Podcast EP 107 | Software is Not Management

There’s a trap that leaders can fall into, thinking that software can replace the important role of managing people.

Some software companies advocate that their product will remove or reduce the need to manage and lead people. But this comes with a set of second-order consequences that affect employee engagement and retention. In the end, there is no substitute for leaders helping people to be great at their job.

In this episode of The Growth Whisperers podcast, Brad Giles and Kevin Lawrence talk about how software is highly effective at automating processes that are inefficient, but cannot replace human to human interactions. They also discuss the line between automating tasks and managing people to be more effective.




Please note that this episode was transcribed using an AI application and may not be 100% grammatically correct – but it will still allow you to scan the episode for key content.

Kevin Lawrence  00:12

Welcome to the growth whisperers podcast where everything that Brad and I talk about is related to building enduring, great companies. Because that’s what we care about. I’m Kevin Lawrence, here today, as always, for the 107 time, with the wonderful Brad Giles from down in Australia, Brad, how you doing today?

Brad Giles  00:33

Wonderful, had a super intense week last week with clients. And having a couple of days off this week, which is great.

Kevin Lawrence  00:47

It was great today to have two thirds of my team face to face for our quarterly. And that was awesome to have everyone back together again. And it’s just nothing like being in person for the connection and the relational part. Sometimes it’s not as productive because you get chatting, which is also I think, a wonderful thing for your bonds and your relationships in the culture. So what, what are we digging into today?

Brad Giles  01:20

It’s the trap of thinking that software is management. But something that we’ve come to kind of come across. And we spent a very long time talking about this subject today.

Kevin Lawrence  01:42

Yes, we had a great debate about it. We’ll get into that.  What’s your word of the day today?

Brad Giles  01:48

Oh, look, it’s really recuperation. Last week, I was starting between six and 7am every day, and some of my last meetings were at eight at eight at night. And so yeah, for me, it’s I’m just switched off, and really had the opportunity to recuperate. And what about you, Kev?

Kevin Lawrence  02:09

Mine today is who. And not like the owl, I should talk with the owl mine, I’m gonna go with who for two reasons, because we just use this amazing and it’s not a new thing, then called the meeting owl Pro. If you’ve got a bunch of people in a room, and most of those video conferencing systems are challenging to be able to see people and hear people, we have to hack around them all the time. And we used it for a meeting today. And it was outstanding, because it just sits in the middle of the table. So that’s one part of who the other part of who is when you’re stuck on something, as Jim Collins has said many times in sessions with him is that your first question should be a who question. So that’s one thing also who from the owl perspective, because it’s an amazing tool for running virtual meetings, or when there’s people in person in a boardroom or a room? Or medium? And then who just always think about who is the best person that you can call to get something done? All right, well, let’s dig into about that and sewing those together, you know, like, who is going to make sure that you get the rejuvenation? Maybe that would be the question who, in my world, I need some accountability sometimes because I don’t do enough. That’s not a great, so together of those two, but we’ll take it. Awesome. So let’s dig into this trap of thinking software’s management. I gotta say, when Brad and I were talking about this, as we’re preparing for the show, he’s explaining some of the stuff that he’s seen in some companies. And I’ve seen some similar examples from a different lens of people thinking that software is actually management. Some bad words started coming out of my mouth, I’m like, You talking about? Like, of course, you know, software can’t manage people. And he’s gonna Oh, that’s not the things that some people are thinking that is a great idea these days. And he had some examples. So Brian, all I’ll just say is that we had some very great debates about this part of it, because I think it’s absolutely Looney Tunes. And he goes, Yeah, but Kevin, you know, you’re not a 23 year old tech entrepreneur. That’s, that’s true. I’m past that. So Brad, tell us more about what we’re thinking here and set up our conversation before we get into our concrete ideas.

