Star Wars – HR Style

So, today, I’m inspired by pants and Star Wars…

If you haven’t already seen it there is a long flourishing underground trend of reproducing lines from Star Wars, but substituting in the word pants – Star Wars Pants Jokes

An example would be 

I sense a great disturbance in the pants’. 

#HRStar Wars

My mind softly ambled one day, whilst thinking about the JediHR trend , lovingly curated by Michael Carty, as to how different some of the lines in Star Wars might be if uttered by a stereotypical HR Professional. 

Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments.

OriginalMos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
HR Version: The facilities aren’t really up to scratch on that site – and the workforce is more diverse in terms of capability and behaviour than in other areas

Original tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans. And bring me the passengers, I want them alive!
HR version:  I don’t really feel comfortable doing a locker search and we haven’t communicated that we do random bag searches for some time now. Can we get comms to send out a note?

Original: The Force is strong with this one
HR Version: We all seem agreed that this is a ‘one to watch’ in terms of our future talent and succession pipeline, given the right support and structured development

Original I find your lack of faith disturbing
HR Version: I’d just like to take everyone back to that really productive day we had at the offsite. We had plenty of momentum and you all agreed to back decisions more wholeheartedly as a group. It’s a little bit disappointing to hear you raising concerns so late in this process

Original You don’t need to see his identification … These aren’t the droids you’re looking for 
HR version: I assume you need to see, at the very least, proof of right to work in the UK and evidence of employment history

Original: You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor. Take her away!
HR Version: You had a very clear non compete clause in your contract that I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you of that

Original: The Jedi are extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe. You, my friend, are all that’s left of their religion.
HR Version: We had so much attrition in that one business area that we’ve decided it is best to move to more of a virtual team model

Original:Always two there are
HR Version: We do keep clear succession in mind when budgeting, particularly for business critical roles that may impact continuity 

Original: The tractor beam is coupled to the main reactor in seven locations. A power loss at one of the terminals will allow the ship to leave.
HR Version: I didn’t really understand it, but apparently there’s some stuff IT need to sort out before we can move forward

And finally:

Original: I can’t get involved. I’ve got work to do. It’s not that I like the Empire; I hate it, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now… It’s all such a long way from here.
HR Version: I’m disengaged

(and kudos to @HRGem for “aren’t you a little short for a HR Manager?”)

One identifiable victim – consequences for many

The look in the woman’s eyes was suspicious and apologetic all at once. I was travelling in London for the first time since 7/7 and the woman was joining a few other passengers in slowly moving down the carriage, away from my friend and I. It wasn’t as subtle a move as they had hoped. 

My friend is Iranian (or just from Sunderland; definitions of how many generations it takes to be British get unclear when people are scared) and I’m dark skinned (Portuguese extraction), always sporting an unkempt beard when I’m not working and I was carrying a rucksack for good measure.

I found the situation sad, scary and a little bit humorous. Sad, because I never want to be the cause of discomfort to others. Scary, because I could see how much the world had changed. Humorous, as I desperately wanted to explain that we were just heading into town to watch the football and have a pint – hardly sinister. My rucksack contained dirty underwear, deodorant and a toothbrush. My friend said it was a reaction he had become used to.

After 9/11 I was unable to travel through airports without getting searched. I just look like a terrorist. If you drew a mental picture of a terrorist you would end up with me. Security normally takes me longer than my wife but that is fine. I would rather security were stopping people who look like me, it isn’t a perfect system – but I understand the intent is to protect not to victimise.

So that is the context. I’m not a terrorist, but people sometimes check if I’m Muslim before beginning a uneducated ‘them and us’ rant.
How are people reacting to yesterday’s attack?

Having one clearly identifiable victim, as we have in the incident in Woolwich, has a hugely powerful psychological impact. We struggle to conceive of the damage a World War or an event like 9/11 causes, so we just acknowledge it as horrible and undesirable – but we think of numbers of people, not actual people. Our brain just can’t conceive of all of the people and relationships involved.

