If only Darth Vader and the Grand Moffs had spent a little less time building Death Stars and a little more time reading IT articles, maybe the Galactic Empire would still be running strong today. But Palpatine and his crew just ignored too many best practices that an organization needs to follow if it is going to survive, whether in the global or intergalactic scene. Let’s recount three of the ways that the Empire dropped the ball and literally went up in smoke.
Stormtroopers & Target Practice
The Imperial Stormtroopers are supposed to be the most fearsome army in the galaxy. Yet in three movies, after hundreds of shots fired, they only manage to hit one of the most important rebels (Han Solo) one time! As far as the Rebel Alliance is concerned, the stormtroopers themselves are the target practice. The Empire’s problem is that it thinks dumping a large number of people on the same project is a sure-fire way to hasten getting positive desired outcomes. This is of course the wrong way of thinking, since not even a small moon’s worth of soldiers in A New Hope are able to detain Luke and his allies. Adding more and more people onto a project can in fact delay project completion even further.
What a project needs in order to succeed is people with the right skills for the job, and sometimes, that means you need to train your employees. Although many organizations fear that spending resources to provide additional training to employees will just allow them to take those new skills and hop ship to another company, the Empire had no such excuse. Who is going to cut you a fatter paycheck than Emperor Palpatine? Besides, those fears tend to be unfounded, as taking time to provide additional training often makes your employees more enthusiastic to stick around. If the Empire had better selected and better trained its stormtroopers, A New Hope would have been half as long and The Empire Strikes Back would have been two hours of Darth Vader playing volleyball at the Hamptons.
We Shall Build a Giant Superweapon, Twice
The Galactic Empire thinks big—too big. They devote all their energy to the project of building the first Death Star in A New Hope, and the project’s ultimate failure at the hands of Luke Skywalker has catastrophic repercussions. Grand Moff Tarkin is lost, along with at least hundreds of thousands of other Imperial soldiers on board, not to mention the inconceivable amount of money squandered building the thing. But their response to this disaster is just to build another Death Star! Again, this is clearly the wrong way to go.
The problem this time is the Empire dedicates too many resources to projects where the consequences for failure are so serious and disruptive that there is no chance to learn from the failure. This is a wasted opportunity, especially since CIOs have noted before that the moment of project failure is the best time to learn lessons and start applying them right away. But the caveat is that you must fail fast and small, not fast and gigantic. A good organization needs to be structured to start learning from its failures immediately, so that it does not waste all its time building a second giant weapon for its enemies to blow up at their earliest convenience.
Honesty Is the Best Policy (for Getting Choked)
Is there any reason to be completely honest when you are reporting to a project manager like Darth Vader? When an official expresses his “lack of faith” in Vader and his beliefs, Vader’s instant solution is to mangle the man’s trachea a little bit. Granted, this official was pretty rude in how he decided to phrase his mistrust, but there are still many examples in the movies of Vader (or, even worse, Palpatine) being a pretty rough character for whom to work. If any and all bad news is going to be met with rage and retribution, then there is no reason for Imperial officials to provide total transparency about anything, whether it regards benchmarking or risk management.
But what happens in an organization where nobody can tell the truth about whether risks are being monitored or goals are being met? They fall apart, naturally, just like the Galactic Empire. Vader himself in the aforementioned choking scene expresses a belief that the Death Star blueprints will not offer up any weakness for the Rebels to exploit. I would bet it is because the designers of the Death Star knew about the thermal exhaust port’s vulnerability and just decided to keep their lips shut about it for the sake of their own safety. If the Empire offered an atmosphere that allowed individuals to speak their minds and be open about concerns, Vader likely would have known about the Death Star’s single weakness and taken greater pains to protect it. An organization that does not espouse total honesty and transparency is essentially walking blind, and you can bet it will find itself marching straight into the Sarlacc pit.
In Conclusion, in Memoriam
The Galactic Empire might have saved itself if it did three things better. If it had been more selective in creating teams and training them, if it had had a system in place to learn quickly from its failures, and if it had fostered an atmosphere of total transparency, that statue of Emperor Palpatine on Coruscant just might still be standing today. But now all we are left with is “what ifs.” The reality is that the Empire is toast, and we have to accept it. The good news is that your organization stands to benefit by learning from their mistakes. The time of the Galactic Empire is over. Is the time of your empire just beginning?