Internal Control Lessons from the Death Star Incident


After a major incident happens (even in space), some lessons learned from the auditor's report.

Darth Vader chewed quietly on still another stick of Nicorette gum, wondering why he ever took this government job as he glared across his desk at the young staff from internal audit nervously shuffling papers. The head of internal audit wouldn’t be there, some lame excuse about having to drop off the kids. The Death Star Incident, as it was now referred to, was a spectacular failure. The utter destruction of the most powerful weapon in the galaxy by a ragtag group of rebels was not only a tremendously demoralizing end to one of the Emperor’s pet projects (that was over budget and behind schedule), it put the Galactic Empire’s entire mission of Total Domination at risk.

Three points of the young internal auditor’s report stood out to Vader as he feigned an interested demeanor:

  • Background checks – The first line of defense to avoid a disaster is to know who you are working with. Outside services are available and relatively inexpensive. Conduct reference checks with known associates and ask if the candidate, no matter how talented, is on board with your mission, be it the education of children or total domination of the known universe. The second line of defense is actually to read and evaluate the results. Note: if you have to kidnap the project manager (in this case Galen Erso) with imperial storm troopers to get him to take the job, he might not be a good fit.
  • Periodic performance reviews – Performance reviews, both informal and formal, provide real-time input and insight into an employee’s performance. Open communications about expectations and goals will generally lead to a more productive workplace, an alignment of goals, and future success. Although we often fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have time to schedule even informal reviews since we believe everyone knows how they are doing and the direction the organization is going, this important internal control will reduce the necessity to summarily punish/execute middle management due to a disturbing “lack of faith”, thereby reducing turn over and increasing morale.
  • Institute a Hotline – Let’s face it, it’s not easy to be a low-level engineer or even a storm trooper on your run of the mill Death Star. The “See Something – Say Something” posters in the lunchroom can only do so much for assuring valuable information gets to upper management. Plus, Lord Vader has been so touchy since his son showed up unannounced in the quadrant. Who was going to risk being wrong when there appeared to be a catastrophic design flaw in the Death Star providing an external target a little bigger than a womp rat that could doom the whole “Dominate the Entire Universe” mission, or even that the average storm trooper had not spent enough time on the firing range to hit the broad side of a battle cruiser? Often used to uncover suspicious, inappropriate, or even fraudulent activities, a well-managed hotline in place might have given management the eyes and ears at all levels they so desperately needed.

Vader thanked the young internal auditor profusely for bringing these matters to his attention, noting he felt these practices could undoubtedly help with any future Death Star projects in the future and immediately attached the auditor to a storm trooper garrison on the moon of Endor as he began to calculate his retirement points.

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