D'Arcy from Winnipeg
Solution Architecture, Business & Entrepreneurship, Microsoft, and Adoption

HR According to Batman

Monday, April 12, 2010 11:44 PM


Any idea who that guy is running alongside the Caped Crusader? That’s Nightwing, but you may know him as Robin…well, the first Robin anyway. There were actually like 5 Robin’s according to Wikipedia:

Dick Grayson, the original, who’s parents were circus performers killed by a gangster.

Jason Todd, who was caught trying to steal tires off of the Batmobile.

Tim Drake, who saw Dick’s parents die and figured out who Batman and Robin were.

and a few others that get into recent time travel/altered reality storylines.

What does this have to do with HR? Well, it somewhat ties in with an article by Alex Papadimoulis from 2008. In the article he talks about the “Cravath System”. The Craveth system was developed by a law firm called Cravath, Swaine & Moore back in the 19th century. In a nutshell, they believed in hiring the best and brightest straight out of school. These aspiring lawyers would then begin a fight for survival in the firm, with the strong surviving. In what’s termed the “Up and Out” rule, employees needed to be promoted within 3 years or leave the company. They should achieve partner within 7 – 8 years and no later than 10 after initially coming on board (read all about the system on Wikipedia here).

Back to Alex’s article, he quotes from a book published in 1947 about the lawfirm:

Under the “Cravath system” of taking a substantial number of men annually and keeping a current constantly moving up in the office, and its philosophy of tenure, men are constantly leaving… it is often difficult to keep the best men long enough to determine whether they shall be made partners, for Cravath-trained men are always in demand, usually at premium salaries.

And so we see a pattern forming here:

1. Hire a whole whack of smart college graduates

2. Put them to work

3. The ones that stick around should move up the ladder. The ones that don’t stick around served the company well and left to expound the quality of the Cravath firm. Those that didn’t fall into either of those categories were just let go.

There’s some interesting undercurrents to these ideas.

If you stick around, you better keep your feet moving!

I was at a Microsoft shindig a few months back, and was talking to a Microsoft employee. He shared that at MS you have 5 years to achieve a “senior” position within the company. Once you hit that mark, you can stay there for the rest of your career (he told about a guy who’s a “senior” developer and has been for the last 20+ years working on audio drivers for Windows), but you *must* hit that mark within the timeframe. What we see with Microsoft is Cravath’s system in action, whether intentional or not: bring in smart young people and see which ones stick.

You need to give people something to work towards.

Saying “You must reach this level or else!” is one way to look at it. The other way is to see achieving a higher rank in the organization as something for ambitious employees to reach towards. It’s important for an organization to always have the next generation of executives waiting in the wings, and unless you’re encouraging that early on you may find yourself in a position of needing to fill positions that nobody has been working towards. Now, you might suggest that this isn’t that big of a deal because you could just hire someone from outside the organization, but the Cravath system holds to the tenet of promoting internally; develop your own talent, since your business is the best place for the future leadership to learn teh business from.

It’s OK for people to quit.

Alex’s article really drives this point home, but its worth noting here also: its OK for your people to quit. In fact its inevitable…and more inevitable that it’ll be good people that leave. Some will stay and work towards the internal awards of promotion, but a number will get experience, serve the organization well, and then move on to something else.

This should be expected and treated as a natural business occurrence. The idea of an alumni of an organization begins to come into play here: “That guy used to work for <insert company here>”. There’s a benefit in that: those best and brightest will be drawn to your organization and your reputation will permeate your market through former staff that are sought after because of how well you nurtured them.

The Batman Hook

All of this brings us back to Batman and his HR practice: when Dick decided he’d had enough of the Robin schtick, he quit and became his own…but he was always associated with Batman and people understood where his training had come from.

To the Dark Knight’s credit, he continued training partners under the Robin brand. Luckily he didn’t have to worry about firing any of them (the ship sort of sails when you reveal a secret identity), although there was that unfortunate “quitting” of the second Robin when the Joker blew him up…but regardless, we see the Cravath system at work: bring in talent, expect great things, and be ok with whatever they decide for their careers.

It’s an interesting way to approach HR, and luckily for us our business isn’t as dangerous or over-the-top as the caped crusader’s.


# re: HR According to Batman

Some very good points are raised in here - great post D. 4/13/2010 7:00 PM | Ryan Caligiuri

# re: HR According to Batman

I really like what you had to say about having something to work for. I feel that it is almost viewed as a negative to have ambition anymore, glad to see that isn't always the case. 6/14/2010 7:47 PM | Aluminum Fence

# re: HR According to Batman

This looks like a nice comic. I loved Batman and Robin when I was a child - from the HR perspective it makes sense... 3/30/2013 6:56 AM | Miriam

Post a comment