of working, for more than a decade, but were relatively powerless in making necessary changes. With Agile entering the mainstream, the struggle has changed completely: from proving that Agile is valuable to b