Hilarious result of the experiment of letting my potential client set my price tag.

The client’s development manager calls me up. We talk for a while to get a grip of the business situation, and the needs to develop collaboration between two units. I tell the development director how I work. I co-create with my clients. We are designing the development paths step by step, carrying the responsibility of success together. I don’t come as an outsider consultant, make power points and impose some external thinking on people. I don’t want to spend time writing my solutions for free for a potential customer, having the blessed situation where I can spend that time to create value for existing customers. I am happy to be using my creativity to help you take the next step if we have an ongoing collaboration. You can use any ideas out of that paid collaboration and take the next step with whomever you want. (http://www.extemporea.com/portfolio/pricing/). This seemed like such a stretch to the client. Contracts and running them through lawyers were mentioned. Well, let’s see what I can do for you, let’s just take one step at the time, ok?

It seems like I was able to interpret their situation correctly, and I am asked to meet up with the two executives of the units. Before I do, though, I want to make sure I am among the best people who can help them. I specifically tell them that if the development path includes digital business development I would like to engage professionals from my network who are highly skilled in that. I can bring that talent with me to the meeting, and we can see who should be the ones helping them.

“No, it’s just a development day now at first”. Ok, I can handle a development day between two large units myself, no digital gurus needed.

So, we meet up. Traditional meeting. Executives telling what they’d like to see. Me coaching them to a suitable objective for a one day, developing collaboration and communication between 70 people in two units. Seems like I am hearing the pain points, offering insights for possible ways forward. The next steps forward? Of course: executives going into “we are the buyer you are the seller” mode, asking for…guess what?…a suggestion on the content and delivery of the day with my pricing.

Here is where I decide not to play this game. I create an inspiring solution for them (btw, still working without a cent being paid for the work, total hours about 5 h right here). I decide to do an experiment. I ask them to set the price. I tell them I love what I work with, and really don’t care what the sum is for work I love. That they know the cost of consultants and trainers and they can define what it is worth to succeed in a 70 people workshop for their business. Pay me what you think it is worth. If we do not succeed, pay me nothing.

So, what do they have by now?

  • They want to develop collaboration between two BU’s
  • They have a great, suggested solution with a facilitator who tells them she would love to do this work with them, and tells them she knows this kind of a day will succeed pretty well.
  • They have had three discussions with me, all leading to a next step, where trust and understanding have been clearly visible. So they seem to trust my competence.
  • I have reached out a hand for building a strong sense of trust and collaboration for designing development of collaboration between two business units.
  • They have said they’d like to work with me.
  • They have a to do list from me, because we were tight on time. So I prepped the organization to succeed in this with me.

And what do they do?

They return to me with telling that “they would like to continue with me,” and with an offer way below the ballpark.

And what do I do?

I tell them, that even though I don’t mind what I earn from these facilitations, which I enjoy a lot, it is way below the ballpark and feels unfair. I suggested another rate, which is about 25% lower than the work I have done during the last year. I am transparent about the rates I have been invoicing and tell them the suggested price for a 70 ppl workshop is a reasonable price.

Their reply was just brilliant!
Literally this: “If you use that kind of disrupting tactics in pricing, you’ll get what you are asking for” and basically adding “our way of doing this is that we will try you out with a cheaper price and then negotiate prices mutually if we continue working with you”.

First, I felt like dealing with an adolescent (irritation). Then I felt unfairness, disrespect. Then my ego tried to convince me to just do the gig, and give all of the profit to charity. (Thinking: if this company had asked me to facilitate for charity purposes, I had said yes, and it would be a great story). This worked for a day, until I realized it is not a great story after all. Then the “how unfair and what a non-collaborative answer” snuck up on me again. I decided I just don’t play this game (when I don’t have to, really).

So I did what I could to help them: I told them I have been working too long in collaborative and respectful systems for “you get what you asked for” or “let’s pay a junior consultancy fee for you” would work for me at all. I really urged them to go ahead with the workshop idea, and added some 6 different great facilitator/trainer’s names as recommendations. I wrote a draft on an invitation letter to the day, because they were tight on time. I also added a link to their company’s webpage, which tells that this client company is having a record high year with profits.