When you have one victim it is easier to relate to. That is why charities often show you one person and then name them in order to encourage you to donate money.
  • A million people starving? Tragic, but remote and I can’t help them all
  • One baby crying? Emotions kick into overload

One person was murdered in Woolwich yesterday. A person being killed in London isn’t an exceptional event, but the following things make this a really dangerous and potentially significant event – because they form a perfect storm of elements likely to provoke a disproportionate reaction
  • it was in daylight. We like to think of daylight as being safer, bad things happen at night don’t they? 
  • it happened to a member of the armed services. If it can happen to someone trained to defend himself then we are all vulnerable
  • it was in London, so statistically more people will feel it happened locally than if it had happened elsewhere 
  • it was an attack that reinforced stereotypes. A raving, knife wielding religious zealot. 
  • it was a person with dark skin – and the easiest and laziest definition of British would automatically exclude them. The religious/ethnic/race differentiation can be easily simplified if we just suspect people who aren’t light skinned

What I saw immediately afterwards in terms of response is as much of a problem for this country as the actual, tragic event.

  • within a few minutes Twitter was ablaze with rumour about the event. If you post enough half truths some of them will stick
  • the government convened COBRA. I hope they are acting on further information we aren’t aware of, otherwise they are giving out the message that the country is under seige in response to one murder. If the murderer had been shouting about having an objection to war based in belief in another religion (Christianity…) would the response have been the same? There are just over 10 murders a week in the UK
  • there was an immediate flurry of tributes on Facebook. Evocative pictures of poppies etc. If you read the comments you will see a degree of hate and bile that does no justice to the memory of a soldier. Just people stirring things up and allocating the blame to whoever they consider to not be ‘us’ 
  • there was disagreement in the live feed from the BBC as to whether the term ‘Muslim looking’ was acceptable

In the months following 9/11 Americans didn’t want to fly. A study has shown that more people died in car accidents caused by this change of behaviour than in the actual event itself. We overestimate the likelihood of ‘dread events’ – terrorist attacks, shark attacks etc – and make bad choices as a result.

The UK needs to ensure that there is a measured response to this act, so that the consequences of this new act aren’t felt more than they need to be. Where would you like the government’s focus to be today? Dealing with the crisis in the NHS – a failing that causes pain for millions – or focusing on one horrific event. Logic dictates you help millions, public and press dictate you make speeches.

Factors exist are that could make this event hugely inflammatory (check the newspaper headlines today). I found someone moving down a train carriage a few years ago a bit humorous, but that is only because I thought that would pass.

There seems to be a groundswell of uneducated and poorly thought out reaction creeping into mainstream Britain, that suggests suspicion and casual racism may be here to stay and even become the norm.

And the poster boy for the next wave of hate and suspicion might be a poor man just going out for a walk in London.

One identifiable victim.

Note: I welcome comments on this blog – but I’ll delete any that offend reason or are designed to offend others. Thanks.


Dread Risk
Identifiable victim effect

Rodin’s longest success

So, for this blog I’m going to be reflecting on what you can learn from Rodin

The De Niro film, with the epic car chase – where they are all fighting over a briefcase with unknown contents?

No, that is Ronin. This is about the sculptor Rodin who created The Thinker and The Kiss. I was recently invited for a tour of the Royal Academy – and I recalled that, to my shame, the only other time I had been there was to visit a Rodin exhibition, which I found genuinely fascinating.

I knew very little about Rodin before the exhibition – but The Thinker holds a special place for me as I am, ashamed to say, a toilet reader, and we had a small scale version of it in the most private of rooms when I was younger.

You read on the toilet?

Look, it’s called lifelong learning and you can’t let the call of nature get in the way of the acquisition of knowledge. I’m moving on from this now…

Private reflections

In 1880 Rodin was commissioned by the Directorate of Fine Arts to create an entrance for a (still to be built) Decorative Arts Museum in Paris – with the theme and design being left to Rodin’s choice. The museum was never built and therefore the piece never got to fulfil its purpose.

The work Rodin created was called ‘The Gates of Hell’ and based on the work of Dante. Rodin worked and toiled on the piece for 37 years until he died he. It was incredibly complex piece of art that he had put time, creativity and effort into – but that never made it to public exhibition in his lifetime. 

So, Rodin wasted a huge part of his career then?

