HR hero lessons from Avengers: Endgame

There are many things HR can learn from superheroes, including how to tackle complacency, mediocrity, fear, poor management, hierarchy and loss of voice

Complacency occurs from not wanting to rock the boat. Mediocrity is accepting okay is good enough rather than pursuing excellence and quality. Fear of technology and numbers has been the Achilles heal of many an HR practitioner. Effective line managers have the greatest impact on the bottom line, productivity, morale and culture in organisations so it makes sense for us to support them through management development programmes and executive coaching. Being an enabler for employee voice is critical to ensure engagement, ownership and innovation across the breadth and depth of organisations.

Further reading

Measuring leadership effectiveness

Effective governance a "massive HR challenge", says leading academic

Second-in-command doesn't have to mean second-best

HRDs are the consiglieri of the C-suite

The Avengers come in many shapes and sizes and this is very true of the first hero on this list. Ant Man’s size-changing ability gives us much to reflect on. When HR gets involved with an issue in the organisation we have a tendency to cause an escalation, making matters seem far more complex and problematic than they need to be. We need to improve our ability to manage situations so they can become small, contained and resolvable.

Just like Black Widow being flexible and adaptable, HR needs to rethink its approach too. Best practice does not work. Best fit, working in an agile way, based on capacity, resources, capabilities, organisational appetite, context and sector is a far better strategy for the HR practitioner. It is great to see Black Widow being announced as a future film project, underscoring the importance of having gender represented on equal footing.

Having a more focused approach like Hawkeye will help to build our credibility in the workplace. It is far too easy to follow the latest fad or trend. Being clear on what we are doing and more importantly why, with a clear focus on what outcomes we are trying to achieve, will ensure we have our ‘eyes on the prize’, hitting the target every time.

Technology needs to be embraced, not shunned or feared, learning lessons from Iron Man and War Machine. Just like Tony Stark we should be futurists, thinking about the world of work of tomorrow, today. We should not be satisfied with the status quo. And like the ever-evolving suits of armour, we should always be working on what will bring an added value to that relationship between man and machine.

Captain America embodies the struggle to do the right thing regardless of the challenge being insurmountable. His grit and determination is his real superpower. It takes courage to take a stand but in doing so we earn our place as a profession championing good governance and advocating for the people. Our shield is the values and the dignity with which we live them.

Stan Lee’s immortal words “with great power comes great responsibility” shaped Peter Parker’s character forever, creating the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man we all know and love. As HR we too should be friendly and approachable rather than a policing function. We have responsibility for the people of the organisation and if we take ownership of all it entails then we become truly powerful.

The values and culture we are responsible for crafting and embedding becomes the bedrock of our source of strength. In that regard we are similar to that green Goliath the Hulk, but like him our power needs to be tempered with compassion so we do not lose control and the beast is reined in. It is because we have the capacity to be giants in the workplace that we need to tread carefully and be conscious of our footprint.

To be worthy of that power we are akin to Thor. His hammer bears the inscription “whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy shall possess the power of Thor”. To be worthy we have to have earned our place in our organisations, to not simply become an extension of management or reduced to ‘tea and sympathy’. When we are worthy we will see HR having credibility and organisation-wide support, and be seen as an integral strategic added value rather than a limited compliance function.

In HR we are often walking a fine line between staff and management, being both an executive governance function but also an advocate for the people in the workplace. But when we are able to bring all these different elements together – by making issues small for the organisation, being adaptable, being focused, embracing the future, doing the right thing, taking responsibility for governance and the people, being conscious of our power and being worthy to wield it – then and only then, just like Dr Strange and Scarlet Witch, are we able to make magic happen.

You don’t have to wear your underpants on the outside, but we can all be HR heroes, changing the world one day at a time. You can't spell hero without HR.

Shakil Butt is founder of HR Hero for Hire, and former HR and OD director at Islamic Relief Worldwide