The emotional clarity and “high” was something I did not expect. Such a rush of coherence. Like after the best yoga. Like in a flow state when playing handball. Everything was just clear and felt right.

If I don’t have to, I choose not to play that game.

PS. I’m wondering how collaboration development will work out in those units? Hilarious!


Emotional regulation – Jedi-skills for the knowledge worker

Some people are natural at it. They keep their calm in most situations, handle mistakes or failures in a mindful and positive way or are able to take a mental step back in the midst of a tricky situation. If you haven’t respected these skills yet, you should. These people are like mind-jedis, with several emotional regulation strategies available, enabling great performance also under pressure.

The biggest misunderstanding among leaders seems to be that emotional suppression equals emotional regulation. Suppression is a form of regulation, but unproductive and even physically harmful. Suppressing seems to impact memory negatively (Turk et al. (2005) and Richards and Gross, 2006), and contraintuitively does not dampen the emotional experience at all (Gross, 2002). “Don’t think about pink elephants. Don’t think about pink elephants”. “Pink Elephants” is what your mind does over and over again…

Some Jedi-tricks of the mind which are relevant for your wellbeing:

  1. Attention distraction (deployment). Works like a charm, but is not always that productive and seems not to be key to emotional regulation (Bebko et al., 2014). “I’m just going to Facebook a bit before starting with that horrifying important report…”
  2. Labeling. Recognize your emotion and name it. You will use your brain’s executive function, which dampens the emotion with incidental or intentional top-down control (Burklund et al., 2014). “Wow. The strength in my anger is incredible right now!”.
  3. Reappraisal. Train yourself to see alternative perspectives and interpretations. “Maybe she is forced by the board to make such a harsh decision”. Reappraising is one of the most productive Jedi-skills available for leaders or knowledge workers. (Burklund et al., 2014) It is a skill. You can train it. You should train it.
  4. Distancing. Viewing situations and yourself from another than the subjective perspective (fly on the wall, yourself 20 years from now). Just try it. A great technique for keeping up a healthy body and mind. (Kross and Ayduk, 2011)
  5. Mindfulness and meditation. Oh yes. If you are a sceptic, that is where you are at right now, and that’s fine. If you want to reappraise and see alternatives, read this (Tang et al., 2007). Or this (Esch, 2014). Or this (Johnson et al., 2014). Or this (Eberth and Sedlmeier, 2012). If numbers 1-4 are equipment, mindfulness is a gym where you train to use them (Garland et al., 2013).

Soft? Well, these skills seem be the top tools to care for your cognitive performance. They are the toughest skills to keep your executive capacity available.

The toughest skills available today

This is common sense, of course. Keeping your cool, not letting negative emotional reactions (“low road”) get in the way of good performance and judgement (“high road”), is better long-term than being hot headed.

Emotional regulation connects directly with your Prefrontal Cortex (PFC) under stress. The PFC is the executive in every conscious thing you do, every conscious thought. It is like your mental sketchpad, the reflective you, absolutely necessary for learning and success in the knowledge age. The PFC is like goldilocks; it has to have everything just right. When a negative event turns on our fight or flight reflex, we are often pushed over the optimal level of stress (scientifically: the optimal level of catechol amines in our PFC), which means our PFC function is markedly impaired by the (stressful) emotional reaction. You are not using your full cognitive capacity when under high levels of stress (emotional reaction). You are reflexive, going on autopilot, and can’t logically weigh alternatives. Making decisions in this state is like having an adolescent you running your life. (Adolescents’ PFCs are not fully developed, by the way). Your autopilot is running the show, not the mindful you. (Arnsten 2009 and 2011, Arnsten, Mazure and Sinha, 2012)

The jedi-tricks are ways to dampen the emotional reaction, gain emotional resilience, and thus helps you keep cool under pressure or bounce back from reactive to reflective mode quicker. Which, in turn, keeps your most important part of the brain in the game.

