The Fast HRM Movement: It’s All About Energy, Performance, Success

© Konstantin Sutyagin -
© Konstantin Sutyagin -

By Theresa M. Welbourne, PhD

Fast HRM is critical to any organization’s success. The work on Fast HRM is derived from an established field of practice in extreme and agile programming and over 20 years of research on what predicts long-term firm performance (to learn more, go here and look for the Fast HRM tabs).

What makes the agile and extreme programming work interesting is that it is a high-energy, high-performance movement – not just another fad. Fast HRM also is a requirement for any firm that has to speed up because the only way to do this successfully is through employees.

Today I will introduce you to 12 principles of Fast HRM. Fast HRM is a movement; it needs energy, excitement, and people who will join the movement and move it forward.

If Fast HRM is a successful movement, we will all be having a lot more fun at work. We will be more successful, our firms will be performing better, and perhaps we will be celebrating just like the dancing guy in this video clip (learn about a movement – take a moment to review):

From Extreme Programming to Fast HRM Principles

Agile programming has the agile manifesto. Extreme programming got started by rallying around new values. Fast HRM has its principles, and we need to create energy around them. We who advocate Fast HRM need your help.

  • Step #1: In this article, the 12 Fast HRM principles will be introduced.
  • Step #2: Principle #1 will be explained in more detail in this article.
  • Step #3: We need your help; we are asking for your Fast HRM stories.
  • Step #4: We will follow up with a short series on the other principles.
  • Step #5: Keep sharing your stories and keep learning so we can all go fast faster.

The 12 Fast HRM principles, briefly

  1. Fast HRM requires innovation; the mandate is to not just speed up HRM process or tools. Through innovation, firms using Fast HRM learn to do HRM differently. They question the status quo and create new processes and tools that meet the needs of today’s managers, leaders, boards, customers, and other stakeholders. Fast HRM goes beyond just speeding up what we have been doing in the past.
  2. Fast HRM fosters trust; this is because you have to hand off process to others. Going fast requires many links in a chain; it’s like running a relay race. You have to hand off your work to someone else. You need to be able to pick up the phone and trust that the person on the other end will meet his/her commitments.
  3. Fast HRM is built upon and builds strong relational capital, involving all relevant stakeholders. Fast HRM requires ongoing, frequent collaboration with stakeholders. This type of communication builds strong relational capital. People within the firm have higher quality and stronger relationships with each other, and the same type of relational capital building is done with external stakeholders, such as vendors, partners, customers, board members, retirees, and members of the community.
  4. Fast HRM requires business acumen and builds business knowledge and expertise. Strong relationships are directed at common goals, such as building the business. As knowledge is shared, and relationships are built, employees and other stakeholders learn more about the business. Fast HRM moves data about the business around the organization quickly. As new knowledge is acquired, it is shared. Everyone continues to learn together.
  5. Fast HRM demands focused HRM. We do not sacrifice quality or accuracy for speed, and we don’t try to do it all. We focus on what’s needed to succeed and to win; we take calculated risks. You can’t be everything to everybody; thus, choices have to be made. The winning NASCAR drivers go fast with excellent teams, high quality, and superior teamwork. However, the pit crew does not work on everything during the race. If they focused on getting it “all right,” the driver would never leave the pit. Fast HRM is all about speeding up to do the right work to support your team and firm. Fast HRM makes sure the company has a chance to win; it’s in the race.
  6. Fast HRM is a continuous improvement process. Fast HRM is an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement. It keeps the organization at the cutting edge of their field, keeping pace with the ever-changing global market firms in which they are working. Fast HRM helps managers meet their needs.
  7. Fast HRM is not about more technology; although used, more alone is not better. Fast HRM is not about putting what we do today on the Internet and using computers instead of paper. If you only move what you are doing today to the Web, you change and often complicate processes. We don’t want MORE HRM; we are working toward fast, agile, light, focused and new HRM to help meet today’s business needs be fast, agile, and successful.
  8. Fast HRM does not require reductions in staff; it is not about cutting people and becoming lean. Fast HRM is not a call for less people. In fact, as you build relational capital and you involve more individuals, you may build staff. The staff may not be in the HRM department, or it may be. The key to success is involving the right people in HRM work activity so that the work is done faster and better. Fast HRM uses the right people for the right job, and it is not a call to cost cutting and/or reduction in staff.
  9. Fast HRM uses data-driven story telling. To do Fast HRM you need data, but not data for the sake of data alone. Data are used for dialogue and to influence actions that drive results. Fast HRM uses data to pull out key stories that are then shared within the organization. These data-driven stories are used to build skill. Fast HRM teaches “power storytelling,” which is telling stories to drive action and results.
  10. Fast HRM breaks barriers and eliminates silos. Because you are running a relay with Fast HRM, and because trust and relational capital are built, walls come down. Silos are eliminated because work is flowing between what were old barriers.
  11. Fast HRM builds a positive sense of urgency. As trust and relational capital build, as knowledge is passed on to others, and as interactions grow, individuals will increase their sense of urgency to win.
  12. Fast HRM starts with an energized project team. Fast HRM then moves to energize all employees, and as Fast HRM is implemented, the results continue to energize. Ongoing optimal energy is needed to go fast. Fast HRM does not burn out employees.

