Why tech-enabled agility is fundamental for HR's success

Fundamentally, HR must be an agile function if it wants to affect real change in the modern, changeable, workplace. But what does agility for the people function actually look like?...
HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Why tech-enabled agility is fundamental for HR's success
Just 29% of HR leaders are organised for agility

Agility – it’s a word that has come to define the HR function in many ways. Of course, there’s been a radical shift in how agility is felt within the workplace in recent years; largely, but not entirely as a result of the COVID pandemic.

HR understands why agility is needed within the sector. In fact, according to a Deloitte survey of over 10,000 organisational and HR leaders in 140 countries, 94% of respondents said that ‘agility and collaboration’ are the factors which are most critical to their organisation’s success.

However, despite this understanding, prior to the pandemic, just 29% of 500 global HR and People leaders revealed in Sage data that they were organised for agility. In real terms, this means that just one in three HR and people leaders were well equipped to act when the pandemic hit.

Much time has passed since HR was forced to pivot on the turn of a dime and institute a radically different roadmap for their organisations in order to survive the impending uncertainty of a global pandemic. Yet, has this uncertainty dissipated? Illness and burnout are still central concerns, professionals are still working in a largely hybrid model, economic uncertainty globally is brimming and of course the talent market, with all its fluctuations, is still a key concern for many.

Is HR better equipped to deal with uncertainty in 2024?

Yet HR has learned from these deep uncertainties, right? Agility must be a pivotal arrow in the HR quiver. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case. In the 2024 State of People Strategy report by Lattice data only 41% of HR practitioners said that they are currently meeting or exceeding their goals. And whilst a full 83% of the HR professionals polled feel they can have a significant impact on overall company productivity, a much smaller number believe HR can impact other key business outcomes — including customer satisfaction, revenue growth and product/service quality.

In a notable Harvard Business Review article, Professor of Management at The Wharton School and Director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, Peter Cappelli, stated that HR is, in essence, ‘agile lite’. By this, he meant that HR is adept at applying general principles, yet without adopting all the tools and protocols seen elsewhere, such as the tech world. “It's a move away from a rules- and planning-based approach toward a simpler and faster model driven by feedback from participants,” he noted.

Whilst developments since Cappelli made this bold statement have shifted HR closer to tech-enabled agility, recent data supports his argument. Gloat data states that 58% of HR practitioners report their talent management systems don’t work well together, fast enough, or are out of date. What’s more, Sage’s The Changing Face of HR report states that HR leaders are still hampered by outdated processes and laborious manual admin tasks. Only 59% of respondents are using cloud HR technology and just 54% have some form of automation.

To grab the very real opportunity that tech presents, HR must overcome a traditional reticence and become intimate with technology

This is a huge concern, not just because the assistance of automation is taking the working world by storm, but because it shows a resistance to agile change and adoption. In a recent HR Grapevine roundtable, several of the fifteen-plus guests around the table admitted that some structures such as performance evaluations, still relied on paper-led processes. In a world in which automation can, within seconds, analyse large swaths of data and give fundamental indications into overall performance, this is unacceptable.

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