Adolescents on Autopilot making your decisions?

How many of us have over-stressed management members making decisions, right this moment? Wouldn’t you be calmer knowing they make the decisions with their best capacity (PFC) rather than as an “adolescent on autopilot”?

Me too.

This is why Google’s has a Head of Personal Growth, and why they are running programs such as “Search Inside Yourself”. They got this in 2007. (Baer, 2014)

When will this hit mainstream business? When will you start believing? When will you start doing? And foremost, how will he businesses that have been doing this for ten years gain in momentum compared to the ones who still are asleep? I love the disruption of people practices and people science. Just love it.

Thanks for reading and happy Independence Day for Finland!



Arnsten, A. (2009). Stress signalling pathways that impair prefrontal cortex structure and function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10(6), pp.410-422.

Arnsten, A. (2011). Catecholamine Influences on Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortical Networks. Biological Psychiatry, 69(12), pp.e89-e99.

Arnsten, A., Mazure, C. and Sinha, R. (2012). This is Your Brain in Meltdown. Sci Am, 306(4), pp.48-53.

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). From a distance: Implications of spontaneous self-distancing for adaptive self-reflection. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(5), pp.809-829.

Baer, D. (2014). Here’s What Google Teaches Employees In Its ‘Search Inside Yourself’ Course. [online] Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/search-inside-yourself-googles-life-changing-mindfulness-course-2014-8 [Accessed 6 Dec. 2014].

Bebko, G., Franconeri, S., Ochsner, K. and Chiao, J. (2014). Attentional deployment is not necessary for successful emotion regulation via cognitive reappraisal or expressive suppression. Emotion, 14(3), pp.504-512.

Burklund, L., Creswell, J., Irwin, M. and Lieberman, M. (2014). The common and distinct neural bases of affect labeling and reappraisal in healthy adults. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.

Eberth, J. and Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation: A Meta-Analysis. Mindfulness, 3(3), pp.174-189.

Esch, T. (2014). The Neurobiology of Meditation and Mindfulness. In: S. Schmidt and H. Walach, ed., Meditation – Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications, 2nd ed. Springer International Publishing, pp.pp 153-173.

Garland, E., Hanley, A., Farb, N. and Froeliger, B. (2013). State Mindfulness During Meditation Predicts Enhanced Cognitive Reappraisal. Mindfulness.

Gross, J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), pp.281-291.

Johnson, D., Thom, N., Stanley, E., Haase, L., Simmons, A., Shih, P., Thompson, W., Potterat, E., Minor, T. and Paulus, M. (2014). Modifying Resilience Mechanisms in At-Risk Individuals: A Controlled Study of Mindfulness Training in Marines Preparing for Deployment. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(8), p.844.

Kross, E. and Ayduk, O. (2011). Making Meaning out of Negative Experiences by Self-Distancing. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(3), pp.187-191.

Richards, J. and Gross, J. (2006). Personality and emotional memory: How regulating emotion impairs memory for emotional events. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(5), pp.631-651.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., Yu, Q., Sui, D., Rothbart, M., Fan, M. and Posner, M. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), pp.17152-17156.

Turk, C., Heimberg, R., Luterek, J., Mennin, D. and Fresco, D. (2005). Emotion Dysregulation in Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Comparison with Social Anxiety Disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(1), pp.89-106.


Photo credit: Faisal AlKhudairy / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Bye bye HR, welcome “People Operations” (Thought experiment: redesigning HR)

I started playing with the idea of a clean table in HR. A fun thought experiment. What kind of competences might future HR need? First of all, I’d not call it Human Resources anymore. People are not resources. They are people. With all the lovely, kind, difficult, crazy baggage attached to them.

Naturally, my aim is to raise more questions than give answers. You get the point, though. For a midsized, international company’s people operations: Here are a bunch of the people who’d I’d snatch from the market any day. Meet my colleagues at the future People Operations!