Brad Giles  04:36

Thank you. Well, it’s a trap. Okay. It’s a trap that we can think that software is management, and specifically, management is management. And software is software. That’s kind of obvious, right? But more and more as the software as a service, you know, industry continues to flourish. You know, there’s a great saying from there, that software will eat the world. But, but there’s no substitute for having conversations with one’s manager. And that’s what employees need. And that’s what employees often crave, is engagement with their manager to help them to understand how to succeed, you know, and then there’s also accountability. So there’s, there’s, there’s a number of different areas that management applies, that drives employee engagement, that software, it just like in the foreseeable future, it won’t be able to counter. And so we’ve got to be careful because it is a trap, we’ve got to be careful that we don’t begin to think that software can actually take over the role of managing people and driving employee engagement.

Kevin Lawrence  06:02

Yeah, it totally, insanely logical to me, but there’s so tell us about some of the people that are going down a different road. Can you give some examples, Brad, you know, you shared some with me earlier? And what some of that thinking is that I just can’t relate to.

Brad Giles  06:19

So I’m writing a book about onboarding as an example. And I have seen in the onboarding world where people are selling software, and what they’re trying to do is say that he, this is everything, onboarding, okay. So as a manager, you will have the new hire come into the firm, and the onboarding, everything will be done by an automated process, or software, or what have you. And this employee will, after they’ve been through the onboarding, that is automated, they will front up to the manager, and they will be pristine, they will have a little bow tied around them because it’s all perfect. But the problem is that that may be a utopia for the manager, right? But imagine if you’re the new hire that’s coming into this firm, and you come in and you meet with the HR on your first day, and then they say, All right, so here’s what we want here to do. We want you to watch these 100 videos, and we want you to read these 27 documents. And then once you’ve done that, then maybe in two or three days, you can go and you’ll meet with your manager, and he’ll get you on the job. Or don’t do that, too. They well, do they do it? Or is it something that people are a trap that people are unwittingly beginning to observe? It’s the same, it’s the same as the hiring trap, right? So the hiring trap is that people think that there’s a vacancy, people are going to turn up on the day, after you place the vacancy, they will be in a player, and they’ll be able to start the day off. Right? It’s a trap, in the same way that this can be a trap.

Kevin Lawrence  08:15

If you listen to the marketing from some of the, you know, the the the the digital recruitment companies, they talk about matching candidates and stuff like that. And we know that’s not one day, maybe that’ll happen. I you know, I and I’ve got a company that’s trying to work on making that happen. They’re working on it. But yeah, it was the one thing that we know is that the software can be very powerful for enabling things in business. And it can also be a big pit of energy, money time, for things that it claims to do. And it does. So really what you’re saying here is that what we’re saying here is, you know, be careful of, of software that automates things that really should, in the short, medium and long term be done by a manager with people because it adds to the engagement and the experience of the employee. So basically, don’t let the software remove the valuable part of the humaneness of work.

Brad Giles  09:14

So imagine that you have a football team and you’re watching the football game, what do you see in the break, so all teams will have a break, maybe a quarter at the quarter time, the team players will all run off to the coach or the series of coaches, and they will provide them with coaching and feedback and accountability and a whole range of things. Okay, well, well, that is akin to management. Okay, we are dealing with those employees. The players are running off and they’re having a human to human experience. Well imagine instead of that if they came off the field. And then they went and looked at a series of iPad screens. So then you’ve got like the 12 or 20 players, and they’re always looking at the screen. Funny. It’d be hilarious. It would be funny, but we can’t imagine that in the foreseeable future. And like that engagement from a human is missing that passion. Yeah. Right. And so we’ve got to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of not driving employee engagement.

