Man, Not Machine

@ this, online that, dot-com everywhere. Most of us don’t go through a waking hour of the day without benefiting from or relying upon the internet and the unlimited number of resources and solutions that are at our fingertips. So many things that used to require interaction with another human can be done online, by ourselves and for ourselves when it is convenient.

This is simply amazing. And to further the amazement in a scant twenty years we have evolved from accessing these miracles from a gigantic monochromatic green screened box on our office desk to literally having uninterrupted connections to an entire library of options on the internet at anytime in any place. Doubly amazing!

Any informational task formerly done by a person can now be done cheaper, faster, and better online, right? Not so fast, young whippersnappers. Woe be unto those who have concluded that the marvels of the information age are unlimited and the applications unbounded. There are limitations— if not to the material and methodology of the internet, then unquestionably to its effectiveness in many functions. There are some things that we can still only get by real, face-to-face, human-to-human time investment.

In business, one of the irreplaceable interactions is true talent development.

Admittedly, the internet is a great way to dispense information. We can learn about a product or service, we can read the "how to" manual for any number of functions. We can even watch video of other people doing what we are being trained to do. But there is no substitute for the experience of a seasoned veteran at our side, guiding our actions, giving us feedback and most importantly teaching us the "why" behind the "how" of crucial aspects to the job.

Think about your career. Somewhere in your past there have been many influential people that have taken the time to provide you an understanding of what you are doing, feedback on how to do it better, a guiding hand and a patient ear to support you while you went from inexperience to some level of mastery. What they offered was so much more than technical knowledge. Your sage provided encouragement, support, a sense of belonging, confidence, and gave you a sense of self worth and value to the company. This relationship in many ways became your motivation to work even harder. In very tangible ways, you want to make proud the person who spent time with you and believed you were worthy of investment.

While technology has transformed so much of our personal and professional lives, it has not changed the basic human need for connection and the innate sense of self created by the relationships we have with other people. Highly functional relationships require frequent physical proximity and the development of a relationship that transcends pure economic benefit. Accepting that no two people are exactly alike, we cannot presume that true talent development can occur with the same level of effectiveness across many people in a routine manner. The internet, online training and development are routine and predictable at their core. In diametric contrast, one-on-one, personal and interpersonal investment in development is absolutely unique and irreplaceable. If scarcity drives value, then the value of the investment one person makes in the growth of another is priceless.

The only durable point of differentiation between competitive enterprises today and going forward is the ability to attract, develop and retain superior talent. The most talented people always have nearly unlimited options. If your company is known to invest in true development of people’s abilities and talents and generously invests in providing real face-to-face, expert-to-protêgê experience and knowledge sharing, you will have a demonstrable competitive edge. As employees are ever more pressed for productivity and tactical knowledge, companies that grow people will become prized employers.

By investing in people and truly developing them for their long term success, your company will realize at least four very tangible and measurable benefits:

  • Your pipeline of candidates for open positions will fill and remain full. Good, talented people want to work with equally talented and committed people. Every company has an employer brand. If your employer brand is centered on the complete development of your team, you will have talented people standing in line to work for you.
  • The quality of the work your company does will be off the charts. It is no secret that highly skilled, well-trained and appreciated employees do the best work. If your people feel great about what the company is doing for them and investing in them, they will reward your company by giving their best. You get what you give.
  • People don’t leave companies that they love and where they feel appreciated. If you want turnover to go down, increase the investment you are making in your people. Rest assured that people who are experiencing consistent and persistent investment in their development will not jump to another employer. Lower turnover of your best people yields higher profits. A residual effect is that you will also raise the bar and likely weed out the low performers.
  • One of the greatest joys of mastery is the opportunity to share what you have learned and watch your students excel. Keeping seasoned veterans engaged and growing is always a challenge. By asking your best people to train the next generation, you honor their expertise and allow them to remain relevant and valuable to the organization even in the latter stages of their career. The ROI for the company of capturing and spreading accumulated wisdom is very high, even if it is hard to measure on a spreadsheet.

Yes, the internet is a great tool. Yes, technology has revolutionized nearly everything in the world. But when it comes down to really teaching your people and building foundations of rock-solid talent, there is no substitute for old fashioned, one-on-one, face-to-face, person-to-person relationships. Your company will excel when your people excel, and your people will excel when a person—not a machine—shows them the path to success.