Principle #1: Fast HRM requires innovation

Innovation happens in lots of areas of HRM; however, we often don’t hear about it. Below are a few examples:

  • An automobile company needs to educate the company about its vast number of affinity groups and the good work they are doing. Rather than traditional presentations that take way too much time for anyone to attend, the innovative diversity officer uses speed dating as a model. She sets up a fast approach to learning that not only shares information quickly but that creates the kind of “buzz” you’d never get in a traditional model.
  • A training director in a fast-growth company abandons the long, needs analysis process in favor of working quickly with the sales team to focus training on what they need today. By delivering something fast, rather than waiting for the process to be perfect, the company improves sales dramatically in a short period of time.
  • A president of a division of a large manufacturing plant needs to quickly improve safety, quality and profitability. Using a fast employee feedback process, she gets data on what’s working and what’s not and quickly rallies employees to drive change. She also uses the process to provide quick messages that reinforce key strategic initiatives.

Challenges for innovation in driving Fast HRM

In a lot of organizations, HR innovation is not part of the fabric of the firm. This means being innovative may put the innovator out on a limb, and taking risks when the economy is not strong tends to be a behavior many individuals find not practical.

Article Continues Below

Perhaps it’s time to legitimize innovative HR. Do we need research and development (R&D) HR departments? Should organization design efforts for HR include formal innovation centers and departments, or should professional associations start creating subgroups so innovation in HR is something shared? Or perhaps the Fast HRM movement can become strong enough to enlist the help of innovative HR professionals.

Your turn

Please share your innovative HR stories. Write in (leave a message below, or send an email) and share what you are doing or what you have seen some other HR team do that you think is innovative.

It can be “baby innovation” or “big innovation.” Both and all examples help share knowledge. Also, share other challenges you see with being innovative. What’s getting in our way as a field?

Next, look for a discussion of Fast HRM principle #2: Fast HRM fosters trust and what gets in the way of building trust in HRM. When finished reviewing the principles of Fast HRM, then we next will move to methods to become fast and case studies of firms moving quickly and helping their organizations become more successful.

Theresa M. Welbourne, PhD, is the FirsTier Banks Distinguished Professor of Business and Director of the Center of Entrepreneurship at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. She is also the founder, President, and CEO of EEPulse Inc., a human capital technology and consulting firm in the energy business -- optimizing and directing human energy for growth and innovation. She also is an adjunct professor with the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California. Theresa was awarded the 2012 Academy of Management Distinguished HR Executive Award (for contributions in research, teaching and practice). Contact her at .


13 Comments on “The Fast HRM Movement: It’s All About Energy, Performance, Success

  1. Aside from Principle 9 around data. This is exactly what standard HR practices should be (and are) for high growth small to mid-size organizations who spend time making the business work well and successful.

  2. Hi Steve,

    I’ve done quite a bit of research on HR in smaller, fast growth firms,and I agree that for the successful ones this is what HR looks like. Interestingly enough, when they “succeed” and get bigger though, much of what made them successful (Fast HR) starts to fade. I have data showing the effects on firm performance with data such as stock price growth, revenue growth and even firm survival. So the question is how to keep the fast firms fast as they grow. Also, larger firms are very interested in understanding how to streamline and make their process fast, as much of what has happened over the years in HR led to complexity and bureaucracy.

    Can you provide any specific examples of what you do differently in your firm that makes it fast?

    Thanks, Theresa

  3. We apply Fast HRM principles in our instructional design processes. We try to think like software developers and get learning programs out fast…in version 1. We deliver the learning, collect feedback, and update the content accordingly…then we do it again (version 2).

    For example, we recently began delivering a leadership development program for emerging leaders and the entire program is not completed (call it the beta version). We collect feedback as we go and make changes to content and topics as necessary. It is a little scary to begin delivering a learning program before it is completed. But if you look at it from the stakeholder point of view, they are getting a program that they want several week sooner than if we waited to design the entire program before it was delivered. They cannot wait three months or even six months for learning programs. They have a business to run, and we need to deliver.

    1. Great post Bill. I was at a seminar yesterday and we talked about program design. Specifically we discussed how important it is to design programs not with the focus of making things easy at corporate, but easy for the field teams who are executing the strategy and tactically creating the value.

      1. Dustin, I think that is right on. Just like in business…do you make it easy for your customers or do you make it easy on you? I think we know what the great companies do….make it easy for customers.

  4. The organization I’m joining in the next couple months post-graduate school has a lot of these Fast HRM principles in place within their HR function and that was a critical factor in my decision to join the organization as opposed to some other great orgs.

    One innovation I witnessed as a summer intern with them was their internal recruitment process. Basically recruiters are directed to spend X% of their sourcing on internal employees who may not even be looking to change roles, but have the skills needed for a certain project. This is the first step in the “Talent Community” model that I believe most organizations want to employ now and in the future. This has been becoming popular with many companies now and the return on the cost savings and employee engagement is easily identifiable. The talent pipeline is gradually dying and being replaced by the talent community.

