People, Not Parts

3372-4617147136_922e11b983_b.jpg

The Dream Team – hanging out with some of the people at the Like Minds Summit 2010 at Bovey Castle.

Around the end of the last year I wrote a series of posts on ‘free from the factory‘, in which we talked about the shift from an industrial economy to a knowledge economy, and the change in business and society that followed.

The main point is that in a knowledge economy you don’t manage people like parts in a machine – you lead them and guide them, because unlike parts in a machine, they have the ability to develop and grow, rather than rust and break. It’s this difference in mindset, between managing production and leading people, that is the reason why most companies don’t get it.

The organisations that will thrive and are thriving are people-to-people. They value people, not parts. The news yesterday was that YouTube now has 2 billion views a day. Facebook is about to hit 500 million users. What causes their success? Factories that churn out products faster and cheaper (the way we compete in an industrial age), or are they teams of very skilled, highly motivated people whose synergy and vision creates communities and platforms with depth that better provide customised experiences that meet the emotional needs of other people (the way we compete in a knowledge age.)

What Separates People From Parts?

  • Parts need replacing to be better. People can learn new skills and develop themselves to become better.
  • Parts are designed to do one function. People can multi-task and have multiple facets.
  • Parts can’t create people. People can create parts.
  • Parts can do reproduction of tasks. People can create new tasks for parts to reproduce.
  • Parts clone. People customise.
  • Parts create volume. People create value.

Practically Investing In People

When we talk about innovation, people-to-people is perhaps one of the biggest fronts that it is happening on. Not because people haven’t always been important – but never before have people been this important. To compete on industrial differences – availability / cost / quality – is a hard game to dominate, especially if you are starting out. Costs have been driven so low that products and services are mostly commoditised.

Everything rises or falls on the leadership of your team. The way to differentiate is in your people. How?

  • Make self development part of the job. Create a culture of reflection and improvement.
  • Remove the one-function wizards. Create opportunity and exposure for new experiences – so that your team can apply their real asset to more situations.
  • Emphasise creativity. Expect people to create parts to replace what they used to do, so that they have time to innovate themselves.
  • Review how you do things, and get your team to observe and feedback on daily lessons. Have weekly “what did we learn” meetings to report findings.
  • Have your team figure out how to customise what you do to deeper levels. Let them write case studies.
  • Emphasise value in your language – show they how create an asset they are.

Being a leader of many teams for many years, I can attest to these things working. I just wish I had done a lot of them sooner.

The Main Point

You need to have a strong team, not a faster machine.

Your Leading Thoughts

  • What is the greatest thing you have done with a team of people? What is the lesson there?

Archived Comments

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    The chart in this Harvard Business School blog about mentoring Millienials stuck out as relevant.

    http://hbr.org/2010/05/mentoring-millennials/ar/1

    The young talent in work has very high expectations of their company, but IF engaged properly is easily has the highest productivity level of any generation. We’re known for being terribly lazy, but the reality is we’re terribly disengaged by an Industrialised day job.

    The art of people management is quite fluid, it requires more delegation and less oversight. This would be disaster if you weren’t able to engage people with more than a paycheck.

    In this TED talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNuOmTQdFjA Stefan Stagmeister outlines 3 levels of engagement for a company

    1) Job. I do this for the paycheck
    2) Career. I do this for my future / family
    3) Calling. I do this because I love it.

    In a knowledge and PEOPLE based economy, companies that can move people up the scale of engagement are at an advantage and will attract the brightest and best. Yet in a recession, how many companies can you think of doing the exact opposite? Going for easy work, lower down the value chain to “stay in business”. Reverting to an industrialised business, kills your competitive edge.

    There are two main types of innovation.

    Product Innovation
    Business Process Innovation

    A new product with a new business process is a radical innovation, and requires a whole bunch of R+D. The challenge we have as evangelists is to communicate the roadmap to new products and processes in baby steps. Luckily. Generation Y is pretty good at the big picture stuff, product of our fluffy “how do you feel about it” education!

    :o
    )

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Just to add another dimension to this discussion….

    THE POSITIVE SIDE OF PARTS

    People can learn a lot from parts, especially when it comes to key actions that build a thriving community.

    For example…

    PART-icipate: get involved; interact; add value – stop spectating. Shift from viewer to doer;

    PART-ner: commit to more than just the adhoc contribution. Become ‘load bearing’;

    PART-y: celebrate the wins; shares success stories; encourage each other as goals are scored.

    Just some thoughts to throw into the mix.

    Robin

    :)

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    It’s a bit of language etymology, but an amusing use thereof.

