People are not resources… Published by Nasscom ICTAT

If you believe that people are “resources” to be managed, very much like other resources such as materials, machines and money, then this article is not for you.

If you are an organization wholly dependent on “people” for value creation, then read on…

Even if you are in to so called resource intensive industries such as manufacturing or mining, agriculture or live stock, BPO or body shopping, you would know that all the traditional resources – labour, land, materials, machines and money can no longer give that competitive edge and hence, it is people who really matter.

Then there is another shift that is happening everywhere. The purpose of an organization has changed from “making money” to “growing people”. From money is the purpose, people are the means, the paradigm is now, people are the purpose, money is the means.

I would like to quote two examples: One is Google, where people, their passion and creativity, creates not only vast amounts of wealth and money, but is also creating a huge impact on the human culture and civilization.

Another is HCL. In the early days of HCL, the organization was using (like most others in that space) vocabulary of materials management while dealing with people. “Sourcing”, “supply”, “pipe-line”, “inventory”, “indenting, assign, release, movement”, “bench-which had the same meaning and function of a store room “rack”.

But now HCL is trying to reinvent itself as a people centric organization to the extent of discarding “Shareholder first” and “Customer first” in favour of a new strategy that says “Employee first – Customer second”

There are other forces of change that are working beneath the surface, all of which are leading the world to a new order. Where impact on and growth of people (both internal as well as external) is the primary objective.

But making this philosophical and paradigm shift is only the first step on the road to a long journey.

Whether you are trying to transform the DNA of an evolving but old organization, or trying to embed this new age thinking in to the DNA of a new, emerging organization, the challenge is in breaking the established and accepted norms of behaviour and creating new patterns of thought and action – in essence a cultural change.

Can a piece of software determine the culture of your organization?

I cannot possibly explain how I came to this question, but it is easy to appreciate its usefulness once you hear it.

Any organization’s culture is deeply encoded in its systems and processes, in its formal and informal channels of communication, in its structure of power and relationships.

We all know that it is exactly the same protons, electrons and neutrons (just the quantities are different) that make iron as well as gold. It is the same hydrogen that burns and oxygen that aids burning, which when together as H2O, can put off a fire and quench our thirst.

Similarly, the systemic and emergent aspects of an organization have a downward causation on its culture. That is why, cultural change can never be achieved by trying to change the individuals, without changing the structures, systems, processes and relationships.

Many organizations automate their existing knowledge, structures and processes, investing tons of money, making the existing culture of the organization much more stronger and difficult to change.

Some use the opportunity provided by new technology to re-engineer their business processes, making improvements by many orders of magnitude.

But very few use technology consciously as a tool for cultural change.

Pitfalls to avoid

But while trying technology as a tool for cultural change, it is easy to fall in to traps. “Like re-engineering people processes”. Or “We are not managing people, but helping them to manage their precious resources such as time and skills”

Watching our vocabulary is an excellent way to “see” the prisms through which we see.

The word re-“engineering” – for obvious reasons – is not the appropriate word when dealing with people and culture.

And when we are managing time and skills, we are still dealing with “limited” “resources”, not with people and their unlimited potential.

History has many examples of how creativity in a fraction of a second makes many hours, days, years or even decades of effort redundant. And how people with no relevant skills (read past experience) have fundamentally changed the rules of the game in their field of action.

So creativity and entrepreneurial zeal of people (as against time and skills) have to be cultivated, nurtured and grown. And it has to be done gently like organic farming, not violently like contract farming.

People’s growth and development should be the central purpose around which every thing else have to be built. In essence, the culture of the organization has to be changed inside out.

The best way to do that is to use technology as a tool.

So Yes! A piece of software -simple or sophisticated does not matter – when it is conceptualized, designed and implemented from a people centric paradigm, can indeed set out a chain reaction of cultural changes in an organization or society.

What are you in business for?

But before attempting such an endeavour, every organization has to ask a very fundamental question about the purpose of its existence.

I would like to refer to the following articles for further reading on this subject:

1. Excerpts from the book Servant Leadership, by Robert K Greenleaf: http://www.synergita.com/article1.html

About the Author

Ramkumar R S, is currently the Director – Product Management at Asteor Software Inc. He is also the Founder- Director at Mango DVM, a venture capital funded company in the digital music space. He is a regular speaker at various forums and institutions on entrepreneurship and leadership. Ramkumar has done pioneering work in the area of “Synergistic Emergence and Downward Causation” in the context of Organizations. Links to his published papers, articles, ebooks and lectures can be found at http://www.rsrinnovations.com/pap.html

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