It’s a Trap! Culture Change Lessons from Star Wars

Over time, your company culture will change. It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. As it does, it’s natural for employees to worry. Is your beloved workplace becoming a wretched hive of scum and villainy?

Most culture pitfalls come when leadership doesn’t take the time to define and defend your company culture. Here are three lessons on culture gleaned from the on-screen and behind-the-scenes worlds of the Star Wars universe.

Culture Trap: Hero Worship

Ever since the title of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, was revealed, the world has speculated on one word: what does it mean to be a Skywalker? As the saga has unfolded, the name Skywalker has been synonymous with heroism, humanity, power—and all the expectations that go with them.

As time passes, these expectations put unbearable pressures on the chosen ones. Anakin Skywalker decays from adorable pod-racer to dark lord of the Sith. Luke makes an impetuous choice and loses his hand as a result. And after the triumphant defeat of Emperor Palpatine, the members of the original crew of the Millennium Falcon all take separate spirals.

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It’s hard to accept that leaders and heroes are human, whether they’re Jedi or the face of your organization. There was such a backlash to Luke’s arc in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi that fans started petitions to remake the movie or at least make it unofficial.

Unfortunately, there’s no going back from throwing away the lightsaber and milking the alien walrus, and there’s no going back from misguided leadership decisions in the real world, either. 2019 has been a record year for CEO ousters as companies crash to earth after their founder-gurus fail and investors realize their chosen ones aren’t predestined for greatness.

It takes more than a chosen one to succeed. Preparing and updating a succession plan can help define how your organization and your employees will grow over time, well before an unexpected surprise creates a culture crisis.

Culture Trap: Rampant Subcultures

How did a dark lord of the Sith destroy a millennium of Jedi tradition? By taking advantage of an unchecked subculture. Senator Palpatine didn’t take on the Jedi Council in an arms race or a show of force. Instead, throughout the prequel trilogy, he took advantage of their lack of communication with the Galactic Senate to remake the Senate to suit his needs.

The Jedi assumed their culture would continue as it always had, even as the Senate asked them to go against their values during the Clone Wars. Through small slights to new members like Anakin Skywalker and large emergency responses like sending Obi-Wan on an assassination mission, the Jedi played right into the would-be Emperor’s hands.

It’s unlikely that one of your employees will overthrow your leadership on their way to conquering the galaxy. But as your organization grows, you have to make sure every employee is connected to your mission, vision, and values, even when they don’t interact with founding members on a regular basis.

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Make sure your managers are examples of the culture you want to build and then have them make time for regular check-ins so they can pass this example to the employees on their team.

Culture Trap: Recruitment by Clone

In Episode II: Attack of the Clones, the Galactic Empire had a simple recruitment strategy: take prime physical specimen Jango Fett and create an army of obedient clones. While subsequent Stormtrooper forces had more genetic diversity, they all had careful conditioning to remove any trace of independent thinking and disloyalty to the empire. It’s no wonder they couldn’t find the droids they were looking for.

In your organization, you won’t have access to bacta tanks and memory readers to grow genetic clones of your best employees. But you will need to consider how your recruiting practices affect diversity—diversity in age, background, race, gender, and experience. Watch out for these diversity-reducing tactics:

Not only does diverse hiring help prevent toxic subcultures, but new skills and experiences can complement your workforce’s current skill set, minimize weaknesses, and add new strengths.

May the Culture Be With You

Like the Force, company culture is in and around every living thing in your organization. Whether your employees start as scruffy nerf-herders, mysterious orphans, or the occasional Wookie, all of them can build a better future with the right support and leadership.

For more on navigating a changing company culture, check out these tips from HR professionals.