Whenever I attend a Project Management conference, I'm looking for something I cannot find elsewhere. Maybe a unique piece of wisdom, a particular outlook on a known situation, or anything that would make it worth my time. This is why, whenever I am asked to speak at a conference, I always try to prepare something ... quite unusual ... so that my audience actually goes back with something new they can try on.
So, when I was first approached by The Big 5 to present, I immediately started thinking about what keynote I would give, which topic would be of interest to you. So, I looked back, seeking for the biggest challenges I have been facing for the past 12 months. I discussed with fellow Project Managers, PMO Heads, Senior Stakeholders, Executive Sponsors. And I found a recurring theme. Something that was consistently affecting each and every person I interviewed. There were actually two, but I flipped the coin :)
"Using Budō to Win the War for Talent". I can only imagine how you felt, reading the title of this presentation. How do you attract the right people in your company, or on your project, and more importantly, how do you keep them on board? You might be familiar with the topic, as there are numerous studies about it in the field of Human Capital, so I tried to find a different approach that was based on my personal experience.
The term "War for Talent" was first heard of in a Survey from McKinsey & Company in 1997. 400 C-Levels and 6000 Executives were surveyed, and the results were quite alarming at the time:
77% of the companies were unable to attract highly competent workforce
And 90% were unable to retain those "talents"
[CLICK] For the very first time, the survey brought to light that "Better Talent is Worth Fighting For"
I'm going to let those numbers sink in for a bit... 1997 ... 77% struggle to attract talents ... 90% struggle to retain talents. You can imagine that this was quite groundbreaking at the time!
Since then, the phenomenon has only intensified. And this is due to several key factors:
The first factor is linked to a change in the required skills in today's Knowledge Era. To understand this, you need to understand that, by definition, a "knowledge workers"' job, rather than revolving around routine activities as it was the case in the past, involves handling and using information.
I can cite many examples of professions here: Engineers, Scientists, Doctors, Architects, Lawyers, Teachers, Project Managers. They all have something in common: Their main capital is "Knowledge". As opposed to skilled workers, the day they leave, they take with them the knowledge accumulated throughout their career, and in particular the chunk of it they acquired in their current job, leaving an even bigger gap in the organization, which makes them harder to replace.
The second key factor that has a tremendous impact on the War for Talent is related to massive demographic changes, and it is two-fold:
Global mobility was initially driven in the early 1970's by large multinational firms, mostly sending talents from their home countries to manage their foreign operations. In the 1990's, demand for global mobility of talent increased and a new breed of mobile worker appeared alongside expatriates through commuting, rotations, or even technology-enabled virtual assignments.
Today, companies can tap into emerging markets talent pools, and global mobility continues to grow in volume, and to become more fluid: a Chinese company may engage a European team to manage an investment in Africa.
Lastly, I need to mention the world's population global aging. Driven by falling fertility rates and remarkable increase in life expectancy, the world's population is aging. And this aging is even accelerating.
Since the beginning of recorded history, young children have always outnumbered their elders, but this year, for the very first time, the number of people aged 65 or older outnumbers children under age 5.
This global demographic milestone has a knock-on effect both on retirement patterns, and on the baby-boomers brain drain that disrupts the talent pipeline.
Now, there are still some people who claim that the War for Talent does not apply in the region, because the crisis did not hit as hard as in other parts of the world, or because companies here were more resilient. But if you take a closer look, you will see that there are two things that actually intensify the phenomenon in the GCC:
The healthier financial climate enables companies to poach key talents from other organizations who have poorly managed their resources in the past;
There is a strong desire for companies around here to find talented resources with a strong local experience, given the very specific multicultural environment we have in the GCC.
So if I had to summarize what War for Talent in just one sentence:
An increase in Talent Demand
In an ever-shrinking Talent Pool
That unbalance has been increasing for the past 25 years, and by the looks of it, it is only going to continue...
Now, as I mentioned earlier, rather than looking at conventional answers, I wanted to try a different approach. Something more based on my personal experience. Aside from my interest in Project Management in general - and in PMO's in particular - I happen to have a passion for Martial Arts. For Japanese Traditional Martial Arts to be precise.
If you allow me, I would like to elaborate a bit - and if there are Martial Artists in the room, what I'm going to say will ring a bell - to explain what I mean by Budō.
