Saturday, October 10, 2009


Kyuzo Mifune is one of Judo's experts (after Jigoro Kano, Judos founder). When asked about Judos essence, Mifune said: "Judo rests on flexible action of mind and body. The word flexible however never means weakness but something more like adaptability and open-mindedness".
Like in many other management topics, we can learn about flexibility from the art of Judo. I think an organization that offers flexibility to its employees has a great advantage. In fact it seems to me to be one of the important aspects of working in an organization. An employee who experienced a flexible organization will have a hard time in a more rigid workplace.
In this post, part of a blog about managing employees, I'll concentrate on flexibility toward our subordinates. There are other aspects of organization flexibility. An organization that easily adjusts to market trends, for example, will succeed. But, as I stated, this will not be the subject of this blog, and I will focus on flexibility in managing employees.

Why is flexibility important?
Operational flexibility makes employees' life easier. It reduces vacation time spent on everyday chores, and increases effective work time even if the employee is a parent to little kids and has to leave work early. More than that, operational flexibility enables employee evolution. It helps managers answer different employee ambitions, as well as their unique needs as employees and human beings. The result is improved organizational achievement as well as better employee development toward his or her goals. Most important, flexibility leads to better employee satisfaction, and this in itself is part of their promotion.

How can flexibility take place?
Operational flexibility can mean flexibility in the place of work (such as part time work from home); the time of work (night time, morning hours); flexibility in authorizing special expenses (such as return of money when receipts were lost); flexibility in using vacation days and allowing leave without pay, etc.
Managerial flexibility can mean flexibility in the level of control over each employee; flexibility in the training program assigned to each employee; flexibility in employees' career building path; flexibility in job description. The list is endless.
Every organization needs to be flexible according to its abilities. There are some areas where a big organization can be more flexible, such as defining many education programs and allowing employees to choose between them. In other areas, small organizations find it easier to be flexible, since the chain of command is shorter and the bureaucracy can be reduced. The meaning of this is that there are no winners and loses. Every manager in every organization must understand the potential for flexibility and exploit it as best they can.

Where must we refrain from flexibility?
Like in any other aspect, too much flexibility can damage. I try to put three limits to flexibility:
Don't be flexible when there is a chance to break the law (work hours report for a public organization);
Don't be flexible as an excuse to giving up on our principles;
And don't be flexible when it can be interpreted as favoring some employees at the expense of others that were not treated in a flexible manner.
How do you know when to be flexible and how not to cross the line? I don't have a concrete answer. Who said life is easy?

Above all, flexibility implies that we trust our employees. Do not worry: even if some will misuse this trust, most will repay out trust and flexibility in kind.
It is worth it.


to the Hebrew version


Nick Milton said...

This interesting post made me think about the concept of flexibility in dance.

To dance with a partner, you need to be flexible and responsive. However flexibility is not the same as floppiness or looseness - you can't dance with someone who has floppy or loose arms (dancers call it "spaghetti arms") because then you lose connection and you lose linkage.

Instead you need what dancers call "frame". Frame is caused by a degree of tension in the arms, that allows you to sense, to feel, to connect, and to react to your partner.

Flexibility in the partnership between an organisation and an employee is good, provided it is within a frame; a framework of trust, but also a framework of boundaries. You talk about the rules and the law - there need to be clear boundaries - a clear frame - to the flexibility.

Flexibility also needs connection, for without connection, there can be no response, and no flexibility - just looseness.

Flexible, connected, within a framework.

So, thank you for an interesting train of thought!

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