Kevin Lawrence  10:29

Yes. And basically, those management touch points that are incredibly high value and critical. Yeah, that is awesome. Great. So our first kind of point on this is software matters. It is critical to growing and scaling most companies these days, it automates processes that are inefficient. And it can make people more effective, no two ways about it. And even with onboarding, there is software things that can assist in that, and making an awesome onboarding process. I know, for our team we use, we’re still using an Excel spreadsheet for it, to help us to map it out. I mean, even the fact that we have 13 week onboarding plan. Interesting. As a side note, one of our newest people that we on boarded, just gave feedback on our meeting, that was the most incredible onboarding they’ve ever had. They never felt so supported, included, educated, and there’s a guy on Dean on my team who drives up Ark did a magical job of it. And if we were at scale, we probably would have software to assist with it. But the key is, you know, it’s about the involvement and getting to know the people, the culture and things and building relationships, and not letting the software do jobs that it shouldn’t be doing. In many ways, it’s almost and here’s another great example, I’m thinking about this. It’s like you go out to a spectacular restaurant. I don’t want to be typing in my order to an iPad on the table. Right at a five star restaurant. That’s just not what I’m looking for. I’m looking for an experience, and to feel important and taken care of and enjoy the evening. I don’t want to be ordering off that that’s know, if I’m going to order takeout. I’m happy to do it online. Those are two very different experiences. And with our most important people we hire, we just don’t want to take them like a takeout treat them like a takeout order.

Brad Giles  12:24

Oh, because that you’re talking about only going out for dinner, which is one or two hours. But this is like 8, 10 12 hours a day like this, you know, work consumes so much of people’s time and lives. So yeah, yeah. And, and that is from their perspective. But let’s not come back, right. Retention matters. Employee engagement matters, like these things have real tangible outputs. So moving on to the next point, software doesn’t replace the human to human experience. And that’s what you’re kind of saying, right? It doesn’t replace the culture, it doesn’t replace the motivation or the accountability, but managers must still manage people managers job is to help people to perform to achieve the results that they need.

Kevin Lawrence  13:19

That’s almost a great definition of management, you just said they’re bred managers help people to perform, or to achieve what is expected of them. Awesome. Love that.

Brad Giles  13:29

So that is to understand what is to be expected of them. Right. So they help them to understand, and then they help to provide feedback and course correction and all of those things. I mean, you know, Google actually tried an experience where they had no managers, Google tried the experiment. I think it was in the mid 2000s, or early 2000s.

Kevin Lawrence  13:57

And at least more than at least a decade ago, from my recollection.

Brad Giles  14:01

So a lot of engineers said, we’re a modern company. We don’t need to have managers, you know, we can manage it ourselves. We use the OKR system. It’s highly effective. And we can do that right. And then they began to see some terrible outcomes as a result. So I think it lasted for about nine months to 12 months. And then they began to see the real ramifications of not having managers. And so then they said, Look, we’re going to do it the Google way. It’s not going to be the traditional way. But we still need managers to help people to understand what’s expected of them how to course correct to coach and to hold them accountable, all of those types of things.

Kevin Lawrence  14:46

Yep, makes sense. Anyway, you even said, there’s, you know, some AI software trying to run meetings and things and, you know, the thing that software doesn’t do the great managers do is also to empathize with people. Hear them Feel it, and then be there to help them find their own ways and figure out their own answers. But there’s support. And in many ways, we all good management sometimes is like good parenting of young children, you’re helping to grow and develop and make them independent and teach them skills. And, again, we’re massive believers in technology is just letting it do the job letting technology do the jobs. It shouldn’t. It’s awesome.

Brad Giles  15:28

Yeah. So yeah, we are massive fans of technology. But if you’re if you are looking at technology, just think, is this going a little tiny bit too far? Is this, is this going to affect my employee engagement? Is this is in that way? I mean, can you imagine, for example, being managed by Siri? You know, I mean, Siri would have to be one of the best artificial intelligence or human to human experiences that that that we get with software, right, in a verbal kind of way. And so there’s Siri for Apple, or there’s I think it’s Bixby for Google,

Kevin Lawrence  16:18

or Alexa for Amazon. I yell I yell at Alexa all the time.

