What the Galactic Empire Teaches Us about HR
With all the talk around Star Wars this month, we wanted to add to our series of HR lessons in pop culture. (Check out our Harry Potter article in case you missed it!)
A long time ago, in that galaxy far, far away, the Galactic Empire set out to rule the galaxy. Spoiler alert: they failed. But why?
Sure, we could say that Luke Skywalker stopped the Empire by turning Darth Vader or that the Rebels ended the war by blowing up the Death Star. But at the heart of it all, the Empire failed because of one thing: bad HR.
Here’s what I mean.
#1 Workforce diversity is vital.
As far as we can tell from the movies, the Galactic Empire’s workforce is largely white, male, human, and at least slightly brainwashed. In fact, for some time the Empire’s entire army was made up of copies of the same person.
You can’t get much lower on the diversity scale than a clone army.
Then again, the Empire wasn’t concerned with meeting diversity quotas or furthering disadvantaged alien races. They wanted to build the most efficient workforce possible where everyone would fall into line without argument. I’m sure this sped up the decision and approval process.
However, the lack of diversity also crippled them when it came to adaptability and innovation. When your workforce is made up of similar people with similar ideas, your organization can easily fall into a rut. There are no fresh perspectives, and most of your personnel have similar weaknesses and shortcomings.
On the other hand, the Rebel forces included alien species of all colors, shapes, and sizes. They had access to a wider variety of talents, skills, experience, and perspectives. That workforce diversity made them more agile.
Perhaps if the Empire had looked outside of its normal set of ideal candidates (or outside their cloning facility), their story would have ended differently.
#2 Performance management doesn’t mean force-choking the underperformers.
The Empire was no doubt a competitive organization. High performers earned their way to the top with promotions. And underperformers were eliminated from the workforce—literally. This may seem like a straightforward way to encourage high performance, but this pattern could lead to a toxic culture and a disengaged workforce.
We see many examples in the movies of this toxic culture with imperial officers undermining each other to get into positions of power and lower-ranked employees being terrified into submission. Employees who work in a fear-based environment like this perform far worse than those motivated by positive factors.
Performance management should be much more than promoting high performers and correcting (or force-choking) underperformers. In fact, a better phrase might be “performance development.” Your organization’s goal with performance management should be to encourage and develop employees. Not only will this lead to higher performance now, but it will also provide greater internal talent in the future.
If Darth Vader had spent less time intimidating his officers and more time instructing, inspiring, and supporting them, the Rebels wouldn’t have stood a chance.
Performance management doesn’t mean force-choking the under-performers. #StarWars #HR
#3 Disengaged employees could blow up your organization.
Because of the Empire’s focus on fear and high performance, we can probably assume that employee engagement wasn’t at the top of their priority list. We can also assume that imperial officers weren’t checking in regularly with their reports to gauge job satisfaction and engagement levels.
And this was the Empire’s most costly mistake. It was an actively disengaged engineer who designed the fatal flaw in the Death Star and allowed the Rebels to blow the whole thing to smithereens.
In the real world, Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity. That lost productivity could come in the form of an employee who doesn’t do the work or even an employee who works to undermine the organization (like that imperial engineer). Disengagement isn’t a problem you should ignore.
The best way to prevent active disengagement is communication. Managers should hold regular check-ins with their employees to build trust, communicate expectations, and listen to feedback for how the organization could improve. By doing this, you can solve problems before a dissatisfied employee starts plotting to destroy your entire organization.
Strategic HR could change the fate of your organization.
While your organization (probably) isn’t trying to conquer the galaxy, you are trying to conquer something—maybe turnover, or disengagement, or perhaps low performance. And HR is the key to accomplishing those goals.
The only problem?
Organizations often use their HR departments as nothing more than policymakers and paper pushers. Or in the case of the Galactic Empire, it doesn’t exist at all.
That doesn’t have to be the case for your organization.