Budō is a Japanese term that describes martial arts. It literally translates into "The Martial Way", or "The Way of War".
But like everything Japanese, things are always a bit more complex and have several meanings when you start to dig deeper. There is another word for the Martial Art you practice: "Bujutsu". In that case, its counterpart is named "Budō", and it describes the path you walk by practicing your martial art. The lifestyle you live. "The Way of Life".
20 years ago, after trying many different disciplines, I discovered Bujinkan, an international martial arts organization founded in Japan by Masaaki Hatsumi. He combined nine traditional martial art lineages into a complex combat system called Bujinkan Budō Taijutsu.
Each of these nine schools shares similarities, but with contextual differences related to when they evolved through the past nine centuries and what weapons or equipment were used.
At each lesson, before we start the training, we recite a mantra when bowing together:
"Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyo". As usual, like everything Japanese, there can be many interpretation, but as an instructor, my favorite understanding of it is: "In every event, there is a lesson".
This is the mindset I'm asking you to have for the next half hour. In everything life throws at us, it is up to each of us to look at the event, at its outcome, and to learn a lesson from it.
I will now embark you on a journey. I will ask you to be open-minded. I will ask you to acknowledge that there are similarities between Project Management and a battlefield. I will ask you to acknowledge that there is a potential to apply battlefield strategies coming from historical background to deal with some situations faced in Project Management.
We teach our students that movement is based on simple principles and not on complex and fixed forms. This is why it is called an "art". It gives us freedom in finding the right solution to an unplanned situation. Being true Martial Artists, we must go beyond techniques to discover the essence of concepts, so they can be applied in any given situation.
I hope to give you a piece of ancient Japanese wisdom to help you retain Talents in your organizations, or on your projects. I will focus on 5 essential Bujinkan concepts, that form part of the fundamentals of Budō. What you are going to learn now is going to surprise you. Not because you will discover some dark forgotten secrets, but because of how heavily they rely on Common Sense.
On Common Sense and ... Simplicity.
The Japanese term for Simplicity is "Shitsuboku".
"Shitsuboku" encompasses all the other concepts I'm going to describe.
Shitsuboku is natural.
Shitsuboku does not require conscious thinking.
Shitsuboku is relaxed. It doesn’t require any strength or power.
Now, let's take a simple example throughout our presentation. Just to see how this works. Jim. Jim is part of your project team. He has a unique previous experience on a similar project, and he is the only one in the team. Jim is critical to your project. Jim just came to your office, and in a couple of words, he told you that he is considering leaving.
On the battlefield, or in a fight, because of the stress generated by a sudden attack, your brain freezes. Thinking and analyzing are no longer an option. You enter survival mode, and only simple things remain available: Things you have repeated so many times that your body and mind are united. Simplicity then becomes the expression of Mastery and enables you to adapt freely to the situation at hand.
Jim just told you that he wants to leave, and that left you speechless. It's okay, it's a natural reaction. In your objective to retain him, you will have to keep it simple, to keep it real, so that you can apply the other concepts...
The second concept I chose to share is Tsunagari. On this picture, you can see a young Hatsumi training Bo-jutsu - stick fighting techniques - at Kashiwabara with his teacher, late Takamatsu Toshitsugu, aka the "Mongolian Tiger". Tsunagari represents the connection that happens between you and your opponent - or partner.
So, how does it work? When your opponent comes in with an attack, you need to first establish a connection with him. You can use your weapon if you have one, and his, if he has one. But the job is not done there. Once Tsunagari is established, it must be kept alive. This is "Enno Kirinai", "not severing the connection". Once you created this relationship with your opponent, you never break the link until the encounter is over. If you lose this link, you lose your ability to execute your technique, and you fall victim to your opponent's technique.
Now, pretty obviously, when Jim joined the team two years ago, the genuine connection you established with him created something subtle, yet very powerful. Yes, it did require an active role from both parties, and it also required you to be true to yourself, but you knew that if you faked the connection, then the link would not have been real. There would have been no bound between the two of you, and at this very moment, nothing that truly stops Jim from leaving.
In Bujinkan, every year, Hatsumi Sensei gives us a theme to focus on. In November, he used a new metaphor to describe the interaction between you and your opponent in the encounter. "Ishitobashi": the "Skipping Stones".
Most of us played that game when we were kids. You throw a large, flat pebble over a surface of water to make it bounce as many times as possible. The stone has no mind of its own, it reacts naturally to its contact with the water.
