• Patrick Verdonk

Dear HR, it is time to step up! Organizational agility starts with you!

Actualizado: 13 nov 2020

There is a shift happening in the world of work. Organizations are becoming more inspiring, human, purposeful, and future-driven. Businesses are becoming a force for good. People’s potential is freed up to have a positive impact on the lives of others, communities, and the world. Therefore, our purpose is to accelerate this transformation by spreading the Agile values of customer collaboration, energizing people, inspiring leadership, and rapid change to all areas of business and to organizations.
We take pride in being on the front lines of organizational change. We attract people from all types of industries that fulfill a diverse set of roles. So we meet across functions to enable cross-learning, collaboration, and new solutions for the future of work.

This post is based on the book:

The case for organizational agility

To secure a company’s future we must constantly innovate and design new products and services for an ever-changing external environment and customer base. Running a business today is less about process than it is about people, teams, and relationships. There is a movement toward decentralized decision making, which manifests through cross-functional, self-organizing teams. The principle here is that the people closest to the information and who have the most knowledge about the issue should be the ones who make decisions about it.

Employees are the ones who realize the dream or the vision by doing what they do best every day. They have the greatest competence and insight, and therefore should be empowered to operate in accordance with their best knowledge.

Nevertheless, the whole organization should be asking, “What can I do to make our dream a reality? What steps need to be taken?” Everyone needs to have the authority to prioritize the right things as if it were a matter of life and death, because the reality is, it is. If we don’t pay attention, we will be outrun by smaller, faster, and smarter players in no time.

Sustainability of a company today depends mostly on its ability to learn and adapt, and learn, and adapt. Those companies capable of internalizing change, fast learning and quick adaptations as ‘the new normal’ are the ones that will continue to be. The others… well, they’ll be outrun…

Avoiding confusion…

Any organization that wants to be successful needs to have a fit between the culture (values and behaviors) on one hand, and the structures (methods, processes, and systems) on the other hand. If not, it will experience confusion around what’s said and what’s done.

Some confusing situations are unfortunately still ‘common practice’ in many organizations, regardless of any good intentions:

  1. Trust does not fit well with structures of control. If you really trust somebody, why would you need to control that same person by requiring detailed reports every week or month?

  2. Imagine your company values are creativity and innovation, and then the structured, detailed job descriptions limit people by describing what they are supposed to do and not supposed to do.

  3. If cooperation is an important organizational value, why does the performance framework still reward individual performance.

  4. Imagine that the organization wants people and teams to engage with their whole selves for the greater good of the organization, but then they give them numerical targets created by the management team.

  5. If equality is an important value. Then don’t let management promote certain people to better positions or gives them higher bonuses.

  6. Diversity is extremely important to the organization? Then, why aren’t there any women in your top management. Where are the different ethnic groups that we see in marketing campaigns spread around the company?

  7. Value performance and want employees to exhibit the “right” behaviors? Get rid off your rewards on a scale of one to five in formal performance rating exercises with a fixed distribution. “My manager says I did a great job last year, but there aren’t any fives left, so I got a four.”

For “Agile” to work effectively, it’s important that the company structure and culture match up.

The transformation towards agility

For organizations to truly transform, there must be a seismic mind shift. Companies need to shift from thinking about profit to thinking about purpose. They need to move from hierarchical structures to networked structures. Management needs to switch from being controlling to being empowering, from planning to experimenting, and from privacy to transparency.

These changes need to be global across the organization, but they usually start with HR. As organizational architects, HR leaders set the intention to embrace a mindset shift. They make the initial decisions regarding organizational structure, change management, and leadership development. They set the stage for the change the entire organization will adapt to and embrace.

Why HR is key to successful organizational agility

There is one functional department in most large(r) organizations that can affect all the other parts at the same time: (central group) HR. This group, in many companies, controls:

  1. Leadership programs and development

  2. Change management

  3. Organizational development

  4. Employee engagement and retention

  5. People development and learning

  6. Reward strategies and bonus systems

  7. Talent acquisition

  8. Long-term workforce management

All the above areas cut through the entire organization. They are the processes that support or stop the change to a more agile future. It all depends on how we work with processes and programs. They can be developed in a way that limits performance and engagement, or they can optimize performance and employee satisfaction.

Dear HR, it is time to step up! Start with yourself!

HR struggles with criticism of being organizational police that stop performance and engagement by implementing the very processes that were supposed to increase the same. This needs to change. HR has been sitting in the back seat for too long now. It’s time to step up and take responsibility for change. It’s all about the people, the relationships, and the system in which the people live and work. However, if we can give the right prerequisites to people, they will take care of the rest.

An HR team can either support or hinder the change toward a more Agile organization, which is why HR needs to go first! By providing different structures and focusing on customer value instead of rules, HR can lead companies through change that no other department is capable of.


Try to move away from the focus of HR processes and move into the perspective of having the user in mind. By user, I mean the employee experience. Then, of course, we will have different parts of that journey that can be improved, but we’re always striving for a better “people” experience. Because HR is the driving organizational force within businesses, our focus is on creating better workplaces through the transformation and development of individuals and teams across all disciplines. The trick is to start small from where you are and keep it simple.

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