    Would you rather be a spare part, or a part of the whole? Sy-mantics

    ;)

  • http://radsmarts.com Robin Dickinson

    Hey Sy, I’m quite PART-ial to either.

    ;)

  • / Scott Gould

    LOL – Robin, all those PARTS are PEOPLE though, right?

    They are dynamic – not like the static parts in a machine.

    Throwing more into the mix

    :-)

    Scott

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    During my experience as team leader, I found that acknowledging individual successes in front of the team was a good way of show how you vale their input, it boosts also their confidence and therefore motivates more creativity.
    Totally agree that the staff is a company’s main asset, and I’d add not only in this new knowledge economy. However, I was recently reading an article that warned about a shortage of people with the right skills for the businesses in the knowledge economy.. The article was talking about the US, but do you reckon in the UK/Europe there is the same problem?

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Rosa

    Thanks for the comment and for sharing your experience.

    It’s an interesting time, because whilst that article cites a shortage of people with the right skills, our unemployment rates are so high, and hard workers who are keen to put their all into a job are not as rare as they used to be.

    I have a sneeky suspicion that this article is really pointing to companies who don’t want people who can LEARN, realistically, they want READY MADE PARTS.

    Would you agree?

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    That’s exactly the problem. Project Management was a classic example. There are some skills that only come with experience. It takes coming a long way very quickly for someone completely new to industry to be able to navigate that.

    You as an individual must sell your ability to do just that to a company, but I believe we have to sell the advantages of getting people, not parts. What’s in it for a company?

  • / Scott Gould

    Sy – true – it does take years to learn certain skills.

    I guess the advantages are, that if you create a culture where you are raising leaders up – nurturing your staff and hiring from within – investing in your people – then we begin to alleviate this problem.

    I’m not from a big org tho, so hard for me to say

  • http://www.sytaylor.net sytaylor

    It’s important not to undersell the desire of big operational organisations to manage cost. They’re competing with the far east, in a staggering economy & their old tools for profit margin aren’t working any more. They need people who can come in, roll up their sleeves and crack on. We as a generation are terrible at that. We want to know why first, and buy into the meaning.

    My goal is to educate both parties to the way the other side thinks. It took some serious fight to make a very operational based company see value in working differently… but it’s do-able if you do it right.

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    Yes Scott I do agree with you, in my opinion, those companies are taking advantage of the employers’ market that we’re in right now, to look for ‘perfect’ candidates, which I believe it could be someone with lots of ‘ready made parts’, rather than wanting to invest in someone who could probably outperform that ‘perfect’ employee, with a bit more time to self-develop in the company. Does that make sense?
    I guess they’re looking for quick fixes, but that doesn’t usually work with machines, let alone with people…!
    I also agree with what you say about investing in your people, I believe that in the long-run that’s a more beneficial approach for companies. However, as sytaylor points out, large (or small maybe too) are failing in engaging us GenY/Millenials, therefore, it is worth investing in someone that you know is going to leave the company in a few years time?

  • / Scott Gould

    I think in this respect, I lack experience. Glad to have you hear to share your wisdom!

  • / Scott Gould

    What I do is train interns. I’m doing it all the time – building a workforce up in preparation for tomorrow

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    Thats very good Scott, I’ve been an intern myself in 4 different places and I have experienced great differences in the training I’ve got, and that tells a lot about the company’s values…

    By the way, just yesterday this article came out, and I’d like to share with you, because I think is very relevant to the topic: http://www.pwc.com/gx/en/press-room/2010/Employ…
    It’s a survey from PriceWaterhouseCoopers that warns about a possible braindrain of the most talented employees…

  • / Scott Gould

    Excellent news Rosa – and thanks for the link. We must talk on Skype soon. I’m scottlegould

  • http://www.rosagarriga.net Rosa Garriga

    You’re welcome

    :)

    and sure, I’ll add you on Skype! I’m enjoying your posts a lot
    :)

  • / Scott Gould

    :-)

  • http://www.danblank.com DanBlank

    Hi Scott,
    Great points. They one that has a huge effect on the others is that in organizations of any type , there are many managers, and very very few leaders. The steps you listed are so critical, I think the bigger issue though is that most managers won’t follow them. There is a leadership shortage in the world, and because of it, we all lose.

    Wow – that sounded more negative than I meant it. I suppose I do see it as an opportunity for people to lead – to CARE – and not just manage.
    Thanks.
    -Dan

  • / Scott Gould

    Hey Dan

    Thanks for reading!

    I agree that leadership is a big missing element for most – or at least, leadership that isn’t just about position.

    Especially when we talk about socialising content, social media, social comms – leaderships is really required to lead these communities – because we are moving out of governance and into guidance.

    Scott

Leave a Reply