The digital animal with simplicity as a guiding principle

Your presence is as strong digitally as face-to-face. You feel at home with any digital people-tools; you monitor this field closely to know what is out there, maybe even speak at conferences yourself as a professional in this field. You are eager to try and fail fast, to find great, working solutions for people to use in their daily communication, collaboration and business. You hate dysfunctional bureaucracy, and want to create amazing UX. You can pick up any service and drive the digitalization of it with great partners. You trust people to do the right things, but understand that bad UX amplifies the mistakes downstream.

The creative administrative rock

You’ve been around. You know the legal stuff like a rock. Your specialism is valued because that gives us boundaries for our creativity with people stuff. You are both-and-person, not an either-or-person. Your have a mindset of finding creative solutions for admin needs, because you hate unnecessary non-value-adding work. Even if there might be a small bureaucrat living inside of you, you are extremely talented in knowing when to unleash it and when not to. You trust people to do the right things, and approve that sometimes there are mistakes, which needs extra attention from you. You look at admin problems as our responsibility to do a better job/easier to use tools /better UX/better communication, rather than blame people for not following your instructions.

The genius, ever-curious data analyst who wants to work with people data

You have a mind for crunching data in the most creative ways. Your mind works brightly and you like to proactively play around with numbers. You quickly get familiar with any kind of IT system, and find your ways to master searches, cause-effect relations, patterns, and predictive analytics. You don’t expect others to understand what you do, because it is pure brilliance, but you are skilled at communicating the implications, predictions, and evaluations coming out of your mojo. You trust people to do the right things.

The rising star-assistant/s

You are young and hungry. You want to land a job where you will fast track people operations learning. You are a social and communicative person, who likes to get things done. Deep down you know it is the assistants who really run any company  and you do this with pride and integrity. You walk around daily to talk with people in the business. Together with the internal coaches you seek out people ops issues and help the people deal with them on the spot, before they grow into problems. You eat tasks for breakfast and learn for lunch. We will coach you, support you, and help you land your next people ops job within our broad network, when you feel you want to move on. Before that you will recruit and train the next rising star/s. This is not a job for life. It is a job for growth. You trust people to do the right things.

The agile and focused leader (My dream objective, …anyone out there with a job like this?)

You are there to help your team deliver and work towards what is the most important and value adding work. You are a people professional, keeping focus on the big picture and business, but not afraid to dig in yourself either. You know agile & coaching methodologies, and you help your team do PDCA cycles, reiterations, learning, and coach them to become the persons want to be. You understand that the world cannot be planned, and work in your executive team with some level of agility, too. Getting shit done together with people is in your DNA. Your main task is to communicate both within the organization and network outside the organization with clients, competitors and the hard core professionals within our business. You reiterate the business view with your team from a people perspective, according to the market. The team’s  ability to translate and co-create around the business requirements and customer moves, turning them into internal incremental adjustments of talent, resourcing or skills is the real value adding part. You coach business leaders with ongoing development of the business, and don’t shy away from tackling problems together, before they escalate or aggregate. You trust people, and know how to handle all kind of people situations with moral and ethical standards.

*Organizational coaches – business role (not people ops)

You are a people-person within the business. You have a parallel professional role and a coach role. You are part of our company’s internal coach pool, which, as a community, is equipped to help develop the organization, teams and leadership. Human nature is an ever-intriguing quest for you. You use your professional coaching and facilitation skills every day to make all collaboration easier within the organization. You network with agile and lean coaches globally to constantly stay on track of the groove. You blog, tweet, maybe run your own website, maybe talk at conferences, because you crave learning and personal development in your combined area of expertise and people-skills. You are a trusted colleague of the business leader, who you work with closely concerning people issues. You trust people to do the right things.

