This article was written by former MP and training and development expert Lembit Öpik, who is currently associate director of Leadenhall Consulting. In this article Lembit assesses the issues involved with managing the staff on humanity’s most famous Starship – the U.S.S. Enterprise – as he invites you to boldly go where no HR Manager has gone before.
‘Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, its five year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, new civilisations, to boldly go where no-one has gone before.’ Call me old-fashioned, but whenever I hear these words, I can’t help asking a simple question: ‘so who’s handling the HR?’
Now, I don’t really consider myself to be a ‘Trekkie.’ But, as I’m sure you know, the U.S.S. Enterprise (‘U.S.S.’ stands for ‘United Star Ship’) is the name given to not one vessel but to a series of vessels, each a development from the previous one. The first of these was the original ‘Constitution’ Class Starship with a crew compliment of about 430. Subsequent designs grew considerably in size, with the largest being the ‘Galaxy’ Class NCC-1701-D with a compliment of 1,014, and at over 700 metres in length more than twice the size of its first incarnation. The versions in between generally enjoyed a capacity of around 700-900 crew including visiting staff. (1)
From an HR perspective, this means we’re dealing here with a fairly substantial human resources challenge in what is literally quite an alien environment. Add to that the fact that for a large proportion of the time the ship and its operatives are being exposed to horrendous mortal danger, and you quickly realise that keeping the ship happy is going to require some quite impressive HR skills.
It must therefore be a matter of serious concern to any HR professional that no mention is ever made of a ‘Personnel Department,’ ‘Talent Management’, ‘Training & Development’ or even ‘Health & Safety’ – which, in the context of the extreme pressures experienced by Kirk and his crew would appear to be a shocking omission. But let’s leave that aside for now, and consider three aspects of the challenges facing you, as the newly appointed chief of Human Resources on board the Enterprise – noting again that you’ll be responsible for ensuring a satisfactorily functioning crew for the full five years of the mission.
Firstly, let’s consider the need for diversity training. As of the year 2366, no less than 13 species have been employed as part of the ship’s complement, including Betazoid, Klingon, El-Aurian, Vulcan, and of course Humans. (2)
Other species included Bolian, Benzite, Bajoran, Napean, and an android, affectionately known as ‘Data’ (who for some reason bears a striking resemblance to the current British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne). Given this diverse crew compliment, it will be vital that you ensure tolerance and understanding are the order for the day. For example, First Officer Spock comes from a species which embraces pure logic. Even though his mother was a human, causing him challenges with his emotional side, Spock generally displays all the characteristics of someone dominated in his thought processes by ‘left brain’ thinking: he’s an analyst, a logician, not an intuitive or ‘feelings driven’ character. So, you must ensure that the training you provide enables the much more spontaneous and mercurial Captain Kirk to value the difference – rather than to condemn it. If you are successful, you might even be able to prevent a repeat of the fractious exchange between Kirk and Spock when the latter’s life is saved by a violation of Starfleet protocol during the opening scenes of ‘Into Darkness.’ (3)
There are other challenges here too. It will not be lost on you that a certain amount of historical baggage will have been brought on board by the memory of the long running feud between the Clingons and the Federation. While negotiation eventually terminated the most violent elements of this dispute, underlying frictions persist. It is your duty to make sure these frictions are not permitted to manifest themselves in the operational day-to-day life of the crew. Your requirement for good conflict resolution training will be ever present.
Let’s turn to another issue that will weigh heavily on your shoulders as a Starfleet HR professional: mission and purpose. While bright eyed and ambitious crew will eagerly board the ship at the start of their voyage into the unknown, it’s very likely that this enthusiasm will eventually degrade into a more sanguine attitude. After all, if you’re not one of those fortunate to have your family on board for the half decade you’re away, you’re quite possibly going to get lonely. This is likely to create quite a lot of whinging. Only by keeping a close eye on the level of focus and clarity of purpose can you hope to prevent inefficiencies creeping in, as the search for new civilizations becomes, well, boring. Incidentally, you’ll also have to make sure the renumeration packages are always kept current. The last thing you want in space is a mutiny. It’s bad enough when this is caused by the alluring charms of a visiting stranger who knows only too well how to set the entire crew at war with itself using her cynical charms. (4) How much worse if the rebellion is provoked by a dispute over terms and conditions: in this later scenario, it’s your fault.
Oh, and on that point, you’ll also have to come up with an answer to the question from a crew member, as it will inevitably come: ‘is it alright to go out with another member of the crew?’ Given the First Officer’s own behaviour towards Lieutenant Uhura – though admittedly in the most trying of circumstances (5) – I think we all know the answer to this one!
Thirdly, there are questions of ensuring that the leadership of the crew – and indeed the entire ship – is never compromised. When faced with such an uncertain frontier, there will be times that the crew will be dissuaded from stepping up to the plate in terms of personal leadership – as well as in investing their faith in the good judgement of the Captain. This is a desperately difficult thing to ensure when, in a very real sense, they may face their own demise in the process. Leadership training is necessary at all levels of officers and teams. But you are lucky to have exceptional role models on board. Chief Engineer Scotty may not be able to ‘break the laws of physics,’ but he certainly holds to the laws of leadership. You’ll be able to use him and others to inculcate a natural and easy leadership style within the crew.
As for the Captain’s own leadership style, there’s a strong case for mentoring here – he’s a maverick and that requires empathic management. While his volatile nature may seem irksome at times, note also that this very same quality has saved the ship and crew on more than one occasion – even at the cost of himself being demoted for disregarding orders after literally saving earth from destruction. (6)
So, stifle him at your peril. And remember, there are things that he’s fixed which no HR manager can resolve – such as those terrifying encounters with the Borg. Since they operate as a collective ‘hive,’ with no concept of individual identity, it would be unfeasible for you to even consider creating some sort of ‘off-site development day’ to seek a creative solution. As we all know, they’ll simply assimilate you. (7) This, incidentally, probably explains why there is no record of a Borg ever being recruited to an H.R. position anywhere in the galaxy.
There’s so much more for you to keep a handle on. What are the working hours to be based around: earth days or some different rhythm more suited to other species? What’s acceptable rest & recreation activity? What about an impact assessment prior to beaming foreign bodies on board which may carry deadly bacteria? You’ll have to have answers for all of it.
Incidentally, I’ll be delighted to help you with any of these training requirements. We can have a chat remotely, or I’ll be happy to beam up to you and see what we can do by way of putting together bespoke programmes on diversity, conflict resolution, mission & values and leadership suited to you and your crew.
But there’s one thing I can’t change: the lack of recognition you yourself must inevitably accept. Despite your central role on the mission, you’ll have to deal with the ignominy of never, ever appearing on the bridge, or even getting a mention in James T. Kirk’s Captain’s Log. All I can suggest is that if he does ever happen ask you how you’re coping with your never-ending responsibilities, there’s one answer you may wish to give: ‘it’s life Jim, but not as I knew it.’
(4) Star Trek: Mutiny on the Enterprise, Robert E. Vardeman, 1983 (Pocket Books)