The Zen of Talent Management

July 30, 2012 Darcy Jacobsen

Human Resources has the distinction of being smack in the center of all the most emotionally-charged moments facing any company. By definition, you are ground zero for employee drama, and yet you need to project and maintain an unflappable calm through it all. That can be a tall order, and requires a great reserve of strength. That’s why Zen Buddhism has a lot to offer HR—no matter what religion you practice (or don’t). The centered, meditative, and thoughtful teachings of Buddhism are a great way to remind ourselves what is important and how to best grow ourselves and the strength of our organization.

Consider this collection of Buddhist wisdom and what we might learn (and pass on) from it.

Never neglect the fundamentals

Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. – Zen Proverb

No matter how much you learn or how advanced you get, don’t forget the basics that got you there. There is as much value in the small, caretaking tasks as there is in big ideas. And practicing them keeps you in touch with what is important. Don’t neglect these fundamental responsibilities, or you might find yourself out of touch with what matters.

Happiness multiplies when shared

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. -Sutta Nipata

Happiness isn’t a zero-sum paradigm, with winners and losers. More often, it grows when shared. Cultivate moments of happiness in your organization. Share the happiness you have. Enjoy the happiness of others. No one ever suffered from adding more happiness to their lives or their workplaces.

Change begins with you

First one must change. I first watch myself, check myself, then expect changes from others. – H.H. 14th Dalai Lama

If we wish to affect change in our organizations, we must first model that change. It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that.

Culture is a shared responsibility

The actions of each of us, human or nonhuman, have contributed to the world in which we live. We all have a common responsibility for our world and are connected with everything in it. – H.H. 14th Dalai Lama

Never forget that the workplace, like the world, is a web of shared human experience and shared responsibility. Encourage a sense of shared responsibility for the culture of your company. Allow everyone to participate and nurture it.

Times of building vs. times of reaping

We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it livable.
Profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what is not there. – Lao Tzu

This quote is great when you feel like your efforts are coming up empty. It reminds us that in the absence of abundance there is opportunity for growth and profit. Keep it for those times when you are building or rebuilding, to remind you that your efforts are making room for future success.

The power of karma

Do not think a small virtue will not return in your future lives. Just as falling drops of water will fill a large container, the little virtues that steadfast accumulate will completely overwhelm you. – the Buddha

I saved this quote for last because, in my opinion, the power of karma is the most important thing Buddhism can teach HR leaders. We tend to think of karma as something that happens to us. A reward (or comeuppance) for something good or bad that we’ve done. Sort of a “what comes around goes around” behavioral feedback loop. And it is that, in a sense. But in Buddhist tradition, karma isn’t so much something that happens to you. It is something you DO. In fact, the very word karma means an action—something one does, says, or thinks.

As the Buddha explained: “We are the heirs of our own actions.” Which is another way of saying the energy you put out into the world, the acceptance you express, the kindness you offer, the appreciation you give, will all be returned to you. It’s a feedback loop of the best kind, and one we should all encourage our employees to enter into with one another.

To sum it all up, I leave you with the words of the famous lama Lao Tzu: Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.  

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