How Agile is Transforming HR Organizations

Posted by David Lee on January 31, 2019

How Agile is Tranforming HR Organizations | Deltek

By David Lee, Product Manager, Deltek

Summary: While the applications and benefits of Agile methods are well known in software development, they are beginning to take hold in other parts of organizations. Agile lends itself to many disciplines within professional services including human resource management. Here David Lee shares thought leadership ideas around how firms can use Agile methods to transform their HR organizations. David presented this information in one of his sessions at Deltek Insight 2018.

Welcome to 2019, a year that promises to yield significant growth and change for many of our organizations, and for many of us on personal and professional levels. There is a palpable excitement and renewed optimism with the turn of the calendar. The key for many of us is taking that excitement and optimism and ensuring we commit to generating productivity and affecting positive change, not just letting the energy fall by the wayside. Change; however, requires us to be open-minded, vulnerable, and most importantly, agile.

What is Agile?

If you have an athletic background, you understand agility intimately. I myself am a former athlete, and although I was reasonably skilled, agility was my downfall. I lacked great footspeed and footwork. I did not move well laterally, nor was I nimble enough to change directions quickly. Keep that example of agility in mind as we move forward in discussing agility in professional terms.

Agility in software development is obviously not a new concept. Although iterative software development has been around for many decades, agile software development as you know, really took off in the 21st century. The approach known as Agile is based on the Agile Manifesto (2001). The most popular Agile methodology today, Scrum, involves a set of well-developed practices for innovation. 

Even the concept of agility in Human Resources is not new…but for some reason, we are largely treating it like it is an unfounded, irrelevant concept and practice. Unfortunately, this has left many organizations lagging behind in the war for talent and struggling for anything near optimal workforce productivity. Many organizations who think they are adopting new strategies and becoming agile are still far behind. Consistently in discussions with clients and prospects, we find organizations are implementing small pieces of modern processes and inserting some agility into HR; however, they are still largely bundling these newer practices with the outdated. Here is an example:

  • Organization A has decided to implement Continuous Feedback, a vital part of modern performance management. They recognize that “in the absence of information, people create their own”, and good discussions will keep all parties in lock-step
  • This process will require managers and employees to hold relevant discussions every thirty days to drive conversations around goals, projects, development, etc. It is the right move for so many reasons (see this Gallup survey we will reference again shortly); however, the organization decides that the annual appraisal is still a tangible, necessary process so they have something on which to base annual compensation adjustments
  • The annual appraisal process is cumbersome, has multiple approval levels, requires 360 assessments, etc. It is not project-based, is largely one size fits all, and employees find much of it irrelevant and untimely
  • Not surprisingly, over 70% of appraisals are well over 45-days delinquent every year, and many never get completed. For those that that do get completed, they frequently become box checking exercises just to process the compensation adjustment. Sound familiar?

The Shift From Legacy to Modern

The outdated, autocratic, compliance-focused approach to HR is no longer useful or impactful. Once a year appraisals, focus only on the super large successes, and top-down annual goals are antiquated, uninspiring practices with little or no employee involvement. The shift is on, albeit slowly, where knowledgeable HR professionals are leading the change initiatives and powering agile, collaborative, data-driven and people-centric practices. 

Think of your employees for a moment. Most of you can likely name employees who fall into these three categories based on behavior: 

  • Engaged- they’re usually the ones driving initiatives forward, demonstrating passion while providing influence and innovation.
  • Disengaged - may still be getting their day-to-day work done, and likely meeting most/some expectations, but they aren’t showing passion for the work they’re doing. They are at risk of sliding toward active disengagement.
  • Actively Disengaged - unhappy and want everyone to know it. Typically will be undermining the team’s or department’s every effort to advance and improve. It’s important to recognize that not every actively disengaged employee is a bad employee. Maybe they’re working for a disengaged or actively disengaged manager or maybe they’re not in the right role. It could also be that they’re simply not getting what they need from the organization to feel engaged and successful.

This Gallup survey tell us that only 21% of employees feel they are managed in a way that motivates them to perform outstanding work. So where does agility fit into this? Modern performance management processes such as Continuous Goal Management and Continuous Feedback (i.e. Continuous Performance Management) along with Project-based Appraisals and Employee Recognition drive real-time, dynamic, relevant interactions. The most significant positive influence on engagement is based on the strength of the Manager and Employee relationship, one that has a strong foundation built on frequent communication, recognition combined with meaningful work, and development. 

The Agile Payoff

There are significant, positive outcomes, which vary by persona for your organization when you integrate agility into your HR processes.

  • Finance will be thrilled with modern, agile processes as their goal is to invest in products that provide productivity gains, soft ROI and that help move the needle. Goal-based/project-based Continuous Feedback discussions produce results and actionable data that can be acted/reported on. Finally, this agility helps drive objectivity and Finance will feel more comfortable with results that equate with salary increase and bonus-based decisions.
  • Human Resources will enjoy that Continuous Performance Management fosters consistency and communication across the organization, keeps parties in lock-step, and increases awareness, understanding, and empathy. Recognition aids in engagement and Project-based Appraisals drive more objective forms of performance rating rather than stale, one-size fits all annual appraisal processes.
  • Managers and Employees will be engaged in timely, relevant, specific conversations they should be/already are having in a more focused manner. Remember, in the absence of information, people create their own, and frequent communication mitigates guesswork, ambiguity, cultural gossip, and concern. Recognition, development and relevant project-based appraisals added to this formula are a recipe for significant success for project-based organizations.

Do you remember that sports analogy from earlier? These modern, agile practices will continue to evolve, iterate, and change. This will require organizations and professionals like yourself to be adaptive, to be able to stop on a dime and change directions, and to do so in a reasonably quick manner. Not only will your practices need to be agile, but you yourself will need to be even more so. You will need to anticipate change, stop playing catch up, and get ahead of the curve as it pertains to what is in the best interest of your organization. You will by all accounts need to be the athlete of your organization, leading these initiatives nimbly.


In order to gain buy-in for the agile processes that will transform your organization, you will need to leverage the pain points on a “by-persona” basis in your organization, and influence the win-win solutions that agility presents. You will need to sell the change through the organization with a detailed transition plan including timing, training and measurements of success. Our recent webinar titled “Dream Big: Successfully Implement Your HCM Initiatives This Year” can be located On Demand here. This webinar provides a full approach to identifying problems, researching and presenting solutions, and influencing your organization to adopt agile practices.

Additionally, you will not only need a Talent Management tool that facilitates the agility your organization needs in order to succeed, but a true partner that understands the challenges that project-based businesses face on a daily basis. Deltek is ready to provide that partnership, and help propel your workforce to new levels of engagement, productivity and agility.

About the Author

As the Product Manager for Deltek Talent Management, David has oversight of Performance, Learning and Development/Succession. A former Vice President of Human Resources, Dave possesses nearly twenty years of Human Resources expertise with significant focus in talent/employee development and employee relations. Dave is a DDI certified leadership trainer and possesses an MBA from Walden University as well as various HR certifications.

Deltek is the leading global provider of enterprise software and information solutions for project-based businesses. For more information on Deltek solutions for your specific industry visit