The interesting thing is that Rodin recycled this work into at least 11 other pieces of art during his career. The Thinker and The Kiss are essentially extracts from this larger body of unfinished work. 

Not only did Rodin recycle his work, but he did it multiple times, I had always laboured under the misapprehension that there was only one sculpture called The Thinker, but in fact there are at least 28 different casts of it on display around the world. 29, if you count my parents’ toilet. 

Rodin commercialised fragments of his one initial vision and then deployed the results on multiple occasions. Making repeated success out of a failed commission

The Gates of Hell – The Thinker in the centre

Lessons for HR

  • Even unfinished work can be brilliant – it still has value to you (and value to others) in both what you have learnt and what is new that you can use elsewhere
  • Once you have something that is uniquely you – the cast or model that forms your work – it can be deployed again and again in new environments and still feel fresh,. So don’t be afraid to change environments – you’ll just find somewhere else to make a difference
  • When you see brilliance, then just let it loose – these pieces all may not have arrived had Rodin not been given the ability to choose his own subject matter
  • Next time that you feel that your work is wasted – just reflect on someone who spent 37 years on something because he considered it a worthwhile endeavour in the first place. Time spent on things we value is never wasted – even if the results may not match our initial expectations
  • Failure is just a perspective. Rodin either spent 37 years on a piece that never fulfilled it’s purpose or 37 years creating his greatest piece of work. It just depends on how you tell the story

Thanks to Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1 )for the tour and the conversation that prompted this

HR as a wartime consigliere

In the last Blog I wrote about Star Wars – and in my first I wrote about Jaws. The plan is to keep struggling through films (and other things) until I end up scraping the bottom of the media barrel, so feel free to stop reading when I start producing articles with titles like

  • lessons for OD from Kevin Costner’s epic ‘Waterworld’
  • how could Bill and Ted improve their team dynamics?
  • What was Garfield’s learning journey between Garfield 1 and Garfield 2?
  • Alien vs Predator – when is conflict beneficial?
  • Herbie – is it ever right to go bananas? 
Until then I’ll work through some more recognisable territory, so I’m moving on to The Godfather. 
Fascinating factoids
  • The Godfather was written by Mario Puzo, who also wrote the screenplay to Superman – but you wouldn’t know it from the contrasting tone
  • Francis Ford Coppola managed to find parts in the film for his {deep breath} sister, mother, father, two sons and his daughter. The musical play in The Godfather Part II was written by his grandfather
Get on with it…it isn’t a movie blog…

In both the book and the film there is an interesting and key role in the Mafia family – described as consigliori in the book, but as consigliere in the film series. No matter the name, the role is pivotal in the organisation, providing challenge and counsel to the Head of the Family. They are  a trusted advisor who is able to debate decisions and challenge behaviour in a way that isn’t expected in the rest of the organisation. They are closer to the thoughts, plans and motivations of the Head of the Family than anyone else.
You’ll notice on the org chart below that it sits off to the side of the organisation – a direct report  – but operating at a different level to an Underboss (let’s call the ‘underboss’ a ‘Head of Department’). You’ll also notice that, in a business where decisions are genuinely life and death, the org chart doesn’t look that dissimilar to most companies
Hey, look at my Mafia Org Chart!

And that relates to HR how…

There are a couple of interesting things about the role

i) I think it is a role that HR/OD  should be looking to fill. Helping to run the commercial business – whilst providing support,counsel and challenging thinking at the very top. If we aren’t at the top table we are letting it be lonely at the top

ii) I think the requirements for key roles, including that of HR, change depending on the environment

But yesterday you were all about consistency?

In yesterday’s blog I suggested that HR needed to be brave and consistently principled when making and acting on difficult decisions. I genuinely believe that, but the fact is sometimes there is a different skill set required to deliver in difficult times. People have different strengths that suit different environments and challenges. 