    As a younger and non-traditional HR professional, the challenges I see are my constant desire to challenge the current status quo. While now a dedicated HR professional, I still rely on my sales and scientific approach experience and education to address issues in HR. As a field, I think HR has to be less territorial and more willing to not necessarily adopt, but consider radical thoughts and ideas of innovation from non-traditionals.

    Great article and I look forward to the following write-ups. So am I considered a first follower now? Snaps to Bill C for kicking us off!

    1. Thanks Dustin. If you are a first follower, then there’s hope for us. That means our movement has begun.

      Fast HRM and the skills associated with the movement are critical. I just came back from the Center for Effective Organizations (at USC) annual sponsor meeting where we talked about the research Ed Lawler and team have been doing for years and years on what HR does at work. The really short version of the story is that while HR executives THINK things have changed, the data analysis shows that NOTHING has changed. In my opinion, if the field does not change soon, it will be replaced. Already communications, consultants and marketing are “nipping” at the HR territory.

      I am the CEO of a technology company, and we use agile programming. Clients like that we can change quickly, customize solutions and respond when their needs change. Managers and leaders would be thrilled if HR could innovate more, be courageous and suggest new ways of doing HRM work and leave some of the things behind that we “always had to do.”

      I teach a half-day and one-day program on Fast HRM, and I usually use the image of HR as pit crew at a NASCAR race. I can see it now – HR is worried about getting EVERYTHING right, so the driver never leaves the pit – never has a chance to win. The excellence and worry of some of our HR traditions leaves us behind. I started this work because I have research to show that slower HR has big negative effects on things like stock price growth, revenue growth and even firm survival in large samples of firms.

      It’s time for a change, and there are great examples of companies starting down the Fast HRM path. If we can rally them, obtain examples and case studies of wins, and then teach each other new process skills, then yes, HRM can be fast, focused, accurate, strategic. Then HR can help drive high performance even more than in the past.

  5. This story is much more than HRM. It is about leadership and culture! The video clearly shows leaders and followers as well as those who still do not follow.

  6. Hi Theresa – I think it would be great if HR departments had an individual, group or even cross functional committee focused on innovation. Typically, external focus is on benchmarking against industry group or “Best in Class” – but how great would it be if there were individuals tasked with and held accountable for bring new cutting edge ideas into the company to explore and pilot. Progress could then be recast not as just incremental tweaking, but game-changing productivity enhancements. Thanks for your continued efforts to jolt the function into a new mentality (and increasing the fun!)

  7.  Theresa:Great Work……With my discussions with CEO’s; they  often view the HR group as not the one  an organization turns to when seeking innovation and agile “Thinking”.  You have hit the mark with your efforts to introduce your Fast HR concepts into the mix.  I would add Alignment to the 12 Fast HRM Principles as it is often missed when executives seek to align HR to the business strategy. With “Alignment” you gain “Focus” and the ability to drive desired outcomes with effective C-level communication throughout the organization.  The Fast HR process can accelerate transformational change and deliver the bottom line results that all CEO’s seek from their HR Leaders.

  8.  A rather disturbing side effect of perhaps not following Fast HRM principles may be that other, more innovate areas within the business will ‘get there first’.  In my [Law] Firm, the BD/Comms team have implemented their version of Fast HRM within their specialty areas, and because these initiatives were so successful and well received by the business, they have now been invited by senior management to work on people focussed programs, to the [almost complete] exclusion of HR. The work ahead for the HR team to now come back from this position, is immense.

  9. I am watching very closely an HR team for a major operating unit use Value Network Analysis (VNA) to change their structure and their mental models about HR.  Their customer has used VNA and Systems Thinking to fundamentally change how they do business.  As a result HR is struggling to keep up.  I haven’t heard anyone refer to it as “Fast HRM”  so I don’t think anyone knows what that is.  Applying the Fast HRM principles to their journey does reveal some similarities.

    The VNA approach allows them to expose the contradictions and conflicts of their present hierarchical model of HR.  This wake-up call forces them to change their traditional mental model and begin seeing themselves as a network.  They see how hierarchical structure drives slow, outdated behavior.  Mapping their work into a VNA map exposes the value transactions that go on between the various internal HR roles and all the external customer roles.  Relational capital becomes immediately visible.  The interactions between the various nodes of the network expose the reality and importance of trust between the nodes and it turns out this, although an intangible transaction, is probably one of the most valuable.  They clearly see how trust is the grease that speeds up all interactions in the network:  Trust feeds speed.

    This HR team is evolving carefully as they are challenging some long held beliefs and threatening some sacred cows.  Plus they are doing this in the midst of a major large scale organizational change across multiple sites in the middle of a crushing customer schedule (rather like trying to paint a speeding train).  I am keeping a very close eye on them and am hopeful they will be wildly successful as this will surely spur other, less courageous organizations, to get on board.

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