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In part one, I started the discussion around how HR departments of one can use agile methodology to make their current practices more efficient. Using these methodologies such as adaptability, simplicity and unity, not only makes people process more efficient, they also free up the HR leader to spend time out of the day to day HR stuff and on things that really matter to employee success. I explained that in our work we have found two key areas that HR can start to look at for opportunities to become more agile.

The first is in recruiting. If you don’t want to go back and read that post, the cliff notes version is this. Agile recruiting teams (or the HR person in an HR department of one) is always looking for ways to make the recruiting process better. They are reviewing how the process is working and running through iterations of change to see what improves the process the most. They throw out the idea that the way we have always recruited candidates is the best way and look for ways to better leverage technology or change the entire approach to who and how we recruit for certain positions, as we did with the client described in the post. Recruiting is notoriously reactive, but truly agile recruiting means becoming more proactive, trying new things and learning from past mistakes.

There is another area where HRDO1 can use agile principles to become more efficient and effective in their work. This area is hands down the area where HR practitioners tell us they get “stuck in the weeds” the most.


Believe it or not, the day to day administration of people programs seems to be the place where HR leaders get stuck the most. We know this to be true because as we continue to create programs or training offerings for small business HR leaders, the ones that gain the most interest are those aimed at alleviating the burden of day to day HR administration.

It’s even the topic chosen for my Smart Stage presentation at SHRM18. I gave the speaker team two topics that I could deliver and they chose Getting Out of the Weeds: How HR Departments of One Can Move from Fire Fighter to HR Igniter. HRDO1 are represented in large numbers at a SHRM conference and they try to provide content specific to them as much as possible.

HR teams do a couple of different things to make the day to day administration of people process more agile. The rest of this post will focus on one.

Empowering Managers

As I mentioned in the post about empowering managers to handle employee grievances, leaders, especially inexperienced ones, will push off as much uncomfortable work on HR as they can. What we find is that uncomfortable not only means difficult conversations but really anything people related that they don’t want to do. See if this sounds familiar.

Instead of finding a form an employee asked for on the intranet, where the leader knows it is available, they send the employee to HR.

Instead of addressing a minor employee relations issue the minute it happens, they wait for HR to have the discussion.

Instead of empowering employees to problem solve issues on their own, they send them to HR for help.

Basically, anything people related that leaders don’t want to do, they send them to HR.

If HR leaders are to become more agile in their every day work, they must empower leaders to take on more of the day to day people management. This means ensuring that people processes are simple, not overly time consuming and easy to access. Here are a few simple ideas to make this concept become more clear.

In order to prevent every employee who needs a form from coming to HR, place all common forms on an intranet or shared drive that all leaders have access to. This could include tax forms, leave of absence paperwork, disciplinary document templates and performance management forms. Be sure to let all leaders know where the forms are anytime HR is asked for a form, remind that leader that they have access to all of the forms and the employee does not need to come to HR. Certainly if your HRM system offers any self service options you will want to ensure you are fully utilizing all you have available to you, but for many small business leaders these systems are not available.

Another idea is in the area of employee grievances which I talked about in a previous post.

A third idea to empower leaders is in the area of people coaching. Beyond grievances, leaders must feel equipped to deal with the day to day people management needs. This means training leaders on how to be a coach and mentor to employees. It means putting systems in place that allow leaders to ensure their employees have what they need to do their job effectively. It means contributing to and driving the type of culture and vision that aligns all company goals.

I once worked on a project to revamp a performance management process for a growing company. When I first met the HR leader who was an HR department of one, she explained that she runs her business this way: HR owns nothing, they simply facilitate. This means that HR creates the policies and processes needed to achieve business goals and then facilitates the empowerment of leaders to make it happen. She was one of the most visionary HR leaders I have ever worked with and I learned so much from her approach. Talk about the true epitome of an HR business partner. This approach is what executives use, why can’t HR?
For HR departments of one to truly get out from under the burden of heavy administration, they are going to have to empower leaders to handle more of the day to day activities. Using agile methodologies to make processes more simple and easier to manage will help do this.

A few final thoughts. HR leaders have to move away from two things to really be able to embrace agile. First, they are going to have to stop thinking that broken processes can’t get better because that’s just how it is for their business. Even with no budget or little resources, things can always be improved. Second, they have to move away from a fear of failure. Agile methodologies use iterations or sprints to identify hang ups or areas that could be improved. We work with many technology startups and we have learned the value of these sprints first hand. They reveal where the product has opportunity for improvement and areas that don’t need as much focus. There is no reason HR can not roll out processes as a sprint and change it again when they identify parts of it that aren’t working.

Agile HR is an innovative way for leaders to move beyond the traditional way of doing things and rethink human resource processes. It is easier to implement than one thinks and can improve efficiency tremendously.

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