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Talent Assessment | 3 Min Read

Films and HR Lessons: HR Takeaways from Movies


There is no business like show business, and sure there are business lessons to be derived from movies. Harvard Business School builds a case study around the movie 12 Angry Men. Released way back in 1957, 12 Angry Men is a courtroom movie revolving around a murder trial, where a jury of 12 men cannot get to a common consensus. Similarly, Office Space is a satirical take on typical work-life in a software company and touches almost all HR issues; the movie has been a personal favorite for many HRs around the world.

It comes as no surprise that global conglomerates and premier B-schools around the world are using cinema as a means to teach management theories, lessons on team handling, leadership and group dynamics. Movies are not a mere indulgence anymore; they are a powerful learning aid. Movies have found their way into the HR Pandora box for motivating, engaging and training employees.

Through this blog post, we have tried to identify movies that solve basic HR problems of hiring the right candidate, motivating the employees, improving employee engagement, retaining a good employee and handling equal opportunity issues.

Best Candidates Come from the Most Unlikely Places



Most of us now know the story of Facebook and its creator Mark Zuckerberg-courtesy The Social Network. The film brilliantly weaves the life and times of Mark as a college student hacking his way into Harvard’s student data file to get pictures for his website Facemash (then)-ultimately giving him an idea to develop the social media giant-Facebook. The idea here is simple- hackers are not some meddling youngsters anymore; they are being hired by global giants like  Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft for their “real-skills.” There is a reason why hackathons and code-fests have become so popular because they test real skills and real talent. A great takeaway for HR recruiters from movies like The Social Network, Trading Places, and A Beautiful Mind is- bringing innovation into hiring. Judging a candidate merely on the basis of the credentials listed on his CV or by interviewing him is most likely to take you back to the wrong-hire loop.

It's All About Making the Right Connection


Quite instantly Invictus comes to the mind when we talk about engagement. Invictus– based on the biography of Nelson Mandela is a great movie in many aspects. This movie can be easily used to elucidate leadership and motivation in business. But, what strikes through the movie is Mandela’s ability to communicate and engage with the people of South Africa, whites and the blacks, torn apart by the racial times. In the movie (and also in real life), Mandela uses Rugby- a sport as a medium to bridge the gap between the blacks and the whites. The message in the movie is clear for the HR managers; employees can easily get disengaged and even pessimistic in their approach towards their work. It is the duty of the HRs to bring out the positives in them through games, parties, movie hosting and other such conducive activities.

It Starts with You


We know that a lot of learning and development executives are already using movies, video clips, animation, etc. in their presentation and training modules, but picking the right media to communicate your views effectively is also an art. Merely including a video in your training program for the “fun” element may not justify your training goals. In this respect, we have selected a few movies for you that can be a great medium for your specific training requirement. Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year, is an Indian movie which, although did not do a great job at the box office, narrates the story of an average graduate who is sincere and customer focused. While doing his job he does not compromise on his ideals and forms his own company- Rocket Sales Corporation. Even a tea seller is a partner in his company because it is the “real-skills,” not the educational qualifications that matter. Soon his company becomes successful because of his determination and customer-driven practices. The film quite overtly tackles the “not so clean” sales practices prevalent in several organizations. There are several takeaways from this movie- honest problem-solving sales practices, real skills against mere paper qualifications and last but not the least determination. Few other movies that talk of talent utilization and good industry practices are Shawshank Redemption3 Idiots, and Gandhi and Black for communication training.

Unity in Diversity



We talk about EEO policies and what’s a better example than Outsourced and The Internship. Both the movies aptly capture the cross-cultural amalgamation and answer various ethnic questions. While The Internship talks about two interns trying to win their jobs at Google along with other “Nooglers”- an Asian-American boy, an Indian-American girl and another guy who is constantly on phone, Outsourced follows the story of an American guy who has to outsource his call centre to India, gaining Indian cultural insights as he goes about doing his job. Both movies teach how a mixed set of employees from different cultures, backgrounds, ethnicities, gender, and colour can teach each other valuable lessons in team management. Another great movie in this league is Schindler’s List, where a German businessman employs thousands of Jews in his factory and saves them from the wrath of the Nazi governance.

People Leave People, Not Organizations


HR is essentially in the business of hiring people not firing them. While hiring people is a relatively easy job, firing an employee is an often awkward situation for HR managers.  Up in the Air beautifully captures this essence. Up in the Air silently reminds us that people make the organizations and when it comes to downsizing, the loss is of an organization not of the person who has been fired. In Up in the Air, George Clooney does the work of a “corporate downsizer” politely letting people go. Enter his fresher counterpart and suddenly firing becomes a more practical affair, ultimately cutting down company costs. The situation gets uglier with one of the fired employees committing suicide. Although, the movie teaches more about how to let people go, on the undercurrent it also elevates the importance of an employee for an organization. HR people have to understand that people leave people not organizations; they are either unhappy with their managers or the team they are working in. HR  people have to “talk it out” with their employees to identify key actionable areas so as to retain a resource. A similar approach is required during performance evaluation and appraisals.

Is there a movie you think we have missed? Or you would like to add a few more? Comment and let us know!


Are You Prepared for Future of Work

Originally published April 2 2018, Updated April 12 2024

About This Topic

Human Resource Management, also known as HRM, is the function that manages employees, starting from their recruitment and induction to development, appraisals and promotions, with the aim of maximizing their performance in-line with organizational objectives.

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