In the first film the consiglieri of the Corleone family, their most trusted advisor, Tom Hagen, is demoted temporarily when a war breaks out between New York’s crime families. The reason given is this

“things are going to get rough, and I need a wartime consiglieri.” Michael Corleone

So the key reflections are…

are we consiglieri? Are we running our department – or playing a key role in the running the business? Do we have that level of trust and credibility with the most senior people in the organisation?

are we peacetime or wartime consiglieri? Are we at our best when the chips are down – or when we have time and space to think? Neither is necessarily better, but understanding which one you lean towards can help you do two things: i) reflect on where you need to strengthen your skills  ii) be aware of how much or little help you may be able to offer in different situations

do you notice changing requirements? if the dynamic of your business changes have you stopped and thought whether the team you needed yesterday is still the team you need for today? And tomorrow?

All done?

Well, very quickly,for those of you searching for work/life balance -, the Mafia had a good guiding rule on that too


Return of the HR Jedi

Ok… if you haven’t seen Star Wars then please just read my Blog on Jaws, if you haven’t seen Jaws then please read my Blog on Job Hunting. If you don’t have an awareness of any of these things then: congratulations on getting a job, why don’t you sit down this weekend and watch Jaws and Star Wars?

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, Stephen Tovey posted this blog. It’s well worth a read.

Stephen admitted to taking liberties with the consequences of my argument (I suggested Darth Vader was a bad hire due to high turnover and workplace bullying) and I will be really badly paraphrasing Stephen to make my counterpoint..

Obi-Wan: Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.

Go on then paraphrase him badly…

The substance of Stephen’s point was that sometimes HR are, at times, too fluffy (I agree) and not commercially focused enough (I concur) and need to do more dirty work (bang on). However, he also suggested that in times of economic turbulence or specific challenges we needed to be a bit more like Darth Vader and start swinging our lightsabers about – and stop worrying about culture and engagement for a bit – whilst we deal death to those in our care, to ensure the survival of the Empire.

The suggestion he makes is that making difficult decisions on people is somehow a ‘dark side’ thing, a sinister way of operating.

I think it should be the way we go about our business normally – principled, focused on outcomes, aware of the impact on people and prepared to make difficult calls. This is a Jedi thing – making tough calls for the best, it isn’t an evil thing.

Let me geek out to prove my point… 

Need to hide Luke and Leia from their Dad and lie about their identities?  Jedi can do that
Need to cut your former prodigy Annakin in half after an epic battle in a lava pit? Jedi are up for that
Need to coach some people into thinking these aren’t the droids they are looking for? Jedi are all over that
Need to blow up an entire Death Star full of people? Jedis get medals for it

But you never question that they are the good guys.

The point is that making difficult decisions and carrying out unpalatable actions isn’t being evil, they are practical requirements that can be consistent with with principle. HR isn’t just about being caring and mindful of people’s feelings, it is about action and tough decisions – but there is no reason that actions can’t be carried out in a caring and mindful way.

Yes, we might have to make people redundant, but managing that process with dignity is what ensures we can remain true to ourselves – it is possible to carry out a necessary evil without necessarily becoming evil.

Just because you have to make tough choices doesn’t mean you ignore what you believe about the way a business should behave – because if you start to do that, even for a second – if you think that culture and engagement is getting in the way of real work…well…

Yoda:  A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice. 

In difficult times we can’t abandon our principles, we may have to apply them in a different way, but principles can’t be seen as temporary things. HR’s rush to be seen as a commercial contributor shouldn’t be an excuse for us turning evil, just a wake up call that it is no use being good without being brave.

In the words of Jon Stewart (who links tenuously to Star Wars, but is brilliantly quotable)


“if we can’t practice our principles when we’re being tested, our principles are not principles. They are hobbies”

And if you ever did wonder about how Darth Vader fits in the management structure on the Death Star…

Why only 5% of recruitment agencies are useful

(I’m happily consulting now – this was published back in May – my experiences didn’t get better….)

I’m currently ‘looking for new opportunities’ which, apparently, together with ‘freelance’, is what you say so that people feel comfortable talking to the person who hasn’t got a permanent role. 
I’ve been lucky enough to do some consultancy work, but I’m still looking for a home. Which means job seeking. And job seeking isn’t something that I’ve really had to do before. Since it has been a hellishly unfun process I thought I would share some of my learnings and frustrations, so that if anyone else is in a similar position they can think ‘wow, it’s not just me finding that….’
So let’s approach things in a completely non sequential order 

Is this the one where you rant about not having a job?Yes. Completely. It isn’t even really a controlled rant. I’m hopeful of a new role, the market seems to be picking up, but I’m also stunningly disappointed by a whole clutch of agencies. 