* Staffing wizard (freelancer or outsourced partnership)

You are the wizard of recruitment, search and selection, exits and re-hires. Identifying talent through social media channels is old news for you. You and recruitment tech develop together, you are standing on the brink of the newest ways to use tech to find talent. You keep an eye on possible candidates, and know when they are on the move. You or your partners are amazing with the applicant experience, helping the company to really stand out to the talented possible hires. You keep constant dialogue with the leader about strategic people moves, about stars entering the market, and also about weak signals from the recruitment market mirroring the overall business situation.

* Commercial marketing and communication specialist (shared, freelancer or outsourced partner)

You know your way with creating communication that talks to people’s hearts and gets them moving. You combine your creativity and visual skills with understanding the power of words. Your communication spans all channels, and though you are a bit of an artist, you follow the “good enough” –principle, getting this done rather than perfect. You are interested in company internal marketing and can use crowdsourcing- and social marketing techniques and tools to help the company communicate internally and externally, transparently and ethically.

Is this realistic? Depends on the company, I’d say. I think this kind of a team would create so much more and quick value, than people sitting “owning processes”, though.

Thanks for reading! I hope this created bits of sweet confusion and cognitive dissonance in your brain. Hopefully also a bit of energy and inspiration?


You can’t opt out. It is people business from now on.

A haunting intuition from an Agile conference

I started to write this post in a politically very correct tone. I got bored after reading five lines myself. That is when a delete button comes in handy. I’m just going to write how I feel, trying to put my unprocessed intuition into words. I went to #tad014 last week. Something started bothering me. Hard to identify what it is. This is the beginning of that thought.

It seems like something went seriously wrong when the agile community started to adopt the agile methodology. Only today they seem to be recognizing that there is a person behind the code. That there are people with emotions, fears, needs, hidden agendas, self-esteems and lovely, interesting, kind, wicked, ever shifting mindsets. People who we would very much like to work well together.

The agile field seems now to be trying to induce “people-thinking” into the heads of logically rational thinking (mostly) engineers, who spent their whole life harvesting the fruits of sharp logical reasoning and technical mastery. The field has its own gurus, “raised from the ranks”, who have come up with an own method of some kind. These gurus are nowadays speaking a lot about people stuff.

Kind of reminds me of the leadership gurus I’ve been listening to for the last 15 years (many of them very good, inspiring and have a lot to say. Don’t get me wrong!). Kind of reminds me of inducing people-thinking, also branded “leadership”, into the heads of rationally conditioned managers during the last 20 years.

Everything has changed and nothing has changed, really

It just all starts from scratch. The pool of clients for us people-consultants or coaches (external or internal) just exponentially increased one level by going agile.

The “manager” in the old-school system can be replaced by the “random engineer”, “PO”, “Scrum Master”, “developer” or whatever engineering-conditioned role you will find in the agile system.

Same, same. But different.

The “leadership guru” in the old-school system (“I was a manager for 30 years, made all the mistakes I could, succeeded in something big, and now I want to share”) are replaced by the “Agile-people-guru”. (“I have been working in the field of ICT for ages, and then I realized that no matter how a good methodology there is, success is all about people. [Please observe, I also did coding, because otherwise I may not be as credible]. Then I dug around a bit in the history of agile and systems theory. When digging around I came across great thinkers’ reasoning about organic systems, complexity theory, psychology, cognition, neuroscience and then it clicked.  I wrote one or two books on this. Now I am trying to let my fellow agilists in on this magnificent thing called “people”). And please, again, don’t get me wrong. Many of the agile field’s gurus inspire me, teach me and are a lot more experienced than me in basically anything!

And the crowd goes WOW!

People stuff! That is so important. And so complex.

Then they are taught some mechanistic stepwise method or an emotionally resonating punchline (which you can crystallize under 140 characters) on how to deal with people issues. And the engineer goes “WOW!”, now I get this.

No you don’t. Sorry.

You are just sniffing on your next possible and motivating step on a wonderful and rocky road. But please start crawling, walking, running, accelerating as soon as possible.

