The Agile HR Challenge in APAC

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The Agile HR Challenge in APAC_Business leader and team with modern buildings in city background

The Asia-Pacific region of the world is no different when it comes to human resources.  Practioners there, just as with practioners all over the world, are focused on technologies and strategies that benefit both the company and its employees.  Having said that, however, challenges unique to APAC change the dynamics of HR issues.

One of those is agile HR.

Agile HR in APAC

Agility Challenges

According to Kelvin Ong, a writer for Raconteur, there are a handful of challenges that inhibit organisations from taking an agile HR approach.  HR professionals in APAC tell him one of the problems relates to the fact most leaders there are “conservative” in their approach to management.  Additionally, there is a lack of trust in HR.

Another challenge for the region is the diversity of the region itself.  To be more specific, many different countries make up the APAC region and each of them have their own specific culture.  That translates to a difficulty in implementing changes within an organization.

To add to that, Ong says many companies aren’t funding their HR oranisations to account for these types of change initiatives.  Many are still underfunded.  As a result, HR is often required to make economies and must take more care in investments.

Also, most HR professionals are trying to institute a one-size-fits-all approach to the business strategy.  It simply isn’t working.

WEBINAR:  Change Management, Culture & The Role of Agility

There have also been some political issues that have impacted HR in the APAC region.  For instance, the 2019 Hong Kong protests and the Thai government’s “ongoing internal divisions”.

The HR Mindset

The biggest issue or challenge for HR in APAC, according to Sandeep Chanana, Asia-Pacific HR business partner for Japanese ecommerce platform Rakuten, is the mindset. 

“I’ve been saying for years, and still continue to, that HR folks tend to get stuck in the ‘three Ps’ of process, policy and payroll,” Chanana told Ong.  “We’ve forgotten why we as HR exist. We exist for employee experience, to use data and be analytical and, of course, to impact revenue and enable cost-saving.”

Adopting the Agile Mindset

For human resources, agility is the process by which a large project, for instance, is broken up into smaller pieces.  Those smaller pieces are then assigned to different groups and the work begins.  Throughout the course of the project those groups are in constant communication and are changing and updating the project regularly.  And the work is happening in a non-linear fashion, meaning some pieces of the project are completed before others.

Companies not engaging with an agile strategy run the risk of being left behind.  And the numbers support that idea.

71-percent of organizations use agile approaches across the board.  98 percent of those see some form of success.

With that being said, the best place to start to change the outdated HR mindset to a more agile one is in human resources.  That’s according to Payal Sondhi, an HR Managers with SILA.  Why?  Sondhi says it makes sense given the fact HR is the department offers “business value in terms of growth capabilities, efficiency and cost savings.”

In addition, HR is best suited to help a company realign its strategy with agility as the critical component.

Sondhi suggests a three step approach to implementing an agile HR department.

Firstly, organisations should start small.  Starting a large scale mindset change can damage the team and the company.  It’s best to start out with an experiment and, based on those results, continue the change or adjust the strategy.  More than 45-percent of organizations say agility is hard to accept because it is not supported internally.  Starting small helps address that concern.  Introducing it in small doses allows for the strategy to be proven in action and that makes it easier when scaling it across the entire enterprise.

Additionally, there has to be consistency across the board.  Without it, expect failure or often and on a larger scale if it’s not managed before rollout.

Finally, Sondhi says agile tools must be used.  This allows teams to keep a pulse on their progress and it allows for real-time feedback.  It also helps with the alignment of goals with the overall business and it helps leadership make minor changes to the strategy along the way.


It’s worth noting agility is all about thinking and understanding concepts quickly.  As the pace of the world quickens so too must HR’s response to it.  At the end of the day, an agile HR department is a critical player in the success of an organization.  Why?  It allows the business to keep pace with its competitors and ensures company survival.  Organisations not embracing agility may succeed, but will, in the end, be less competitive in the industry as a whole.


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