Karma Yoga Management: Hiring & Firing

Humility is rare in the corporate world because the obsession of performance leads the employee to identify himself with their successes and this often result into an inflated self- perception of his or her own power and skills.

Jérôme Chouchan, MD Godiva Chocolatier for Japan, South Korea, South East Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand.

By Jérôme Chouchan

In my previous article, ‘How to practice Karma Yoga and still perform in a tough corporate culture’, I explored how the employee could aim for performance in a tough business environment and at the same time aim for spiritual development. Now in this latest article, I will keep the same perspective of Karma Yoga, as taught in the Gita and will consider from a practical business standpoint, one of the most important task the manager has to execute regularly: hiring and firing.

In the 80s, top universities taught their MBA students that people are a variable resource, like any other resources in the company. This purely quantitative approach, which looked at the employee only from their measurable output, is now replaced by a holistic perspective, which recognizes that the employee is first and foremost a human being before being an agent of production of goods and services. Nowadays, research shows that the sentiment of personal growth for the employee matters and that individual development plans should be carefully crafted. It has been documented that engagement has a direct link with the company performance. However, there is a pressing need for companies to give clear principles to managers on the two most important events of the career of an employee: their entry and their exit.

What are the principles to be considered in hiring and firing, when a company purpose is beyond just delivering sales and profit? What is the criteria the manager should employ to make their decision, when they believe that Karma Yoga is also relevant in the corporate world, as their efforts in their daily job to practice the important quote (2, 47) of the Gita: “To actions alone you have a right and never at all to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive.”  This is a question that haunted me many times and I have made many mistakes in my career on these matters.

Also Read: Management as Karma Yoga

Most of my mistakes in hiring could be summarized in one mental habit: I was stuck in the thought of the results. From a corporate point of view, this made total sense because “I am paid to get results.” But from a Karma Yoga perspective, where it is taught to “Let not the fruits of actions be your motive,” it did not. For example, when I made hiring mistakes, I analyzed afterwards that I was too seduced by the resume of the candidate and I just got impressed by the name of the company he or she came from, desiring to get immediate results from their know-how and the connections they may have in the industry.

I envisioned that coming from such a famous company or competitor, that they would bring in a short time significant financial results to our company. More often than not, this desire for “the fruits of actions” did not materialize and the candidate often did not perform as I anticipated. Now, after many trial and errors over the years, I conduct my interviews in a very different way: I do not dwell anymore on the business experience and technical skills of the candidate, my assumption being that the HR department would have screened this in a sufficient degree. I conduct my interview like a conversation on various life topics, where I try to fully understand the candidate’s life values and character. I am looking for three distinct qualities, where the most important one is humility or absence of pride. This quality is listed in the Gita (13,7 ) as the first quality conducting to knowledge: amanitvam.

Humility is rare in the corporate world because the obsession of performance leads the employee to identify himself with their successes and this often result into an inflated self- perception of his or her own power and skills. But this pride is exactly what prevents the employee to listen to the opinions of their subordinates and to the voices of the consumers with a pure heart.

The second quality is steadfastness, firmness which is also listed in the same verse of the Gita as sthairyam. The combination of these two virtues is conductive to better management of companies. In a research paper about leadership, published in July 2005 in the Harvard Business Review, Jim Collins concluded that the best leaders in the long term (which he called ‘level 5 leaders’) are the ones who can embody this paradox of having both “humility and fierce resolve.”

The third quality is a positive attitude. It is an attitude of growth mindset, in which any current or future business roadblock is seen as an opportunity to find a new solution rather than being stopped on the issue itself with a negative thinking.

Let’s now look at the difficult task of letting go of an employee. Is there a way to fire someone without being caught into a moral dilemma? This dilemma reminds us of the one of Arjuna, in the battle field when he was subject to self-doubt and confusion at the thought of fighting and possibly killing some of his relatives and friends. The Gita told us that Arjuna has to fight as it is his duty as a warrior. What is our duty as managers in companies in today’s world? Our duty is to make decisions. Some decisions are about people. When I analyze my own errors in making those decisions, most of the times the bad decisions where the ones when I wait too long before removing an individual from their position, where they were not performing. What I mean by “not performing”- is that their behavior and interactions with other people showed that they were lacking the proper intent in expressing the three qualities we mentioned earlier.

In other words, they had become arrogant, inconsistent and had a fixed mindset. I have seen cases of individuals who got a power position in the organization and from that position of power fell in the trap of pride. In those cases, management has the responsibility to take the proper actions for the benefit of the company and for the other people who strive constantly to do their best to improve themselves and to perform. In conclusion, hiring and firing, is more about values and character than skills and results.

About the Author: Jérôme Chouchan, President, Godiva Chocolatier for Japan, South Korea, South East Asia, India, Australia and New Zealand. Chouchan is the author of Target – Business wisdom from the ancient Japanese martial art of Kyudo; and Board Director of the International Kyudo Federation.

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A.K Coomaraswamy, Article of Jérôme Chouchan, Corporate Culture, How To Practice Karma Yoga, International Kyudo Federation, Jérôme Chouchan, Jérôme Chouchan on Karma Yoga, On Being in One’s Right Mind, Management as Karma Yoga,  Karma Yoga Management: Hiring & Firing, How to practice Karma Yoga, Karma Yoga in Gita, Jim Collins,