Agile HR revolution by Jean-Claude Grosjean

Even if it is a book in French, I wanted to publish a review of it on this blog because regardless of whether or not you will ever read this book, the thoughts it inspired in me may be of interest to everyone.

I’m still (too) slowly going through the pile of books I promised myself to read since a long time and this time I’d like to tell you about “Revolution RH Agile” by Jean-Claude Grosjean.

The Book

As its name indicates, Agile HR Revolution aims to enlighten and accompany the HR function on the path to agility.

The starting point and the reasoning that follows is simple and in my opinion widely shared.

1°) We live in a world where everything is accelerating, where one day’s reality is no longer the same as the next day’s and where everyone in his or her profession must be able to adjust his or her actions on a daily basis, both individually and collectively.

2°) There is also a concern to put the customer and the value created for the customer at the center of decisions and actions.

3°) To achieve these two objectives, agility is the approach that has proven most successful in recent years.

4°) Agility should not be confined to teams of developers, even if that’s how it got into the company.

5°) For the company to become agile, it starts with a leadership and top management team that becomes agile.

6°) At the center of this transformation is the HR function, which must become agile for its own mission and in order to accompany the global change in the company.

Thus, there are three main themes in the book:

  • What is agility?
  • What is an agile HR function?
  • How can HR support change in other functions?

The author

I have known Jean-Claude Grosjean “virtually” for about 15 years through his blog Quality Street dedicated to agility, of which he is one of the leading figures in France.

He is therefore a reference on the subject, at least for me, and it is by reading him over the years that I ended up creating a minimalist culture on the subject, which helped me a lot when all of a sudden the subject came up against my professional life: what used to be a focus of interest suddenly became an imperative of transformation.

What is interesting about Jean-Claude Grosjean is that he is one of the few French people to have gone beyond the traditional scope of agile projects, which are often confined to the IT domain, to address the whole enterprise; a subject covered on his other blog, Eveil Agile (Agile Awakening).

This is finally consistent with his own definition of agility, less dogmatic and technical than what I can read here and there:

Agility is the ability of an organization to delight its Customers and Employees, while adapting -in time- to changes in its environment

What I retained from the book

I will not dwell on the beginning of the book which presents the current issues and introduces the key concepts of agility.

Pedagogy first

I will mention that the author shows a great pedagogy: we are not dealing with an agilist guru lost in his dogma and his verbiage (and who loses the others in it) but with someone who talks to people about their issues, with their words and takes them into his reasoning.

The goal of this talk is not to do agile for the sake of doing agile, but to find approaches to deal with current issues, and it turns out that these approaches have a name: agility. But Jean-Claude Grosjean doesn’t do the “reverse reasoning” which starts with a solution and tries to fit all the problems into it.

Then the application of agility to the HR function is addressed through a number of dimensions: improving the employee experience, supporting leaders in the agile transformation of the company, promoting corporate culture, strengthening the collective, reinventing HR practices, recruiting and growing talent.

It is not a theoretical or even “inspirational” work in the sense that it is disconnected from reality.

Pour chaque sujet le livre donne des moyens, des méthodes et des initiatives concrètes qui peuvent être mises en place.

And it is perhaps there that this book brought me the most, and not necessarily for the reasons that one thinks.

The spirit before the rule

Indeed, at some points I put the book down and said to myself “what does this have to do with agility? Even if I found that by listing a lot of examples of transformation of HR practices, the author was raking over the coals and getting away from his subject.

In fact, I was the one who was wrong. At some point my brain had gone astray and reduced agility to some of its manifestations like sprints and agile ceremonies as well as to some (self-) organization concepts.

But as I read quite a while ago on LinkedIn (by Cecil maybe?), nobody wants to do sprints, nobody wants to do “daily”, nobody wants…. people just want to work efficiently by focusing on what is really valuable for the customer.

So instead of applying a certain number of agile rules to the way companies work and convincing us that it is beneficial, the author takes a step back and puts the rule behind the spirit of the rule: adapt, think about the value for the customer, trust.

And all of a sudden I realized that a lot of things that were not obvious when a “neophyte” like me was thinking “agile”, things that I had sometimes put in place without even associating them to my “agile HR” thinking, were indeed part of agility.

Because they put the customer back at the center in two ways: the value created for the customer at the center of the employees’ concerns and the value created for the employee/customer at the center of the support functions’ concerns, HR in mind for example.

Because it’s about adapting to changing needs and environments rather than hitting them head on.

Because work often needs to be facilitated more than controlled.

Because you get better results when the customer is “part of the team”, whether internal or external.

Etc.

A few simple principles which, when taken into account, lead to rethinking the existing with a fresh eye and inventing radically new things, sometimes a thousand miles away from the submerged side of the iceberg, namely the artifacts and ceremonies of agility to which “non-practitioners” often summarize this approach. Proof, if any were needed, that agility is above all a state of mind.

To go further

While reading the part on the recruitment of agile profiles I want to go further and some questions, to which I don’t have the answers yet, came to my mind.

On the role of Product Owner, for example. Can we say that the manager or the HR are the product owner of the employee insofar as they must constantly think about its development so that it fits the current and future needs of the company?

Is the employee, a stakeholder in his career, his own Product Owner?

Can we imagine that the development of the employee being a multiparty subject, it is shared between the 3 people mentioned above? However, it would be contrary to the principles of agility.

Should HR, in their role as drivers of change, become the agile coaches of the organization?

So many things I’m currently thinking about but if you have any answers I’d love to hear them.

Conclusion

I am convinced that agility, as well as other practices imported from specific business sectors or professions, would benefit from being more widely used in businesses.

But I am always wary of a certain form of fundamentalism in this area. Should we apply the precepts of agility in a rigid way to everyone, to all jobs, or should we keep the spirit of agility and only implement things that make sense in a given context, or even are acceptable when the step is too high compared to old practices?

That’s why I deliberately used the term “pseudo agile” to describe the way I had set up a continuous improvement process to succeed in making it exist in parallel with the daily work.

I am also convinced of the benefits of agile management on the employee experience, among others. I also think that agile management helps employees not to lose the purpose of what they are doing by avoiding tunnel effects on long projects or by recognizing their expertise in the context of a form of self-organization of teams.

Agility has also helped in some companies to fight against one of the evils of business, the meetings, by drastically reducing their number.

I also hope that many companies that unintentionally “thought agile” during the first months of the pandemic will keep something of it.

So indeed, agility would benefit from spreading outside the development teams, provided that the specificity of each activity is taken into account. And there are more and more examples of this.

It is therefore obvious that the HR function must take an interest in the subject in two ways: to help itself and to help others work better. Not only can agility and HR coexist, but they must.

The trend is not new, since as early as 2018 the Harvard Business Review dealt with the then emerging topic of agility in HR. But in my opinion, there was a lack of literature on the subject in French, especially since there is a cultural prism that cannot be overlooked.

This book fills a gap and I recommend it all the more to HR people who are not so familiar with the subject as it is very educational and explains in a concrete way a series of initiatives that can be implemented as part of an agile HR approach.

Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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