I have been working, thinking and breathing people issues on a more or less conscious level since I learnt how to manipulate my little brother to self-directively choose the worse alternative, to make him feel good about giving me the better one. I’ve played team sports for 17 years, being one of the less talented players (juicy from the perspective of learning about people behavior, but painful from a perspective of personal growth). I have been really thinking, reading, studying, experimenting, experiencing and used my cognitively, intuitively and experimentally built social skills for good, made a career out of it. Now I try to study the “code” (neuroscience) to get a better grasp. If I am well and healthy, people who cross my path leave the situation a bit more positive than they were before. I try my best to make that happen. But I don’t understand any of it yet, I just know a bit how to surf the social landscape to create something good.

The more I learn about people/humans, the more shades of grey there are (at least fifty). The more I experience, the more complex my rationale becomes to give explicit answers to simple questions, and I dare not to answer them simplistically. The more I learn, the less worthy I feel having an explicit opinion, but go more on hunch and gut. Sweet, sweet paradox. I may have a slight intuition on why real gurus  just sit quiet on a cliff somewhere.

Once you’ve thought the thought, you are ruined. It is like the red pill in Matrix.

Just when your organizations thought they had the best practices, processes, policies and rewarding almost in place, the world turns fast on you. Your top-down, controlled system just does not support the future. You know this. You all talk about this. But have you really, really thought it through? Because if you had, you’d changed by now. A person I respect highly said “Once you have thought that thought, you are “ruined”. You see the nonsense everywhere. There is no way back”.

What I do know, is that  the agile system’s foundation requires a very solid, organic, fundamentally respectful human view. The system requires amazing communication and social skills rooted in deep kindness and unselfishness. And damn, we have a long way to go from the mechanistic, linear, logic, reductionist view of human beings, which ingrains most of the processes in our society and organizations. It has been the conditioning environment for most of us. No great method, incentive or retrospective will change that. Shifting human view is a fundamental, deep insight, usually changing only through experiencing a radical life event or developed by long-term conditioning and a supporting environment for the modern human view.

My haunting intuition in as few words as possible: Our (my) work just started, all over, …again. On all levels.

You can’t opt out. It is people business from now on. Let’s start walking.



P.S. 1 Agile community: You don’t need to know coding to know people stuff.

P.S. 3 Agile community: I recommend involving HR in the Agile transformation. There should be HR-people who know a lot of people stuff. There are just some “minor” adjustments, such as teaching about the agile system to HR,  aligning a common, modern, human view and getting rid of most of the constraining HR processes to get fruitful collaboration up and running. How to do that in a socially accepted way may require some other skills than just logical reasoning.

P.S. 4 Isn’t it annoying when there is no P.S.2?


What is Agile HR?

Before reading any further, you may want to check out my post “great sources of Agile HR“. I will update that blogpost regularly, when coming across something useful on my quest to understand all this.

In this post, I have tried to summarize what Agile HR means for myself right now. I’ll keep the option open to revise my view anytime it seems flawed, insufficient or non-valuable. I would build any agile people practices on the following values:

  • Trust people to be able and willing.
  • Transparency; If you can’t be open about it, don’t create it.
  • Value adding for the customer (or value adding for the work employees are daily doing to create value for the customers).
  • Decision making with the customer, or as close to the customer as possible.
  • Continuous learning and adapting.
  • Blank – Fill in yourself with a couple of more after deep thinking

What is Agile HR, then?

Creating adaptive people practices, valuable for the customer

Tailored, adaptive and transparent people-related guidelines, methods and agreements that support the Agile organization to create value for its network, customers and colleagues. (I shy away from the words “HR-policies” and “HR-processes”, because their main function is to control and/or standardize people issues).

Creating the people practices with the people, through using Agile methodologies and modern tools

Agile HR is about using agile development methodologies yourself to create the Agile people practices. This means incremental planning, experimentation, verification and adaptation loops with the employees. The HR Tech scene is bustling with new HR tech to support creation of people practices. It is like a candyshop…!