Brad Giles  16:23

I like this is the best job. on a b2c type environment. This is the best job that the biggest technology companies in the world can provide us. Yep. And like, it’s, it’s awful. Half the time. Maybe it’s just that, that, you know, I’m from Australia, and we have a different accent. But I think generally that’s for simple things. Like, can you tell me how to get to the local shop? This is like, can you imagine if Siri was your manager, it’s farcical to even think about. But, and maybe one day. And it would lead to disengagement and retention issues.

Kevin Lawrence  17:13

Yes, and good managers help with engagement and helping, you know, find ways for people to be supported and believed in and giving the tidbits they need or the acknowledgement they need, or whatever it happens to be. And, again, there’s parts of that you don’t you wouldn’t want software to be able to do that. And maybe it will one day, but it sure is there today.

Brad Giles  17:36

The other thing is, is a software helping employees become more efficient by replacing menial data driven tasks? Or is it replacing management of people? So if you’re replacing inefficient data entry, or repeated data entry or anything, that’s just a grind? Now you have to do the ROI on end, you got to test it and see, does it actually make it better? Because there’s a lot of times when people think it makes it better, and it doesn’t, but you know, there’s doing that kind of stuff can be really, really good. Like, even just in our, our team meeting today, it’s a basic thing. But we’re just talking about the use of digital signatures for client signatures on projects, right? We never we’ve been doing it the old way. Here it is, sign it, send it back. And you know, people can digitally sign a PDF. But if you send like DocuSign, they open it up, they click, they put the signature and they just sign in a few spots, it takes 17 seconds. And it’s easy. There’s things like that. Automating stuff like that is a no brainer. For some companies that have a lot of people signing things. But that’s fine. versus, you know, holding people accountable, coaching, motivating, you know, and even the idea of trying to replace meetings just makes me cringe, with stuff like that, because you’re losing that relational, the teaching moments, the coaching moments, all those other things.

Brad Giles  19:05

Yeah. So ask yourself, Is this software helping employees become more efficient by replacing menial data driven tasks? Or is it replacing the management of people, so coaching, motivating, holding people accountable? Like that’s the kind of line in the sand that we might be advocating? That you think about, like, there’s got to be an area where if we go too far, it’s going to negatively impact these areas? Yep.

Kevin Lawrence  19:35

Awesome. So the main point is to kind of review this, the whole point is, is be careful not to let your automation and software pieces take away the management, which is the one on one, helping people to be great at their job. So software does matter. You just got to make sure that it’s helping things to be more efficient. It doesn’t replace the human experience the human interface, the building of culture and motivation and accountability and helping them see their potential and growth etc.

Brad Giles  20:09

So as an example, an extreme example, think about some of the software that you interact with at a human level, like Siri or Bixby from Apple or Google, or even Amazon Alexa, can you imagine this person being your manager, and that’s extreme, but we know it would lead to disengagement and retention issues. So we’ve got to, as leaders in the business, we’ve got to know that we can push this stuff too far. And some of the software companies will keep selling us the stuff, but we need to hold the line sometimes knowing that it could impact our retention. And then finally, we got to ask ourselves, is this helping employees become more efficient? In other words, is it replacing menial data driven tasks? Or is it replacing actually managing people? Coaching, motivating and holding people accountable? Well, that was a good check. Give a nice and quick. We probably spent about one quarter of the time doing the episode as we did actually debating it and getting clear on it.

So let’s move to close. You can find myself Brad Giles at evolution partners.com that are you and I’ve got an interesting newsletter that I put out every week, you may be able to subscribe to that. Of course, Kevin, you can find at lawrenceoldbu.wpengine.com. And he equally has an interesting newsletter, you can subscribe to there. You can find the two of us on youtube if that takes your fancy. And of course, we’re all good podcasts are found wherever you get your fix. Thanks for listening to the growth whisperers we hope that you have a great week. Have a good one.