Our age is swamped with technology.
From robotics to smartphones; from e-rickshaws to international space stations; from CRSPR-Cas9 to Solid State Drives. Human ingenuity and science are being rapidly encapsulated in complex algorithms and packaged into dense devices and executive routines. Governments and corporations are ramping up R&D budgets to create or acquire the next big technology, like with AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning.
Generally, a tech becomes Big Tech when it gives its possessor considerable competitive advantage over its rivals or power to influence society. Cutting-edge semiconductor design is one such thing, and smartphone makers are constantly pitted against each other in this regard.
I propose that people are the next Big Tech.
It is time to stop seeing employees as employees and start looking at them as creators. They create value. And they create that in myriad ways—as innovators, as customers, as educators, as thinkers, as leaders, as mentors, as opinion-makers, as decision-makers. Looking at employees as mere cogs in the wheel is failing to derive that value to the fullest extent.
We must recognize the fact that organizations do not just provide products and services to society; they also provide citizens.
Organizations should never underestimate the impact that they have on people beyond their workplace and how they can influence the general level of happiness in society.
Everybody works somewhere, often for most of their lives, and it is my contention that they derive a lot of their understanding about their fellow citizens from their workplace.
Their ideas of what is fair and what is not, what is kind and what is not, what is profit and what is not, what is a useful activity and what is not are strongly influenced by organizational culture and the behavior of their coworkers.
I believe that organizations—both corporate and non-corporate—that can re-frame their understanding of people as something more than just employees-on-the-rolls will be able to create a massive competitive edge over their rivals.
I must add here that what I\’m proposing is just the opposite of looking at employees as automatons. Automatons cannot think, feel, and express the way human beings can. That is the main USP of people. Yes, maybe one day Artificial Intelligence will become wholly human in that sense, but when that happens, we will have to address yet another debate on what it means to be human. So, we\’ll set that aside for the moment.
Currently (and in the near future at least) society is going to be by the people and for the people. People will continue create value that will be consumed by other people. Even if people work for animal rights and earth rights, they have the ultimate interest of mankind in their heart.
After all, in the long run, disappearing species and climate change are bad news for humans.
If we look at the various competitive advantages that an organization can have, be it strong R&D, great IPs, sales and distribution channels, cost/volume advantage, excellent management, superior processes—all have human beings behind them. It is the people who think and plan and execute these competitive advantages. So, it logically follows that what we really need to do is have the best people on board.
That is a foregone conclusion that management literature already acknowledges and promotes. But what is important is that we not only look at exceptional individuals as targets of acquisition, but also look at creating and nurturing those exceptional individuals within the ecosystem of the organization or society.
While it is important to get great people to work with you, it is more important to ensure that they do not become secondary to the technology or systems or processes that they are working on.
Systems will come and go. They have their use-by dates. But people as both the creators and consumers of systems have the infinite flexibility and intellectual capacity to create something that better serves the society. And as a society or an organization, this is where the organizational culture and ethics need to be frame-worked so that people\’s efforts are directed towards creating positive value (even while disrupting existing systems).
How can societies do that?
By investing in education, rights, and healthcare (both physical and mental). The difference between the research output of less-developed and developed nations is because in less-developed nations, people spend more of their energies in surviving. They do not have the luxury or the time to think big. They\’re often not encouraged to think different. Fragile ecosystems naturally elicit such a response. In developed nations, leisure and luxury contribute to the urge to innovate. It is a virtuous cycle.
Similarly, organizations that want to create a competitive edge through its employees should create an ecosystem where their innate creativity can be unleashed in a methodical way.
Redefine your offering as a product of creativity rather than a product of repetition. Reveal the values created by employees.
Wean yourself away from the thought that what you sell in the market is your primary offering.
Do you have efficient systems? Do you have cost-effective processes? Do you have a healthy work environment? Do you have a proactive innovation culture? Do you invest enough in learning and development? Do you provide family-care support? Do you allow employees to work without fear and prejudice?
Many organizations are already doing these things, but with the end goal as product/service sales in mind. That is the mindset that I think needs to change. Employees are also consumers. If we re-frame our employees as the main offering, then I\’m sure that organizations (that is, basically, people) can come up with various ways in which this offering can be the best for all consumers. Just like a smartphone maker would design a product with the best features for its consumers, can you instead ‘design’ employees that can be the best people who can work with you?
People as the main offering means that these people will design the products, services, technologies, processes, or virtually everything that will bring in your revenues. It also means that you must do everything that will result in your organization having better people than your rivals.
This idea as employees as being the main product/service/offering/tech is still in its infancy in my mind, but I believe that there is much to think about in this direction. How will organizations of the future be designed? How would hiring and compensation change to accommodate these changes? What would it mean to be a stakeholder? And much much more…