Engineering People to Win
My biggest takeaway from my experiment with entrepreneurship is that people matter the most. If I look back at my greatest joys and my greatest disappointments, I find that they all deal with people. I am therefore surprised that organizations don’t put even more focus on people: their desires, aspirations, and dreams.
One or two generations ago, when the knowledge economy had not yet arrived, the industrial world was focused on machines: how do we make them more efficient, cost-effective, reliable, and safe? The machine was protected, revered, and even worshipped – because it was seen as a key driver of the global economy.
While it is easy to see how machines can be engineered to be efficient, cost effective, and reliable, can people be “engineered” to win? In my assessment, the answer is a resounding “yes”. How else can we explain the phenomenal culture of winning demonstrated over the years by teams like the New York Yankees? Why are the Trappist Monks at Mepkin Abbey able to effortlessly pull off miracles?
What do I mean when I say people can be “engineered to win”? Let me explain using an analogy. We all agree that parents play a huge role in the development of their children. They do so by being a role model, encouraging certain behaviors, discouraging others, and instilling a set of values in their children. Children learn, not just from what their parents tell them, but from the choices they see their parents making every day.
In exactly the same way, organizations play a huge role in the development of their employees. When organizations “live” the values that they espouse on their website, the values spring to life in a manner that is palpable. As an example, one of TEOCO’s values is to “Act with Courage”. When an employee decides to act with courage, invariably, he or she will make more mistakes than if they were to play it safe. To encourage our employees to “Act with Courage”, we must create a culture where failure to succeed is not looked down upon. The real failure is failing to try.
Why do we find so much bonhomie in some companies, but bitterness and unhappiness in others? Why do some organizations inspire loyalty while others instill fear? How is it possible that someone who is seen as a happy-go-lucky employee in one organization becomes reserved, cautious, and fearful in another? Can business success be the result of a culture of alignment with employees, clients, and the community?
All these are interesting questions, and they point to just one answer: Work culture is real and it matters. Work culture determines the kind of people we attract, the kind of people we retain, and what they try to accomplish. It is not just about inspiring people to fly. It’s also about creating a safety net to catch them just in case they fall. We must respect each one of our employees and tap into his or her passions. By doing so, we create an environment where employees feel valued and engaged and are motivated to excel. In the process, we can indeed engineer people to become winners!
With special thanks to Srinivas Bhogle for his support and contribution to this project.