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Friday, February 12, 2010

HR Should Learn Aikido

No, I don't mean for HR to be violent! Read the whole post to know what I really mean.

I often see HR Departments caught in defensive positions because of what managers and employees feel they are unable to do. There are also times when getting things done become a sort of a struggle because of resistance from supposed stake holders. This is the reason why even some of the most well intended HR initiatives go awry.

In one of my Internet browsings, my fingers brought me to a Wikipedia page that describes the martial art, Aikido as:

"Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as "the Way of unifying (with) life energy"[1] or as "the Way of harmonious spirit."[2] Ueshiba's goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. Aikido is performed by blending with the motion of the attacker and redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. This requires very little physical energy, as the aikidōka (aikido practitioner) "leads" the attacker's momentum using entering and turning movements." And then I thought about HR. I feel that the same principle should be used by HR in dealing with their line counterparts. Here are examples:

Not Aikido:
"Line counterpart: "disciplining employees is not my job, it's HR's job"

HR: "ok;" or
HR: "no, its yours. If you don't discipline your employees, you'll suffer in the end."

HR: "I agree with you, maintaining discipline in the workplace is one of our jobs but it's something we can't do well without your cooperation. Why don't we talk about how we can be more effective in doing this?"

Another example:

Not Aikido
Line counterpart: "Those training programs you are proposing are a waste of time and money."

HR: "ok;" or complain to others that their line counterparts are too dumb to realize the importance of training.

"You are right, training can be a waste of time and money if they are not the kind of training that our employees really need. It can also be a waste of time and money if the training is not conducted well and when there's no effective follow through. Why don't we discuss what kind of competencies you want the employees need to develop and what you are willing to support. I believe that if we can put together an effective mechanism, training can be a very profitable investment.

The secret to this, I believe is understanding and appreciating where our counterpart is coming from and where they want to go. Aikido practitioners are different from other martial arts practitioners in that they do not stop opponents dead on their tracks by using force against force. Aikido practitioners flow with their opponents while at the same time making sure that the opponents don't get injured in the process ( which as I do, you might find confusing if you are watching a lot of those Steven Seagal movies!). HR is a support unit and a strategic partner. Partners don't fight each other. When making things happen feels more like a struggle and asserting what needs to be done feels like inviting counterparts to a fight, think about Aikido. See their thrust, flow with and direct the energy towards a common ground.


  1. Anonymous11:39 AM

    I have been following your blog for a while now and I think you always have ways of making things easy to understand for us. Thank to you Ed. By the way, if I remember it correctly, I think it's Steven Seagal, not Stephen.

  2. Thank you for following and appreciating my blog and for correcting me. You're right. It's Steven and not Stephen. I already changed it.

  3. I work with British people and I've observed that they pronounce the name Stephen as STEVEN. So for me it means the same really.


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