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…

One thought on “Return of the HR Jedi

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