So…what are you doing in your job hunt now? 

I’m going social media crazy.Twitter has been a great tool, allowing me to feel part of a community and to discuss and input on HR issues. I’m writing this blog due to people inspiring me with theirs and my first blog post attracted more views from across the world than I thought was possible. The HR community in New Zealand have been an unexpected bonus addition to my network and I hope I retain my loyal readership in Canada!

I suppose I started doing this in the hope someone might spot me online and think ‘I like the way he thinks’ – now it is more about adding purpose to my days and I’ve met some great supportive, smart people.

I do have a couple of agencies that have been absolutely great and understand what Kierkegaard meant when he said ‘if you label me, you negate me’. I mean this in a broad sense, I haven’t made them take a Kierkegaard interpretation assessment. 

They are working hard for me, but  I’m aware others have my CV gathering dust in a ‘I might have to do some work to earn commission on this, I’ll wait until someone phones me and specifically asks for a David D’Souza’ pile.
So you used social media to circulate your CV to cut out the agencies? 

Yes… I designed an online CV that hopefully does more justice to my capabilities than my normal one (more of that in a minute…). This CV has been generously shared by a few people that I am thanking here – and some others that I’ve already thanked online….I’ve thanked Neil Morrison in two blogs in a row, so I will never mention him again, in order to prevent him checking my blog every day to see a new tribute.
@recruitgal @neilmorrison @GarethMartin46 @sukhpabial

The CV has got a pretty good reception, so if anyone wants to steal the template or any advice then let me know.
So why, with such awesome award winning recruitment agencies about today did you have to rely on appealing to the kindness of strangers to tweet your CV? 
Great question, glad you asked it.Very convenient. 
It became clear to me after a short while of trudging around agencies that they fit into three categories

i) great – interested in you and prepared to be proactive on your behalf  (about5 per cent)
ii) competent – if you have a straightforward skill set and will accept anything they offer (25 per cent)
iii) abysmal – not interested in anything except  ‘HR Manager, CIPD qualified, worked in Blue Chip multinational matrixed environment in FS’ . This is to the extent that if I had walked in and declared a desire to be King of America I might have had more feigned interest (70 per cent)

I’m looking forward to my next role and vengefully striking the 70 per cent off that company’s PSL. This may seem an overreaction, but 

  • putting someone forward for a role and then not giving them a progress update  then not replying to emails and calls from the candidate to get an update? Shocking. I’ve had 3 large agencies do that. Forget business ethics, forget efficiency. Manners still matter. 
  • Travelling an hour to meet someone who hasn’t read page 2 of your 2 page CV? Done that too.
  • Another genuine exchange…’We reviewed your CV and thought you would be interested in this role as a qualified Occupational Psychologist’. ‘but I’m not a qualified Occupational Psychologist’ ‘oh, what do you do again?’. 
Maybe you are just a really poor candidate?
Possibly,even if I was, poor candidates deserve to be treated with dignity too. Agencies should be managing the candidate experience across the piece – not just for candidates that progress.
My CV, on its own, doesn’t bring to life that I’ve done and what I’ve contributed, I’m just awkward like that. Have I managed the agencies well? Probably not. Is it still reasonable to expect more from them? Yes. 

Having done a fair bit of recruitment in my time I know the questions that will be in the mind of the hiring manager  e.g. Why leave this place at this time? How big was that company? He claims to do several things – what is he actually? Why would an OD Manager have a Shared Services Manager reporting into him?  He just sounds too charismatic and good looking to be real?

So I’m smart enough to know that I probably haven’t passed the initial CV sift. I accept that, but if you met me for coffee it would be a different story,  I just don’t fit well into a box. 

In an industry where people are talking consistently about challenging the status quo, being commercial and looking for diversity that should be a USP, not a block. I do culture, data, operational and strategic – why would you want someone to do less? 

And if agencies aren’t prepared to challenge perceptions and promote my capabilities  – how are they earning a fee and what are companies paying them for?. 

