How Star Wars helped supercharge company’s culture

Raleigh-Durham International Airport's CHRO sits down with HRD to talk employee engagement, training and talent pipelines

How Star Wars helped supercharge company’s culture

Employee engagement is crucial for the success of any organization – especially post pandemic. HR departments must find ways to build and maintain a positive culture, and one strategy that has proven rather effective is investing in fun.   

That’s something Donald Armstrong, CHRO at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (Rdu) in North Carolina, knows all too well. Speaking to HRD, Armstrong says that they host three to four events across the year, including May 4th – or Star Wars Day as it’s better known.   

“Employee engagement is a really important aspect of HR in any organization,” he says. “I think the more in tune you are with your employees, the more engaged your employees are, the more successful your organization is going to be. We have employee events where we do things to create a light-hearted environment. So, we’ll bring in food trucks and play games – it’s just time to let employees engage with each other outside of their daily routine. Interact in ways they normally wouldn’t.” 

Investing in fun as a culture component  

The issue for HR leaders is making these events fun without being gimmicky – and that’s hard road to hoe. Team building, if done incorrectly, can come across as a tad cringy. Luckily for Armstrong, their people are all in when it comes to immersive events – that sense of fun inherently a part of their culture, especially when it comes to onboarding.   

Over the last 18 months, Raleigh-Durham International Airport saw about 15% of their employee population turn over – meaning there’s quite a few new employees. These events help bring their new hires into the fold more effectively, says Armstong.  

“We want to engage them in ways that give them an opportunity to get to know us and get to know senior leadership in an environment where comfortable and safe,” says Armstrong. “We work really hard to lighten the mood a little bit and try to make it fun whenever we can.”  


This commitment to comraderies doesn’t end with onboarding. As Armstrong tells HRD, learning and development is a huge focus for Raleigh-Durham International Airport – so much so that they have their very own talent arm known as "RDUniversity." 

“RDUniversity offers a vast library of over 4,000 trainings accessible to employees at their convenience,” says Armstrong. “Learning is one of our core values - and our core values are part of everything that we do. Learning is also built in our performance reviews, in our offer letters – it’s everywhere. Learning is crucial to us which is why we try to create as many opportunities as possible for our people.” 

Succession planning in aviation  

Fortunately, Amrstrong says a lot of new hires at the Airport end up staying for years – sometimes forever. And when these long-serving employees finally retire, Armstrong’s development plans means that their successor is ready and waiting to step up.  

“We really try to promote from within as much as possible,” says Armstrong. “But we’re also constantly recruiting and bringing new talent into the organization. The airport environment is so unique – it’s not public sector nor is it private. It sits somewhere in the middle. As such, we hire a lot of different people – a lot of highly skilled and highly educated employees.  

“And so, when these people decide to transition out of the organization, we have to ensure we have people capable of stepping into those roles.” 

Interview by Chris Davis

Recent articles & video

Thought Leaders: AI megatrends and the future of HR

Kaiser employees walk off job in ‘historic’ mass strike action

HR leaders suing IBM for 'blatant' ageism

California Wingstop restaurants fined over $3 million for wage theft involving 550 workers

Most Read Articles

California minimum wage set to increase Jan. 1, 2024

EEOC slaps Tesla with "widespread and ongoing" racism lawsuit

California bill proposes protected leave for reproductive loss events