Tuesday, December 17, 2019

3 Lessons on Change from Star Wars

Jordan Magenta, Senior Strategist

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is nearly here, and just like every overly obsessed fan, I have just completed what was possibly my 100th watch-through of the series. Star Wars has long been a fixture in my life, ever since my brother and I were gifted The Empire Strikes Back on VHS at a young age. As I’ve grown older, I have picked up on new and interesting tidbits that I missed at a younger age. Now, as a member of Rightpoint’s Business Design team, my perspectives as a Strategist and Change Analyst have once again altered my perceptions of my beloved childhood series. At the conclusion of my last viewing of The Last Jedi, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow! So many of these conflicts could have been prevented if the Resistance had a change management strategy.”

Here are three common change pitfalls the Resistance failed to avoid during The Last Jedi (for those of you who have yet to watch The Last Jedi, BEWARE OF SPOILERS AHEAD!):

A few basics:

The Resistance = The good guys, or your organization.

First Order = The bad guys, or an organizational challenge your company is trying to solve through change.

Failure to Involve Stakeholders – The Leia Problem:

Our beloved General and leader of the Resistance,Leia Organa, played by the late Carrie Fisher, kicks off a chain reaction of change failures that ultimately hurt the strength of her team. The movie opens with our heroes escaping a planet and fleeing the First Order. As the First Order chases the Resistance in space, Leia is severely injured when enemy forces blow up the bridge of her spaceship. Before getting injured, Leia had communicated a critical plan to escape from the First Order on smaller ships that could not be tracked in order to save the Resistance from impending doom. The problem is, she only communicated the plan to her next-in-command, Amilyn Holdo.

Leia’s decision to only share her change plan to one leader without involving other essential stakeholders, such as Poe Dameron (Commander of the Starfighter Corps a.k.a a very important fighter pilot), becomes a costly decision. This choice ultimately leads Amilyn Holdo to institute a poor communication policy, causing middle management members of the Alliance to go rogue with their own decisions. 

As your organization implements a new process, system, or project, remember to always consider essential stakeholders. In order to determine who these stakeholders are, consider the following questions:

  • Who does this change effect?
  • Could a particular person stop the change altogether?
  • What influence do they have within the organization?

Poor Communication – The Amilyn Holdo Problem:

Amilyn Holdo, played by Laura Dern (shout out to my fellow Big Little Lies viewers!), inherits ownership of a change plan from her boss, Leia. What is expected from her at this point is the execution of that plan, and one of the cornerstones of effective change execution is communication. An effective communication plan is tailored to a company’s variety of audiences and stakeholders to ensure that the change process is visible and understandable. When your organization is implementing change, your communication plan will be essential to successfully driving long-lasting, effective change.

Amilyn Holdo took a different approach, and please, never, ever do this. She decided to tell – yes, you guessed it – no one about the change plan. Yikes! Amilyn’s lack of communication was acceptable for many characters (perhaps they were informed off camera?) but frightened many others, including Poe Dameron, Rose Tico, and Finn. They are the other Rebel leaders and fighters who  were afraid that Amilyn was taking no action to escape the slowly encroaching ships of the First Order. So, what do people do when they see no plan? They further isolate and make a plan of their own.

Middle Management Unclear on its Role – The Poe, Rose, and Finn Problem:

For the sake of this blog, please consider Poe, Rose, and Finn all  ‘Middle Managers.’ I’m sure a much more involved Star Wars fan can correct me on their positioning within the Resistance, but for the sake of simplicity keep note that they are all on the same level. Since Poe, Rose, and Finn received no communications regarding Amilyn and Leia’s plan, they took it upon themselves to find an escape route from the First Order. They developed their own plan to board a First Order ship and hack its tracking devices so their enemies could no longer follow the Resistance after jumping into hyper-space (aka move the Resistance ship very far away from the First Order ship very quickly).

Sounds like a great plan! Except, they are discovered by the First Order and in the end, they inadvertently exposed Amilyn Holdo’s plan to hide from the First Order using escape pods, which in turn drove the First Order to destroy several pods.

Middle management always needs to stay well-informed and be given responsibilities within the change process. Without an active dialogue and a defined role, it is not uncommon to see middle management try to solve the intended problem on their own, or end-up woefully unprepared for change.

As you look ahead to 2020, keep in mind that change is not just inevitable, but necessary. Make sure your organization is prepared to approach change through active stakeholder involvement and engaging communications. May the change be with you.


Jordan Magenta is a Digital Strategist at Rightpoint. He is on a mission to bridge customer expectations and brand promises through powerful digital experiences. Connect with him about marketing, customer experience, and The Mandalorian on Twitter or LinkedIn.