Dee Hock was the founder and former CEO of Visa: a word many of us carry in our pocket. But we’re not here to learn about Visa or Dee Hock (although both of those subject would probably be worth your time). We’re here to talk about what Dee Hock is attributed to saying. Namely that it is the people within an organization that make the organization great or not. It’s not that the organization makes people great, but rather the people that create, grow, and sustain the organization that makes it great. We can spend our time designing systems and processes, but no matter how well the system is made, no matter how intricate and coordinated the machine is, the system will only work as good as the people who make it, run it, and sustain it.
An organization is a body of people with a particular purpose. This can be a business, a civilization, a family, a church, a school. We can also call it an “institution”. Each one has its own sphere of influence and plays a particular role in society over all. Some organizations consume (government) others produce (a business). It is a living breathing organism that has needs, ups and downs, ebbs and flows. It is something that grows naturally and needs support as it grows, but more fundamentally, it needs to grow within a solid foundation: the soil has to be such that provides all the needed nutrients to sustain the organism through summers and winters, abundance and lack.
In the context of a business (perhaps other contexts as well), the people who make up the coordinated efforts are what make a good system or a bad one. The people that start, run, create, and grow a business is what makes the difference.
A business can be viewed in multiple ways. Some see it as a machine with multiple gears all needing to be cared for, watched after, and lubricated. Perhaps a car is a way to view it. A piece of equipment that get’s you from point A to point B. The car is useless without the people. No matter how nice of a car we use, unless the people running and designing it are of the highest integrity and excellence, the vehicle won’t run smoothly.
Another way to view a business is as a garden or a tree: a naturally growing organism which requires consistent tending, pruning, and support. A garden is also dependent on the people working it and the soil being used. Likewise, a garden will only flourish based on the people who work in it and on it. You can have a great garden setup and a top notch system for production, yet it will only be as good as the people working in and on the process.
In all that we do, we will be surrounded with people. It is the people that drive systems, organizations, and institutions. Once we start viewing people as simply machines (or even worse, as diseases), our organizations will start to deteriorate as a piece of ungalvanized steel sitting in the rain with holes rusted through it.