In 216 BC Hannibal crossed the Alps in terrible conditions to attack Italy. His generals pleaded with him not to attempt it saying it would be impossible to cross the Alps with elephants. On hearing this Hannibal said “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam” or translated from Latin, I will either find a way, or make one. History tells us that he succeeded and became one of the greatest military strategists in history.

As human resource practitioners we can all learn from Hannibal and attempt to turn the tide on the business perception of our profession. For once and for all we have to stop saying “NO”.  Our tendency is to always be a naysayer, a party pooping old nag who wants to ruin everyone else’s fun.  Sure we have legal and cultural responsibilities to the organization and to employees but just because we are blocked or limited in our action does not mean that we also like Hannibal cannot find a way to help the business succeed.  I find too many in our profession limit themselves by always siding with the status quo, always accepting legals’ opinion as to what is possible or more likely advisable. It’s time to take a stance, take some calculated risks and go beyond traditional human resource service and delivery.


So the next time you are asked by the business to try something new or to come up with a solution do not do the following:

  1. Revert for answers in the Book of Golden HR rules.
  2. Go ask legal for advice.
  3. Say “We have always done it this way in the past”
  4. Say NO.

 Instead do the following:

  1. Tell them you will give it some thought and get back to them (make sure you do, pronto).
  2. Do some brainstorming with your team around solutions.
  3. Attempt to innovate.
  4. Say YES.


Like Hannibal sometimes attempt what seems to be the impossible. What others may think as insurmountable could be an opportunity for you and your business to shine. Find a way or make one. Your company will thank you for it and so will you.


For more on this author visit: 

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Twitter -!/GuayFrancois


Views: 1397

Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 24, 2011 at 6:55am

Circumventing "Corporate Legal" is the worst possible advice you can give to any employee, and especially HR, because it suggests the action one has in mind may have a “risk factor” that “legal” should probably know about before any action is taken.  It also suggests that HR and Legal, in your view, are problematic for business leaders because they tend to say “NO”.  Doesn’t it occur to you that they say “no” to asinine ideas that are fraught with legal ramifications/problems they clearly see…particularly if something goes wrong?  HR and Legal are in place to stop a decision and decision maker who can harm the company’s interests.  Operating without their knowledge or approval will fall on you like a Hannibal elephant.


And operating like a military general of old, whose fame was won in operating and performing in a war zone—who BTW disregarded sound advice from military commanders in the field, would be folly for any business leader, much less modern day HR leaders.


While HR gets little respect for not being trusted or entrusted with a seat at the business table—it is HR who must advise against proceeding with “Aut viam inveniam aut faciam” (translated from Latin), I will either find a way, or make one,” logic simply because that logic works best in a battlefield scenario—where might makes right makes sense.  However, in the business working environment there are rules of engagement such that “might makes right” would be indefensible. 


Where the philosophy of “I will either find a way, or make one,” does appear is in court briefs where monetary penalties were assessed and jail sentences given to business leaders operated like “field generals”, e.g., like those from ENRON and WORLDCOM, and others who pretty much operated as if arrogance had no reins.  In those cases HR and good Legal advisors were sorely missing in action.  What HR can learn from Hannibal is to continue to advise Hannibal wannabees to park their elephants in a proper and secure area--because if they step on someone the penalties will be significant and the news coverage will be dramatically embarrassing.

Comment by Sandra McCartt on October 24, 2011 at 6:21pm

The fastest way to be the victim of a fragging incident is to say yes to something one does not have the authority to approve.  Many have made that error in judgement.  They got to visit with legal when they were terminated for violation of company policy.  The road to perdition is paved with the egos of those who thought they could beg for forgiveness as opposed to asking permission when it comes to legal.

Comment by John Amodeo on October 25, 2011 at 10:42am

Finding a way. Making a way.  Concepts that I pray are not lost in corporate HR and recruiting.  I certainly don't see Francois attempting to evade or circumvent our BUSINESS PARTNERS in Legal.  I believe thats why "legal and cultural responsibility" was cited.  But what about the uplifting concepts of thinking, brainstorming, innovating, and, whenever APPROPRIATE and possible saying "yes" when the traditional "no no bad dog" starts to wear thin when the customers we serve and protect don't get a chance to finish their sentences when looking to us as partners and advisors?  "By the book" is the "what."  Wearing the hat of business builder and partner to interpret and HEAR those we serve to ultimately solve business problems COULD be the "how." Francois, I' see the encouragement you're attempting here.  I would like to see parts 2 and 3 to your thoughts lest you be relegated by some.  I sensed you wrote this article for GOOD and that you would never use the Hannibal quote for EVIL.  Nothing wrong with Generals.  I've served three types:  good, better, and best.  The good ones will receive their just reward.  And people who work for them at any time may exercise the right to vote with their feet.

Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 26, 2011 at 3:32am

@John--I agree, Francois has good intentions but his advice is flawed if he thinks circumventing Legal (which was clearly stated) is the way to go for HR to starting thinking outside of the norm in their attempt to get closer to the company decision table.  Context matters and throwing caution to the wind is compounded by using a War General like Hannibal as a source of wisdom for HR to adhere to.  Unless your company is in a war zone, the last advice you want is from a War General who lost nearly half of his army, cavalry and herd of elephants because he decided, against the recommendations of his Field Generals, and chose to cross the Alps in winter.  All of Hannibal’s brilliant maneuvers won for him many battles, but he lost the war and was eventually defeated and exiled by the Roman Army. 

If HR has any value at all it is to protect an employer against decision making and actions that can bring calamity to the door. And if Legal, who also has the same mission of company preservation, discovers HR failed to brief them on a decision and action that brings the wolf to the door Legal would remove HR leadership for failing to due their duty.  

You say, “There’s nothing wrong with Generals. I’ve served three types:  good, better, and best.”  Good for you but what does that have to do with Hannibal and bad and very bad Generals?  Again, context matters here because there have been bad Generals throughout history with more to come.  There’s Benedict Arnold and the high command of Generals complicit in Hitler’s orders to cleanse the German State, of Jews, and then to conquer the world? They almost made that happen.  There is Mussolini, Idi Amin, Hitler, and Gaddafi--all ruled in their military uniforms to send the message that they were in command – and all of them commanded with an iron fist using fear and mayhem as motivation for allegiance.  I’ve also served under good military leaders at the General Staff level, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that extremely bad Generals have existed and continue to show-up. 

Finding a way and making a way can be dramatically different in terms of outcomes, particularly in military terms.  Using Hannibal as inspiration for HR is a stretch.  A “war room” in corporate America may have some similarities in project management and people management--but it is dramatically different than the “war room” at the Pentagon simply because the outcomes can be extreme, e.g., taking out terrorists, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, etc.

Comment by Francois Guay on October 26, 2011 at 8:47pm

@John @Valentino,


Like many in this forum probably I have been a VP of HR in the past. I have often had to make decisions or develop strategy that was different, even controversial. I have always as | should sought legal advice. Legal is there to provide opinions, etc and I in my role as a an executive have to take calculated risks based on that advice. As leaders I believe we should take calculated risk as does any entrepreneur. Decisions I have made in the past proved to be successful. Many times I agreed with legal that the risk was to high and decided not to pursue those avenues. Sometimes I pursued them. That's what being a leader is and I believe it's time for HR to take some of those risks.

@Valentino, I am not promoting everyone to challenge HR only leaders in organizations who have the responsibility to do so. 


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