People vs software

I don’t care how weird that might sound or how vehemently people think of themselves as “hardware,” we essentially are software. And I say this purely from an organisational context.

Before I rant further, I would like to allow Dave Winer elaborate on software all the way back from 1995:

Software is a process, it’s never finished, it’s always evolving. That’s its nature. We know our software sucks. But it’s shipping! Next time we’ll do better, but even then it will be shitty. The only software that’s perfect is one you’re dreaming about. Real software crashes, loses data, is hard to learn and hard to use. But it’s a process. We’ll make it less shitty. Just watch!

Dave Winer

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people are shitty. Far from it, but one can draw a lot of parallels between software and people at large:

  1. Both have tremendous potential to grow and develop into something spectacular. And that requires a considerable investment of time, money, and energy.
  2. Both are key assets for any organisation as they get work done and deliver results efficiently and effectively.
  3. Both have bugs/virus that need to be dealt with various methodologies — quarantines (warning letters), re-installations (performance improvement plans, most of which are designed to fail), and in worst-case scenarios discarded (fired) for a better alternative.

That said, people aren’t defined by their outcomes but who they are. A piece of software, on the other hand, is brought into being because of a problem it solves. They enable people and often complement their skills with utility. And when the software falls short of expectations, developers and consultants are called into to fix or tweak it until it works. If it doesn’t, well, it gets replaced but not after spending thousands of dollar (or a fortune in some case) down the drain!

Oh, how I wonder businesses would invest just one-fourth, perhaps even less, of their software-spend on growing and developing people. Believe me, the world would be a better place. But then, most of you reading this are probably somewhere in the middle management struggling with influencing your peers, subordinates, and your bosses. I get it — but you can’t argue with the truth.

As a leader, one of your primary responsibility is to build a culture that supports people development over software development. The former enable the latter and hence, the organisation at large. I know it’s common sense but is it common practice? I don’t think so. But, you can always change that by starting from where you are right now.

Ponder on these questions:

  1. What areas can you grow and develop in?
  2. What areas can your peers and team grow and develop in?
  3. How will that development impact the results you are accountable for?
  4. How will the results impact the culture at large?

All it takes is one person to take the first step towards positive change and focus on the right thing. Why can’t that be you?

Remember, if people are the software, culture is the code. You career as a leader is defined by the answer to this question: how have you shaped the culture of your organisations?

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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