Removing silos between support functions

Seeing all development as business support/business development. If it does not bring value to the end-customers, don’t establish it. Using cross-functional teams to create great service where it makes sense (HR, Finance, IT, Comms…). At least always cross-check with the other functions to get their view on the emerging people practices.

Constantly reviewing and updating of the emerged people practices.

Ongoing maintenance of the people system is necessary. With this pace of change, we can’t expect that something we created together in 2014 will be valid in 2020, or that something created in a company with 50 employees could be useful when if company has grown to hundreds of employees.

 … Let’s get to work, then!

…Agile HR network in Finland is starting on Friday 4th April 2014 with a core team workshop around what we’d like to achieve. There are HR’s and Bz Dev people from front-row Finnish Agile organizations and associations. Excited!

HR, Welcome to planet Wanna-be-Agile!

Imagine you are in charge of the infrastructure of your city. There is a Mayor, some other important officials and managers, too. The higher the rank, the more decisions they make. Your job is to see that the infra is supporting those decisions. You see that the people have what they need to survive and to live a somewhat good life. Of course, there is some privileges for the decision makers to go first in line and/or be better off because they have such an important job. Also the decisions are made in committees, behind closed doors. Only the decision, not the reasoning behind it or the discussion around it are communicated to the people of this city, not to talk about giving the people a real possibility to have a say.

Most cities run this way, and you are comparing your infra to the other cities’ infra. You are also building the same kind of roads, same kind of services and measuring the same kind of things, as any other city. You know a lot of infra-people in other cities and pretty often people in your profession change jobs in between cities, but the work is not changing that much. You can create the infrastructure just a bit better, nicer and efficient than in the neighboring city. Decorations and nice slogans here and there. Services to the people, to keep them somewhat healthy, somewhat happy and somewhat productive. The rules of how to handle the infrastructure haven’t changed much in 30 years. In some cities your job is valued a lot, in some others you are seen to just take care of the necessities. You know that without a modern infrastructure and running processes the city would be a mess. That is why you want to call yourself a strategic partner, and sit in the decision making tables. In some cities you have the seat. Which is great! In some cities the mayor is such an old-school dinosaur, that what he needs and asks for is an infrastructure from the 70’s. This mayor usually finds another infra-dinosaur to run the infra for him.

Now imagine that you change jobs to planet Wanna-be-Agile. Your job (you think) is to create the infrastructure for that planet’s city, too.  The planet’s Mayor and his posse have moved to this planet from planet Earth. They know their job is to make all the important decisions. This planet is very different from planet Earth. Everything changes rapidly here. The people on planet Wanna-be-Agile are working closely with a group called customers. The customers are part of the system, keeping the city alive and pose requirements of the development of the city. Most of the customers are immigrants from Earth, or still living on Earth. The customers buy stuff from planet Wanna-be-agile and another planet, planet Agile. The mayor has never really experienced or traveled on planet Agile, but he heard it was a great place. The cities on planet Agile are doing pretty well. The cities on planet Agile constantly outdo cities on planet earth when it comes to serving the customers. To create a competitive city, the mayor wants to have the same infrastructure, same tools and same methods as planet Agile cities have.

Trainers chosen by the mayor and his posse train the people of Wanna-be-agile. The trainers come from planet Agile. The trainers from planet Agile tell the people at wanna-be-Agile,

  • “Hey, what is important is that you create competent teams, and decide most stuff yourself”.
  • “Yes, you have the freedom to change the infrastructure, and you are even urged to do that if it makes sense for you, your city and your customers.”
  • “The mayor will understand it takes time for you to develop your teamwork and productivity, and will help you succeed in any way the Mayor can”.
  • “Because customers are constantly changing their requirements and the world is changing so fast, you can’t really plan your long term work targets or performance.”
  • “You need to learn to live with the uncertainty and constantly review your estimates and priorities to keep on doing value adding work”
  • “Most important is to keep your workload on a healthy level and to deliver stuff to the customers in smaller batches so they participate in telling you if you are on the right path”
  • “Now here are also some tools and methods you can use to drive learning, working, collaboration and iterative decision making in your teams”.
  • “Because of this organic development no two cities or hubs are alike on planet Agile, they are all unique”.

