The Talent Awakens: 3 HR Lessons for Star Wars

Published November 2, 2015

Fans of Star Wars (myself included) have been in a frenzy since the last trailer ‘Episode 7: The Force Awakens’ was released. In honour of the excitement, I’ve reflected on the original trilogy (and by that, of course, I mean I watched it again).

I thought about what it would be like to work for the Rebel Alliance and the Empire; after all, they are both organisations. I quickly realised that there are many important lessons we can learn from the way they are both run, and why ultimately the Alliance outperformed the Empire.

1. Engagement in a mission and culture optimises your talent

The Rebel Alliance had a core mission to restore diplomacy, fairness and freedom to the galaxy, and highly valued hope and optimistic behaviours in the process. The Empire’s culture of power and fear was self-destructive, and did not give its employees (eg Stormtroopers) an identity that would be worth fighting for.

If you look at talent optimisation through an engagement lens and realise your people are disengaged, you will undoubtedly find they are holding back from giving 100%. Why else would a military force have such terrible aim with a laser rifle?

2. Learning in the workplace is key

Luke Skywalker proved his ability when he destroyed the first Death Star, but he was given the freedom to train with Yoda and become something greater (a legendary Jedi). The Rebels’ approach to nurturing talent, encouraging them to learn new skills / capabilities and apply that learning was much more conducive to greater performance. You wouldn’t have found this kind of leadership from the Imperials.

In fact, succession planning in the Empire simply happened when your boss was force-choked by Darth Vader. This links to another key part of learning: making mistakes. This was clearly not valued in the Empire, but the Alliance encouraged it. Did they victimise Lando Calrissian when his error in judgment got Han Solo frozen? No; the Rebels’ forgiveness allowed him to contribute to crippling the Empire’s hold on the galaxy. Did Yoda criticise Luke for his impatience and haste in his training? No; he was patient himself. Valuing the benefits of learning from mistakes works wonders for your employees and their professional development.

3. Motivation comes from within, not external reward

The Millennium Falcon successfully delivered Princess Leia back from captivity, and that easily could have been all the reward that Han Solo and Chewbacca needed. If that was the case, he may never have come back to fight for the Alliance’s cause, but it was their purpose, values and treatment of their supporters that won him over and drove him to become a key contributor to their success. Don’t rely on rewards and benefits to motivate your workforce; actively give them praise, useful feedback and a feeling that what they do on a day-to-day basis is fun and rewarding in itself.

In essence, don’t turn to the dark side. Let in the light.

Author: Jordon Jones

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