Agile People by Pia-Maria Thoren is one of those books that you wonder why it wasn’t written already. It’s a straightforward book in the way it is written, full of easy to grasp concepts, concrete examples and real-life experiences. And while you read it, you really wonder why is HR not working this way already?
This work is high on the experience of the author, a People Management consultant that has turned to Agile (and its various practices) to find concrete answers to the needs that HR has. And the book subtitle doesn’t leave anything out from the fact that what is being proposed is a radical approach.
Agile is a way of moving forward and creating value. It’s a mentality that allows people and groups to meet challenges, learn quickly, and respond to change. It’s a different and new way of managing teams, individuals, projects, and development.Pia-Maria Thoren Agile People, page 16
Agile above all.
The book talks of Agile, from its principle as a discipline up to its more recent developments. And then addresses several typical “HR topics”, suggesting for each which best Agile tools to use, and what this would mean in terms of paradigm shift. A table summarising this shift from traditional to agile is available at the end of each page.
The first focus is on organisation, with a lot of emphasis on the new organisational models, but particularly around Self-Organising teams. Its the core chapter of the book from my understanding, because it is through the Design of the Organisation that all the system of consistencies is created.
HR has the power to design the structures that either support people to perform or make it difficult to contribute in creative and innovative ways.Pia-Maria Thoren Agile People, page 68
Agile and HR’s role.
Which is why the author focuses a lot on the role of HR. HR has been sitting in the back seat for too long now. It’s time to step up and take responsibility for change. Not an easy task to achieve as we have seen already. Plus, working with Agile is not a simple task for HR itself because its not a simple tool to be applied.
Agile is not a method or a formula that can be “implemented.” It is a mindset, a way of thinking, and a collection of values around how work should be organized in a complex and ever-changing world. The key to its success lies in an organization’s ability to adapt to change.Pia-Maria Thoren Agile People, page 82
HR Processes and Tools
The other chapters examine Performance Management (with a strong focus on OKR), Goal Setting, Rewards, Recruitment, Learning and Development and Leadership. A section is dedicated to the Reiss Motivation Profile, an interesting tool that focuses not on personality but on motivation drivers (I will come back on this in a separate post in the future).
Then there is an exciting chapter about Management. The author interrogates herself on the same topics we’ve just seen in my post about the research about eliminating middle management layers and goes on in the analysis of Management 3.0. She answers that there needs to be a precise balance between structure and chaos. And, in Swedish, there is a perfect word for this: lagom which means “just enough”.
A company can thrive when it has just the right blend of structure and chaos, which is in between over-structured and complete disaster.Pia-Maria Thoren Agile People, page 248
A chapter is then focused on Agile Tools, giving a good overview of the various methodologies. While the last two focus on Employee Engagement and “The Brain” as a Social Organ, where essentially the author proposes the SCARF model to create the empowering link between employees and managers
The book is concluded with a reflection on what should the aim ultimately be: Doing Agile or Being Agile? For sure, the second is the only way to be.
Definitely a must-read for any HR professional that wants to understand how our profession can evolve and support real agile transformation. Very useful also for any manager that wants to know how an organisation could be based on agile. The only items that you will not find here are “quick fixes” or “how-to recipes” to implement off-the-shelves tools.