I don’t want them picking up a fee for placing me if they haven’t done any work – and when I get my next role I will be resisting paying them a fee for simply shuffling paper towards me without more context. Rant over. Enjoy the video if you haven’t seen it..

Training a Great White Shark

About 3 years ago I started writing a book. That book was never published for a variety of reasons, chiefly that I only ever wrote 6 pages and it wasn’t very good. It was going to be on lessons for business from the movies – and then suddenly everyone was writing about business lessons from the movies, so I stopped and left my notes in an electronic dusty corner. 


Recently, with some time on my hands,  I have started reading some great blogs and one of them is by a gentleman called Neil Morrison (or @neilmorrison is his cryptic twitter handle). I’m looking for my next opportunity and he generously tweeted my CV (if he reads this ‘thanks!). 


Whilst following him I noticed that people referred to him as NeMo AND Finding Nemo is a film AND has sharks in. Now, if ever there was a sign that I should revisit some of my thoughts on Jaws and business, that seems like one. Non sequitur? Probably, but then the Blog title should be a hint. 


“They innocently assumed that they could get a shark trainer somewhere, who, with enough money, could get a great white shark to perform a few simple stunts…” Carl Gottlieb”

Some common facts that people know about Jaws and might volunteer in a pub quiz. 

What most people don’t know is some of the more detailed story behind the production – and that is awesome.The producers of the film, David Zanuck and Richard Brown were fresh from the success of ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ and confident in the extreme and looking for their next win.  They purchased the rights to the book of Jaws with a somewhat sketchy understanding of what filming it involved. 

As the planning process progressed, it was explained to them that their original plan of training a great white shark to do stunts was a nonstarter- and if they had found a shark of the proportions mentioned in the book (25 feet) there was unlikely to be anyone in the world likely to fancy attempting to train it  -‘shark whisperer’ is a profession with limited progression opportunities. 

So, they got innovative and created a mechanical shark for some shots  – and for some of the longer shots in the film what you are watching is genuine footage of sharks;  filmed off the coast of Australia with a 4ft 9” ex -jockey, placed in a scaled down shark cage to create the illusion of a giant shark in the footage.
Despite these problems the film was an incredible success, if you adjust for inflation it is in the Top10 highest grossing movies ever made, and success from such a poorly thought out start holds some interesting business lessons
  1. Some things simply can’t be bent to your will – it didn’t matter how much resource Zanuck and Brown had – they were never going to successfully train a Great White to do stunts. Abandoning your plans – and sometimes gracefully walking away from people – can be the best path to progress
  2. Money is, sometimes, not enough motivation – a film studio with millions available to it can recognise that, sometimes, money alone will not be enough to motivate people (here’s some cash, swim out towards that fin..). Identify where are you paying people more simply because you are putting them into an unattractive environment – and fix the environment.
  3. Judging success and people on output only is too simplistic – if Jaws had bombed – and I told you the producers assumed they could train a shark to do stunts – you would have assumed they were raging idiots. Luck always plays a part in success – and the big wins and black swans simply don’t average out over time. Remember that when your annual performance appraisals come around…
  4. People can innovate under pressure when committed to a purpose we have spent millions on rights to a book and it turns out we know nothing about sharks. We still have to make this happen… Sometimes we think of innovation as being i) crushed by pressure ii) about ‘big ideas’. Pragmatism is an underrated little brother to innovation. A big, hairy audacious goal with some pragmatists committed to it – and a blank sheet of paper – can occasionally work wonders
  5. A good story can compensate for plenty of goofs – if I can engage with you and help you believe in what I’m telling you, then you stop looking for holes and start having fun. Wilful suspension of disbelief works in business too – if someone points out that your idea, metaphorically, looks like a cheap rubber shark, then you haven’t shared your vision well enough
  6. Doing the same thing again doesn’t represent progress  people get tired and results  get worse through simply following the motions – Jaws 4: The Revenge holds a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the worst rated films of all time.
    Tired business models = uninspired people = uninspired result

  7. Never attempt more than 3 bullet points on your blog – oops

    And if you think you are smarter than Zanuck and Brown, because you wouldn’t try to train a shark – try and work out if you would have known it was such a bad idea if they hadn’t had such success with Jaws…