Be ‘Agile’ or Fail: The Top Challenge for HR Teams in 2018

We all have that colleague who overuses buzz words such as: synergy, deep dive, and low-hanging fruit. Yet, every now and again, a buzz word arises that actually impacts your business.


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In 2018, that word is going to be “Agile” and Human Resource (HR) teams will be responsible for making it a reality across the organization.  Business agility is the ability to adapt and respond rapidly to changes in the environment while sustaining success. Depending on the size and stage of your organization, it may require bold internal policy transformations, a new approach to hiring, or paradigm shifts in company culture.

Agile isn’t new, so why will it creep up the challenges list in 2018?

With questions swirling around whether the economy can sustain its tear, uncertainty has again set in. But for organizations with the ability to quickly adapt to changing business and economic conditions, companywide and HR focused objectives—particularly those focused on driving growth—won’t have to be compromised. Technological advancements, combined with changing attitudes towards “process-heavy” human capital initiatives, have produced greater efficiencies and faster results; two performance measurements near the top of HR’s list.

Yet nearly 700 executives reported having little confidence in their companies’ ability to quickly mobilize in response to market shifts. More than 50% of those surveyed did not believe that their culture was adaptive enough to respond.

To solve this quandary, CEOs are turning to HR leaders. They’re giving them the mandate to create a workforce and cultivate a culture that is agile and nimble enough to capitalize on new opportunities and overcome deep-rooted organizational challenges.

At Peak Sales Recruiting, we work together with HR leaders from some of the most innovative and disruptive companies.  Based on their collective experiences and the latest studies, we have compiled three ways HR and talent acquisition teams can harness the power of agility to drive organizational performance in 2018.

Here are 3 ways HR teams can become more agile in 2018:

1. Learn from Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible

In the popular movie franchise, Cruise leads IMF, a self-managed team that operates outside of government bureaucracy to save the U.S. from evil. In the real world, many leading companies such as Microsoft, Spotify, and Airbnb have employed similar strategies.

For example, “Scaling Agile @ Spotify” formed cross-departmental teams that functioned like a startup with Spotify as the incubator.  The teams—”Tribes” and “Guilds” —had delegated decision-making autonomy on key service and product development initiatives. Their work has been so impactful that they’ve helped the company keep giants like Apple from stealing market share in a growth segment. And while the cross-functional, collaboration first approach has been a key pillar for the company’s success, the real reason why these smaller teams are necessary—paralysis.

Bain research studied 300 large corporations worldwide and found that the top quartile’s key to success was that they spent 50% less time on unnecessary and ineffective collaboration. That is why small, talented teams that work outside of traditional hierarchical management systems can solve mission critical issues, faster. To be more agile in 2018, HR departments must work closely with C-Suite executives on empowering middle and front-line leaders to build nimble, cross-functional teams.

2. Transform Internally at Scale

A Korn Ferry Institute study found that increasing investment in aligning HR practices with business objectives resulted in a 7.5% decrease in employee turnover and, on a per employee basis, $27,044 more in sales, $18,641 more in market value, and $3,814 more in profit.

But in tech, HR departments have traditionally struggled to be aligned with rapid go-to-market plays and shorter product development cycles. Workforce policy development, talent acquisition tactics, and competency and performance review initiatives weren’t in sync with the changing pace of business. Using agility as its foundation, one company approached the problem differently.

McKinsey recently released a case study called ING’s Agile Transformation. Recognizing the importance of agility at scale, ING made 3,500 employees re-interview for their jobs. Remarkably, 40% of the employees ended up in new positions within the company or were let go.

What’s particularly interesting about the findings is that in many cases, the change was not because of an employee’s skill set. It was a mindset that could embrace the constant state of change that financial service and financial technology organizations need to remain competitive. ING’s HR department led an unprecedented overhaul of their organization and this experience can be replicated across organizations in 2018.

3. Hire Change Agents with a Versatile Skill Set

The phrase, “We have always done it this way,” is the kryptonite to success. Economic volatility and advances in technology, in certain cases, render last year’s business plan obsolete.  While it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel every time, HR departments must evolve their competency models to hire people possessing “change agent” traits and experiences.

Steve Jobs famously said if you want to hire change agents, hire pirates. He wanted employees that would challenge the status quo, were flexible, diverse, passionate, and results-oriented.  If HR departments do not bring in fresh people and ideas, the company will fail to change for the better in 2018.

Due to rapid changes in technology and the global economy, business agility will be a key differentiator between company failure and success.  Being agile while maintaining company values and processes is a tight rope that CEOs are asking HR professionals to figure out. As HR leaders approach the unchartered territories of 2018, these tips will help them navigate these tricky waters. Never has one buzz word meant so much.

Keith Johnstone is the Head of Marketing at Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006. Keith directs the marketing function and plays a key role driving the company, which possesses a success rate 50% higher than the industry average, working with high-growth, mid-size and enterprise companies including P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, Merck, Taser and others. Follow him on Twitter: @KJ_Peak  and LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnstonekeith/.