I thought that “Top Gun”, the movie, was all about Tom Cruise being utterly gorgeous to teenage girls growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s or those youngsters aspiring to fly jets and be called names like “Stinger” or “Goose”. It turns out that Top Gun is a film for HR and those involved in employing tech professionals. Here’s why:
I have recently reviewed Geoff Colvin’s international best-seller “Humans are Underrated” for HR Zone (read the review here). It’s mighty wake-up call about the changing skill requirements in our so-called Information Age, variously knows as the Digital Age or the Infotech Age. But it has a very happy ending for people and particularly for women, which I am remaining slightly undecided whether fair.
Top Gun sees Tom, the hero of the US Navy Fighter Weapons School in San Diego. That school was a training risk for the Navy and it proved a key point. Colvin in his book puts it that:
“It eventually dawned that…the technology was much less influential that the abilities of the people using it”.
The plot? Moving on from movies, the real storyline I precis like this.
The US had superior fighter jets but they kept losing in Vietnam. The navy and the air force were in it together and things were so bad that bombing had to stop. The air force did nothing about it, but the navy did. They changed their training programme, at said Tom-Cruise-school, and sought to use empathy to allow trainees to come closer to what fighting would actually be like. Simulations were created where the pretend enemy were very, very good, looked the part too and it all felt real. Things were recorded and played back. Everyone had to be involved in sharing de-briefs about what happened. Who acted, why and how and how did they feel? In short, when fighting resumed, the air force had gotten worse with the time out and the navy staggeringly better.
Lucky for us, clients, colleagues and partners of Phase 3 Consulting practise less life-or-death missions. But we do know that it is the people behind the technology that makes the difference. Not the jets but the pilots and the trainers. Context matters not, the conclusion is the same and that’s heartening when we consider too a future age, as tools become even more whizzy.

My key Top Gun lessons for HR Tech

  • The project team is a social unit and the sum is greater than that of its parts. Pay attention to empathetic relationships
  • Beware the difficulties of scale. Pairing up rather than teaming up may be more effective to deliver work streams
  • Technology training is worth investing in and expect coaching and upskilling methods from your experts which involve and make it real. Unlikely is that limited to a set of user guides or a one-day, one-directional information show
  • Allow the trainer to be strong. Present a challenge from the trainer or coach on tech and make that a challenging, active role and not a passive deliverer of fixed content
  • Draw upon lessons learned and do so as a group. At each project stage, play the metaphorical recording back.
  • However good the toolkit was if the motivation and feeling behind each stakeholder’s involvement was not aligned then all you’ll get is defence
  • Consider capabilities of suppliers and partners not only in terms of those technical or even resource-based, but in culture. Top Gun proved that total openness made sense

Top Gun for Tech says people need to feel what tech is like to use, work together to use it and wish to do so.

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