HR Lessons from Star Trek Into Darkness (SPOILER ALERT)
Yes, I went to see the new Star Trek movie yesterday, Star Trek Into Darkness. I discovered that Regal Theaters at the Mall of Georgia was doing two shows yesterday evening before the midnight rush and my wife and I jumped on that opportunity.
As I thought about the movie this morning, it struck me that there were some HR lessons which could be learned. Let me mention that I will refer to things in the movie, and some of these may strike people as spoilers. If you don’t like spoilers, then I would suggest waiting on this article until after you have watched the movie.
First Insight: Know the Truly Important Things
After an early situation deteriorates in true Enterprise fashion, Kirk, played by Chris Pine, finds himself reprimanded by Admiral Pike, played by Bruce Greenwood. Kirk obviously is upset by this, but also obviously doesn’t understand at first. As the movie progresses, the events that transpire puts him in situations which allow him to see what his true purpose as the Captain is supposed to be.
This same phenomena occurs in our workplaces every day. We get caught up in the portion of our company’s activities in which we are involved and forget that there is a mission, a driving goal, a purpose, or whatever other terminology you wish to use. While our portion is important, perhaps even critical, it is still just a portion and too much focus might cause the overall mission to fail.
A common example in the business world comes from sales. Sales are at the core of everything that happens in the business world. But the wrong sales, sales which require too much effort and cost or that result in losses to the company can hurt the company instead of helping them. To the salesperson, the struggle is to keep this in mind when they are putting together the sale and to know when they need to walk away instead of accepting a bad sale. This becomes particularly hard when that salesperson is partially compensated based on their sales and they are faced with a smaller commission check if they do the right thing for the company. To add to this complication, each such situation will be different and the salesperson must be agile and perceptive enough to know what is the correct answer the majority of the time.
Second Insight: Know Your Customer
There are several situations in the movie where key events happen as the result of people’s insights and knowledge about what is important to other people. The distressed father, played by Noel Clarke, being approached with a solution to heal his sick daughter in exchange for a favor. Spock, played by Zachary Quinto, knowing what the villain wants and how to use that to help the Enterprise. The ongoing storyline of Kirk (and Uhura, played by Zoë Saldaña) understanding Spock and how he “feels” about events throughout the movie. The common theme here is the fact that you need to understand your “customer” (even if the transaction is handled in the form of blackmail.)
In the business world, everyone outside of sales can become easily confused about who their “customers” actually are. This often occurs as the result of mistaken understandings about the nature of where a job fits into the company’s mission.
Employees must understand that the company’s customers are everyone’s customers, even if that person does not work directly with the customer. The company’s customers are the ones who pay for services and ultimately their needs must be met or everything else is worthless and the company will collapse. Just like the Enterprise has to be kept working to save the crew, the employees have to look after the company to protect everyone at the company.
Of course, there is also a reason why each employee is hired. In most companies, each job is a critical component in the machine that turns customer desires into finished products which will be paid for. Failure to complete an individual’s job can result in other people getting pulled off of their duties, a domino effect which can eventually impact customers and the company’s ability to do and stay in business.
Third Insight: Know When to be Admit Your Mistakes
Of course, one of the best parts to me was seeing Kirk admit that he might have been wrong with Scotty, played by Simon Pegg. (Incidentally, I love this picture because the t-shirt has a storm trooper on it.)
In the go-go-go world of business, we can often become convinced that admitting any imperfection is a fate worse than death. However, just as Scotty’s attitude changed as a result of Kirk’s admission, most managers find that their employees’ attitudes will do the same. We are all human and I have generally found that people are fine with mistakes if they are admitted and owned up to. The worst way to handle mistakes is to attempt to hide or ignore their existence , because this practically invites others to focus on these things. Mistakes which should have been dealt with long ago and forgotten become “clear indications” of countless negative impressions and worst-case scenarios.
Additionally, the manager who fails to admit their mistakes can foster an atmosphere of deception. Employees feel justified in withholding information or outright lying to cover their own mistakes when their manager refuses to do the same. It is only a matter of time then until the manager faces discussions about how something happened and gets no response at all.
I could continue, but I need to eat some lunch. Here are a few others which I won’t detail because I ran out of time.
Knowing When to Withhold Irrelevant Information (Carol’s name deception)
Staying on the Same Page With Key Team Members (Kirk and Spock’s reports)
Keeping Personal Business Out of Work (Spock’s and Uhura’s fight)
Following a Task to Completion (Scotty and the dreadnaught)
Sometimes it is Who You Know Rather Than What You Know (Spock calling Spock, Kirk calling Scotty)
Fun to take lessons from the movie. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
–The HR Godfather