Articles & Blogs

The worth of an individual

29 June 2007
Vineet Nayar

Google search is truly a wonderful indicator of where an individual or society stands today. I recently Googled "worth of an individual' quote" , searching for different parameters for measuring a man. Of the 10 results that were returned on the first page, only three were talking of measuring the individual in non-monetary terms and one was a lesson plan for third graders! If it's symptomatic of the times we live in that Martin Luther King Jr's famous quote "the worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his origin or his social position..."? barely makes it on to the first page of a specific Net search, then we need to take another look at our times.

It is probably superfluous to state that the IT industry is driven entirely by people. And it is also ironically true that in some ways, the IT industry probably leads the pack when it comes to commoditising the individual. Value is perceived in terms of the bottom-line: salary versus contribution to the company coffers. But that is only a short-term goal. Whatever happened to the bigger picture?

It's quite simple. Do you feel that your only measure of worth is the money you make - either for yourself or your organisation? Surely it goes beyond that. And if you are consistently measured in these terms, dissatisfaction is bound to creep in sooner or later - sooner, if the attrition rates in the IT industry, at least, are anything to go by. High attrition rates equal instability particularly in an industry that is entirely people-driven. Instability means that any growth that takes place is erratic and not sustainable. Ergo, an unhappy or dissatisfied employee equals non-sustainable growth and spells doom for the organisation's and extrapolated from there, for the industry's future health.

The undue emphasis on processes rather than people in the IT industry is a skewed one today. We are concentrating so hard on developing standardised, idiot-proof processes that can serve as industry standards, that we overlook the individual's contribution to these in the first place. After all, wasn't it an individual or a group of them who came up with a particular process in the first place? While having the right kind of processes in place is extremely crucial, is setting them above people in the priority list truly a smart thing to do?

The closest people-dependent example I can think of, is an army. Manoeuvres are already defined by the book. The equipment is already there. Would you want just anyone with the requisite training to walk up there and take charge at a crucial point? Or would you feel that the smart thing to do would be to place an officer there who is known and respected by the men, can motivate them and has some relevant experience? Obviously the latter.

Why then, do we tend to think of people as so easily interchangeable when processes are in place? Each of them come in with their own unique skill sets and potential to contribute. It's in our interest to see that we maximise potential rather than minimise it.