Skyfall moments – what HR can learn from James Bond

“Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together”

Ever since I first became hooked on Bond films as a young boy (Diamonds are Forever was my first since you ask), it’s become a ritual to go and see each new 007 release at the cinema. This is a tradition I seem to have passed onto my teenage son and this week we’ve both been to see Skyfall. It’s the 50th anniversary of the very first Bond film and Skyfall was something of a surprise to me. It starts as you expect any Bond film to begin, with lots of action and chasing around exotic locations. But then something unexpected happens. Bond fails on an important mission. He comes up short and then, while missing presumed dead, he goes to ground to re-evaluate his career.

This Bond is definitely different. At one point we see him in bed, sleeping lover by his side, sipping from a beer bottle. Blatant product placement for Heineken of course, but I half expected the camera to pan around and show he was watching football on a big flat screen TV. Chelsea fan possibly, but of course in reality he would have no loyalty to any team.

Anyway, the film takes some unexpected turns from there and becomes increasingly more retro with lots of nods to the Bond heritage. And this is where it gets interesting. Bond is supposedly washed up, not good enough, untrusted by those at the top table, a relic of the past using old methods. A bit like HR?

Without giving too much away for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, of course he comes through and delivers the right outcome as he always does. But he has to rely on the old ways, old tools and old thinking to get there with only a little bit of help from modern technology. No fancy gadgets, gimmicks, fads or social media anywhere to be seen.

Not strategic enough?

So where is he going with this I hear you ask? Well, like James Bond himself, modern HR has evolved a great deal over the last 20 years. We often have times in our organisations when the sky falls in. It might be loss of key staff, power struggles, downsizing, major accident or disaster, bad press etc.  All sorts of things can happen that suddenly throw HR right into the heart of a crisis.

And when that does happen, it is often the tried and true that gets us through. Not the fancy new technology or latest management/OD theory, not social media or strategic thinking, not even our all singing, all dancing information systems. No, it’s the old fashioned stuff HR have been doing forever from the personnel days that we rely on. Good records, good processes, experience and knowledge, calm and clear thinking, cleaning up the mess others have created, removing the casualties quickly and calmly and treating them with dignity and respect, a consoling arm here and a strong arm there. That’s when we in HR come into our own and what we do best in a crisis.

Yes, HR has evolved and needs to keep changing to remain relevant and ensure we are valued and trusted strategic business partners that add real value in our businesses.  But we also need to understand and acknowledge where we’ve come from instead of looking back with regret and embarrassment as seems to be the case these days. It has made us what we are today and has to remain a key part of our tool kit.

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