Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Martial Arts relevance in today's business world

Here's an article I wrote for Linkedin earlier this month.

The question that this article is setting out to answer is;
Why should you pay more attention to a ‘martial arts’ background listed in an applicant’s CV, even if they don't have the “traditional” skill set you're looking for?
To begin, how often have you seen listed under ‘personal interests’ in an applicant’s CV things like Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Kung Fu, Taijutsu, Taekwondo or Judo as line items? What about ‘Black Belt in’ or ‘4th Dan’? How often have you as an employer simply ignored this as just another sport reference or about as important as ‘gardening’ or ‘spending time with family’ when concerning relevance to your organisation's ongoing growth and profitability?  
This article will present reasons on why only concentrating on the “traditional” skill sets you always look for – regardless of whether or not you are a successful organisation or not - is not always the best option if that's all you use. It will also aim at how you could very well be missing out on hiring someone who could not only change your hiring methodology but also bring important skills into your organisation.
As a semi-retired instructor in a few varied martial art disciplines myself and as a Team Manager within Trustpower’s rapidly growing Telecommunications sector, I am often asked by like-skilled martial artists for advice on how to move from their current “lifestyle” jobs – jobs which have allowed them to put maximum effort into their chosen disciplines but with little CV worthy titles - and move into the world of corporate business with only their current “skills” to trade with. It is these people (in my experience) who have common characteristics that a lot of potential employers are overlooking, perhaps to their detriment.
So often as employers we get tied up in looking at a person’s work history as the only relevant data we require to make an informed decision on who to short-list and interview. These are the skill sets we know historically work in well within our organisations, the tried and tested trigger points that put a CV into our 'yes' pile. With hundreds of CV’s it’s easy to overlook those unwritten potentials hidden under such inane extra-curricular interests that seemingly have zero relevance.
Its time to look a little closer. A lot of us are missing something important.
Consider all of the benefits that being skilled in any martial art could potentially deliver and this will be precisely why any reference to it should be on your “hit-list” when shortlisting applicant's for interviews, regardless of current core competencies the person may have. Yes, there is always risk in changing a hiring process but the questions has to be asked - what have you got to lose? Some time? Let me explain a few things I relate to the martial artist individuals (generally instructors) who come to me for advice with very little on their CV's which relate to jobs they're applying for. Here is a breakdown of why you should perhaps add them to your "wild card" list.
Discipline”. In any chosen martial art, in order to progress through the various types of ranking systems (generally belts) each Practitioner must turn up on a regular basis and put in a consistent effort towards improving both their physical and mental prowess. This in itself shows commitment – consider what having an employee with discipline and commitment could do for your business.
Ability to learn and adapt”. Martial artists learn thousands of techniques which are often worked on thousands of times to create instinctive responses to outward influences, not only conflict. This ability trains the mind to be able to categorise different levels of threat (which can easily be converted to business priorities) and how to adapt best for the most successful outcomes. The ability to learn quickly and to have high levels of memory re-call is vital for any Practitioner, again traits that would be beneficial in most organisations who wish to be more agile.
“Conflict Management”. Imagine having an employee with exceptional coping mechanisms when it comes to both dealing with conflict and with the ability to teach conflict resolution. As a martial artist, a student is taught the fundamentals of human behaviour including body language and how to “talk” someone down before any “other” options are considered. Physical is always a last resort and never a preferred option. Martial arts have a purely “self-defence” ethos as well as a focus toward a ratio of 80% mental and 20% physical. Martial Artists are taught to be thinkers. Now re-consider the adaptability, discipline and ability to learn. I'm betting you're getting the picture.
Integrity” – the higher up the ranking system a Practitioner goes, the more importance is placed on being an upstanding citizen and envoy for their chosen discipline. Each martial art system has its key characteristics that all of their Practitioner follow too, guidelines towards respectable behaviour similar to commandments. Integrity is key throughout them all.
“Health benefits”. An easy one. Most instructors have trained both body and mind to where general illnesses tend to be a lot less frequent. Consider how reduced absenteeism could be of benefit. Plus in conjunction with integrity, if they do call in sick, you’ll know they are.
“Empathy”. Again, one of the core fundamentals of conflict management. Someone well versed will be able to see people dealing with difficulties before anyone else will notice, often without having spoken to them. Martial artists are trained to be aware of their environments, whether they be a battleground or in the office. Often they will be the first people taking steps to support and assist others.
“Teaching/Coaching”. Even as lower ranked students, everyone learns to help someone else, they learn methods of communicating information and techniques which in turn also increases confidence. If you've never been in a martial arts class, go along to one and watch. It’s not only the instructors teaching the students, often it’s the students teaching other students what they've already learned. Its part of the cycle of knowledge.
Calm under pressure”. Martial artists learn how to deal with dangerous situations, often life threatening. Often when they transition into businesses, they will be the least likely to be running around with their heads cut off. Martial art systems all teach students how to think under extreme pressure. How handy would it be to have someone like this in your organisation?
And finally; “Creativity/Innovation”. An often unknown in the martial arts community is the violence versus creativity argument. So often when a student reaches the levels of instructor, they have learned so many techniques on how to deal with extreme situations, that there almost “has to be” a balance going in the opposite direction and this is where the creativity/innovation factor comes into play. Myself, I write novels and music, my teachers both write poetry and paint, so many others I know all do something creative whether it be house renovations or flower arranging. All vastly removed from martial arts. What does this mean for your business? Creativity is key to Innovation and I myself have come up with many great ideas that Trustpower has run with, some of which are still in place today.
So, my question to you now has to be…are you still going to overlook that “personal interests” martial arts reference on an applicant’s CV if they don’t have the relevant “traditional” skills that you've always looked for?  
 ...And what will you get if you always do what you've always done?