Few days ago, something suddenly pop out of my mind. It was an inspiration from US President Abraham Lincoln: A nation is its people. I found this as a quintessential idea we tend to undermine in our so-called ‘modern’ era. I’ve seen so many examples of organizations who were unaware of people who construct them. Many government administrations treat their citizen as the lesser stakeholder of the state. Well, of course they would never say that about themselves, but from their policies and actions, we could comprehend who they are.
Let’s see how this perpetuates in organizational context. Many people I know think that what is essential in an organization is the work process; commonly referred as ‘management system’. When we put this into perspective, most people tend interpret ‘management system’ as work flow, indicators, procedures, rules, and control.
Here’s a question: Through what form an organization can express itself? Most likely these will be the possible answers: packaging, company website, productivity rate, company reputation, brand image, popularity and so on. To put it simple, the organization is a system, and a system is visible through its attributes and superficial structures. This is the underlying argument for it: After all, good or bad is always about what appears in the outside.
I agree with them, with a one caveat: Those who decide whether that system is going to work well, or not, are the people in the organization. What appears from the outside may as well be an engineered presentation of the organization to create a certain intended impression to the public. But, the real thing is what they really do inside the organization. They have the power to make everything go through, as well the power to derail it.
Thus, I think it will be a bit oversimplifying if we deny that an organization is its people. The people are the blood and nerves in the organization, and they constitutes the organization’s state of health and performance. All of the attributes, superficial structures and cultural artifacts are physical figure, clothes and accessories attached in the outward appearance. But, it’s the people’s interaction that gives the organization its heart pulse.
People affect the organization they belong, and at the same time, organization affecting its people. People may believe on the false image they created about ourselves as an organization. Such situation are commonly found when we observe deteriorating and corrupted organization are filled by insensible people with no ability to reflect and to learn from their failures.
On the other hand, organization with enlightened people may create great things beyond their imagination. I experienced frequent encounters with organizations with less structures and lack of fancy attributes, and yet, they’ve done many impressive advancements. With less advanced outward appearance, they prove themselves that they are no less formidable.
What people are doing represents what the organization are really doing. You can burn the building, tore it walls, and put off the fire; but people will rebuild the building, re-erect it walls, and light bonfires, if they decide to rise again.
Organization are its people. If an organization could see its own face in the mirror, then it will see people’s faces. They define the actual life of the organization. They are the soul of the organization.