In Budō, Ishitobashi is no different. When your opponent attacks, you must be like a skipping stone. You must bounce naturally off the surface of his intentions. Let there be no thinking involved in the process. Your goal is not to do a technique. Your goal is to adapt to whatever is coming.
Now, this is a very difficult thing to do in our modern world. We focus so much on the power of conscious thought, of willpower and self-control that we overlook the importance of behavior that flows from our unconscious. Fast. Almost automatic. Taoists have summarized this ability in: “Try not to Try”.
Once you reach this “body thinking”, your movements become spontaneous and like the stone bouncing on the water, your actions are always attuned to the situation.
You have seen this way too often. Your Project Sponsor trying too hard. It feels unnatural. It feels fake. It makes you doubt their ultimate motives. It has an adverse effect. On the contrary, when Jim came to see you, you let your actions be spontaneous, in harmony with natural movement, and you triggered a much stronger and positive response. Jim did not think you had a secret agenda that supersedes his reasons for leaving. Yes, you are genuinely sad to see him go; and yes, he will leave a big hole in the project organization. Jim appreciates your reaction. He feels it is genuine, natural. You have reacted naturally, bouncing off his intention of leaving without you displaying too much of a strong will to change his mind. But, in doing this, you have opened the door for him to change.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote that “progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything”. In Japanese, "Henka" is one of the ways to write “change”. It's interesting to see that both kanji have a similar meaning: "hen" means “beginning of the change” and "ka" means “end of the change”. Thinking about it, Henka has an even more fundamental signification, where you naturally adjust to the situation at hand ... where you ARE the change, from start to finish.
In a fight, the purpose of Henka is to eliminate all predetermined movements. You move in and withdraw without leaving a trace, like a foot step on the sand of a beach, before the wave erases it. You create an improvised version of a movement that fits only the situation by being spontaneous.
In the workplace, most people are quite fine with change ... as long as the change is only changing others. After all, they are right, and the rest of the world is not, right? But by truly embracing Henka, by truly being ready to change everything you think, everything you know, up to your own attitude, you enable yourself to build the future from the present. You enabled yourself to be the change. And Jim has felt it. The reasons behind him leaving are almost becoming secondary. He feels the situation can change, because you can change, he can change, a new future can be written, for Jim, for you, and for the whole project, holistically.
That leads us to our last concept for today: Zentai. Zentai is a holistic approach of Taijutsu. It is funny to realize that in Japanese, depending on how you write it, "Taijutsu" means either “body technique”, "technique done with your body" or "technique done by a group of warriors”.
Zentai expresses the idea of a full body movement where everything moves naturally together. This includes your weapon if you have one ... your troops if you have an army ... your surroundings ... everything as extensions of your body. Zentai deals with every aspect of reality at the same time.
Zentai, in its holistic nature, might be the hardest thing to achieve. But once you have it, the world becomes an easier place to live. You then realize that looking at a situation in its entirety -"the whole picture" - is the only way to look at it correctly. Once you realize that you and Jim are part of the same grand scheme of things, and that anything impacting him, also impacts you, and vice versa; you allow him to realize that him, and you, are part of the same grand scheme of things. Anything that impacts you, also impacts him. He is part of your Zentai.
We have only just scratched the surface, but to be honest, several hours would not suffice to delve into each of those concepts:
Keep it Simple
Connect & Stay Connected
Try not to Try
Be the Change
Look at the Whole Picture
Yes, as we anticipated, it does sound a lot like pure Common Sense. It is no rocket science. But it works. Embed those concepts in your Budō, in your Way of Life is the natural way. Maybe Jim will still leave, ultimately. There is no miracle recipe. But be sure that you have drastically reduced the probability of this to happen.
We have time for a couple of questions.
Ladies & Gentlemen, thank you for attending my presentation, I hope I gave you the chance to view things in a different way going forward. Good bye, and have a fantastic day!
Using Budo to win the War for Talent
Good morning ladies & gentlemen.
Whenever I attend a Project Management conference, I'm looking for something I cannot find elsewhere. Maybe a unique piece of wisdom, a particular outlook
So, when I was first approached by The Big 5 to present, I immediately started thinking about what keynote I would give, which topic would be of interest to you
Survey initiated in by :
of companies struggle to talents
of companies struggle to talents