What HR Can Learn From Ben Affleck: Grace, Professionalism, and Argo

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Feb 20, 2013

Editor’s Note: With the Academy Awards drawing near, TLNT again asked some prominent thought leaders to write about their favorite movie from this past year with a HR or talent management theme. We’ll feature one each day leading up to the Oscars ceremony on Feb. 24.

By China Gorman

HR is like Ben Affleck and Argo? Well, yeah.

Since Argo is based on a true story, we knew the ending before the movie even started. And it is a tribute to the director, Ben Affleck, that we were sitting on the edge of our seats as the story was coming to an end.

HR is a lot like that sometimes. HR pros can predict the outcomes of investigations, counseling sessions, new compensation plan rollouts, and open enrollment. But, they still have to go through the processes involved and keep an open mind.

What HR can learn from Argo

Sort of like the audience watching Argo.

Then there are the lengths to which HR will go to protect employees in their care.

There are always a few employees who wander off the path and need to be brought back into the fold. We’ve all got stories of how enterprising HR pros have worked invisibly behind the scenes and saved a job, transferred a great employee whose manager took an irrational dislike of them, re-recruited a colleague with one foot out the door, made sure the right employees were in the candidate pool for promotion, or lobbied successfully to change the performance review score of a productive employee.

HR isn’t against breaking some rules to make sure that employees get what they deserve. Much like Ben Affleck’s CIA agent creating a fictitious movie to get six American diplomats out of Iran – and breaking numerous CIA rules to do so.

Grace and professionalism – despite a snub

But the real reason HR is like Ben Affleck and Argo is that like HR, Ben can’t get any respect. His movie was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but Ben himself was not nominated for Best Director honors.

Ben Affleck, as CIA operative Tony Mendez, in the Oscar-nominated film "Argo."
Ben Affleck, as CIA operative Tony Mendez, in the Oscar-nominated film “Argo.”

Also like HR (I hope), Ben Affleck is the picture of professionalism and graciousness as the press covers the Best Director nomination snub. He has focused on the seven (7) other nominations the picture received and has been a model for being a team guy grateful for that recognition for his cast and crew.

This posture – whether authentic or not – has garnered (no pun intended) such attention that there’s a sort of movement forming to get Ben his due. Since being snubbed, Ben has won the following Best Director Awards:

And while Argo was certainly a long shot for the Academy Award for Best Picture when the Oscar nominations were announced last month, it now appears to be the film to beat due in part to Ben’s behavior.

Isn’t HR a lot like that? Never quite getting its due, but powering forward in the organization, doing its work competently and effectively? Doesn’t HR, having given up the furniture lament, kept on going, supporting the people and the people strategy in their organizations?

How HR can “be like Ben”

There’s a whole new “be like Ben” opportunity for HR:

  • Be competent;
  • Exceed expectations;
  • Be humble;
  • Be a team guy/gal;
  • Be professional;
  • Stay classy.

I kind of like thinking HR is the Ben Affleck of organizational life.

He doesn’t let snubs define who he is or what his contribution is. I like that.

And maybe, come Oscar night, with wife Jennifer Garner at his side, he’ll walk away with the big one: Best Picture of the Year!

You can read more from China Gorman on her blog at

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