The mayor or his posse are not participating in the training, nor dot they really communicate with the customers. They are busy with making decisions and plans. You as infra-manager are planning the infrastructure to mirror a top-notch Earth-infrastructure, and you want to call it “agile” and “high level service”. The mayor knows that the new tools and methods will drive performance up and service to customers will become quicker. He is planning in great excitement, asking people to estimate next year’s development. You copy a “best practice” performance evaluation system from Earth and start implementing that on top of these people-given estimates and plans. They gave the estimates themselves, right!? So they should know exactly what will happen during the next year. So let’s discuss individual bonuses on the basis of these estimates….

…OK, so you see where this is going?

Your people have just been taught self-directiveness, freedom and responsibility. Some people have been elected as coaches, just to keep the learning and collaboration on a good level in the teams. The people have been taught that “no plan holds” because that is a basic paradigm on planet Agile. The idea is to react to changes. It is a value-set, which the mayor, his posse and unfortunately you, too, are fully unaware of. You think you have some best practice solutions from planet Earth to serve the people in a great way. Using best practices from planet Earth or copying infra from planet Agile, but still keeping the decision making and infrastructure design on the management level, will create a collision of two sets of worlds.

Your well-meant control and planning block the people from creating a great Agile city.

What happens to the people on planet Wanna-be-agile? They probably first realize how fun, creative and effective working according to planet Agile paradigms are. Until they bump into the first possible bigger hurdle. The people are unsure if they really can solve the situation. So they go and ask the Mayor and his posse. The Mayor does what he is good at and what is quickest. He solves the problem or makes a decision. He drives the teams to realize the estimated schedule, because that is where his individual incentive is.  The people are not very satisfied with this, since the mayor really does not know the customers, who just came in with a lot of new requirements. The people have to work their butts off to get anything done by the deadline, with all the new requirements from the customers coming in. To keep the mayor happy they deliver something, which looks good on the outside but is full with flaws on the inside. This goes on for a while, until the people realize that the Agile values are not realizing at all and they are forced to deliver bad quality to keep up with the estimated deadlines. The Mayor thinks Agile tools and methods are not creating the value he was sure they would. The Mayor trust people less because they come to him with impediments, delays, bad quality, new infrastructure requirements.  What happened to following the great plans and performance objectives, which were working so well on planet Earth?! Why did the people give bad estimates, they were given the freedom to estimate and now nothing holds?

And you? You are baffled. You have tried to implement the best practices from planet Earth’s infrastructure, and maybe even copied some great infra tips from planet Agile.

What nobody has told you, is that planet Agile works upside down. There is no gravity on planet Agile. There are not even cities on planet Agile, but hubs and networks which dissolve and come together when necessary. The infrastructure on planet agile consists of dynamic rules and frameworks that are useful and necessary, until they are not anymore. The people are allowed to change the rules. Some hubs have different rules than others. There is no money incentives on planet agile, but people agree on what needs to be done to develop their hubs and networks. There is no point in setting incentives on the “what” and the “when”, because the customer folks are so unpredictable and want to change a lot on-the-go.  Social incentives and incentives on “how” things are done are used on planet Agile. The ones who really made it to planet Agile can’t imagine moving back to Earth or to planet Wanna-be-Agile.

It is not easy for HR on planet Agile. Luckily you don’t have to KNOW exactly how the infra should look like. You will find out, together with the people.

Personal note: I was born on planet Earth, worked there for 10 years. Because of my rebellious soul and due to understanding the sciences of biology, physiology and chemistry, my mind was always on planet Agile. Organic is a word which is at the core of planet Agile. That is a subject you as an HR professional need to look up carefully if you want to work as infrastructure manager on planet Agile.

PS. The young generation of people and customers are born on planet Agile. What does that mean for you?

Picture: http://www.freeimages.co.uk/galleries/space/planets/