🌀 Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work

🌀 Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work

🌀 Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work

🌀 Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work

🌀 Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work


Leaders know how important employees are to their business, but how many intentionally build a people-first culture? People-first cultures are rooted in a philosophy that values people over profits. The ironic twist is that when employees are valued as whole individuals and provided the opportunity for well-being, connection, and fulfillment, companies are generally more innovative, resilient, and even profitable. Today I’m going to share with you five strategies to foster a people-first culture in your organization.

A company is simply a group of people working toward a common goal.

Companies are most successful when the best and brightest people are aligned, happy, and learning. Most leaders might cringe at the idea of basing their organization off human emotion — or becoming a business of feelings. But if they want their company to survive and thrive, it’s an idea they should get behind. While such talk is often put under the people over profits category, it’s really about putting people first, which can be done without a hit to the bottom line. In fact, the reverse can be true, made clear by the success of these companies with high levels of employee happiness.

The definition of a people-centered company is one that cares about their employees and is invested in their success. The individual is respected, valued and empowered.

Focusing on people makes good business sense. In the increasingly competitive landscape of goods and services, a company’s people are the differentiator. And companies aren’t just in competition for customer dollars. Even in tight job markets, skilled and high-performing employees have many options. Great company culture helps organizations stand out to attract — and keep — top talent.

To be people-centric is to put your people at the heart of everything you do, always. It’s putting the ‘human’ back into your business’ core.

Does your company actually care about its employees? Are they actively working to make this aspiration a reality? Putting people first isn’t just a gimmick. It’s an approach, a mentality, a way of thinking that leads to a sustainable business model. Here are 5 strategies for fostering a people-first culture so that your company reflects the vibrant and dynamic staff that keep it running.

Strategy #1: Start from The Top

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work - Start from The Top

You want to develop a set of values that every single person in the company knows and feels in their everyday experience. Help your leadership team identify these values and work together to make sure you build consistent practices and policies that reflect these values across the company. And you need to walk the talk. It’s pretty discouraging for employees when they see leadership say one thing but do the opposite. If you value collaboration, make sure each voice is heard and feels valued on a team.

Executives must set the tone throughout the organization.

Employees rely on leaders at all levels to set the tone of how communication will be delivered in any organization. This is the time where executives must prioritize, increasing the cadence of their connection to employees. Hosting a meeting with executives and employees creates a space for a Q&A discussion alongside weekly updates. For instance, Maximus Inc. President issued a public CEO message reinforcing his commitment to his employees as his single top priority to their health and wellbeing during the covid19 pandemic.

Humble leadership drives loyalty, which increases effort and retention. These increases lead to better service and an inspired customer experience, which drives revenue.

Take 86-year-old Executive Chairman Bill Marriott, who  finds his way to the cafeteria on the ground floor of the Bethesda, MD headquarters. He picks up a tray, chooses some food, stands in line, and pays for his meal just like any other employee. He then finds a table and has his lunch with anyone who wishes to join him. Despite being the executive chairman and one of the richest people in the country, Bill eschews special treatment. He shows up for lunch, as he does for board meetings, as an ordinary person. Not surprisingly, Bill Marriott’s leadership example cascades throughout the company. Corporate culture, after all, starts at the top.

In order to be a people-first culture, you need to actually care about your employees. 

Truly care about who they are as individuals, why they choose to spend a big part of their day working at your company, why you trust them to represent you to the external world, and their uniqueness. You may ask: How do you take this idea and apply it in real terms? Put simply, you start with your strategy — from the very top. Now you may not be in a role within HR that allows you to influence the CEO or Board of Directors, but you can still apply this for your organization (or within your own role — in the culture you create).

If you and your organization want to be people-centric and reap the rewards it yields, everyone from the top to the bottom needs to know and understand what this means, and commit to supporting and participating in such an approach.

Every process, every decision, every business function should be lead by the people. Employees need to know that they are the organization. They need to know that their voice is not only valued, but necessary. To emphasize the importance of the employee voice and to become a fully-fledged, people-centric organization you first and foremost need to establish communication channels that employees can use and feel confident in.

Strategy #2: Provide Real Feedback Opportunities

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work - Provide Real Feedback Opportunities

Employee engagement surveys are a common tool but it can be a missed opportunity when you offer staff questions and standard responses that you created. One on one feedback with the manager can work as long as the employee feels 100% comfortable sharing their perspective. The manager also needs to be able to authentically and honestly share that feedback.

Feedback is where transparency and trust-building come in.

Ask your employees how they prefer to give feedback to the organization. Make sure employees feel heard and safe, and that their feedback has a real impact on the organization. The best (and perhaps scariest) option is to create an anonymous survey and share the results with the whole staff. This process involves vulnerability, but the results can lead to employees feeling heard, recognized, and cared for. How you gather, process and act on employee feedback will be crucial in creating a people-first culture.

It all starts from listening to your people and understand what your employees are happy with and what they need you to work on.

This not only helps you with data, insights but gives a clear message to your employees that you care for them. Leaders have been using annual surveys over years to understand organization’s culture; but those have failed to help them improve employee experience in over 20 years as they help them to only find problems and not the solutions. Also, they are mostly unpopular with employees as they are very lengthy and not personalized with no direct return-back for employees. Today with evolution of technology you can connect with your employees throughout their journey, make your interactions humanized and gain real time organization wide and personalized predictive analytics.

An employee engagement survey can provide some insight and feedback with certain caveats, but it’s not a true open and honest feedback forum.

The hard truth is this: feedback hurts. It’s hard to hear it, it’s hard not to be defensive about it. It’s hard to change behavior to ensure the feedback is heard and put into action. So, if you want to be a people-first culture, or even just want to really know what your employees think and feel, they want to tell you. But we have to change how we’re capturing it. It has to be real and accessible. Providing several different ways for people to submit feedback is critical — but what’s most important, is the transparency around it and the ultimate action/response. To ask for feedback and never close the loop, will be the biggest killer in being able to successfully obtain feedback.

An inhibited flow of information can limit engagement and solutions. A people-centric culture will always maintain the policy of the free flow of information as part of the company culture.

This type of culture allows people in organizations to share, cooperate, and connect in profound ways. Openly sharing information motivates creators to actualize their ideas with others and work pro-actively to make operations more productive. This strategy allows your people to cultivate solutions and get things done. An organization that recognizes the free flow of information encourages staff to belong to a community where they feel united and heard. It also creates a platform to voice needs and allows leadership to support the team and make feedback actualized.

Strategy #3: Treat Your People as Valued Partners

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work - Treat Your People as Valued Partners

A people-centric organization explicitly values the happiness and well-being of its people. It does this not just through slogans or catchphrases, but through developing programs that support employee success. People-oriented companies recognize that all employees, no matter how big or small their role, are vital contributors to the success of the company and its brand. Employees are treated accordingly, as valued partners. There is a culture of mutual respect.

People-oriented businesses make employee success and growth a central priority. In the employee’s current role, that includes providing the tools, training and support needed to succeed.

Employees are listened to by leadership, their input sought, and their feedback acted upon. This might take the form of town hall style meetings, inclusive brainstorming sessions, or one-on-one conversations. Profit-sharing options give employees a chance to literally invest in the company’s success. Employees who know themselves to be valued partners have a vested interest in the success of their projects, and are willing to go the extra mile. They feel appreciated and needed, which can result in lower turnover. And by listening to and seeking input from all employees, companies can discover new ideas from sometimes unexpected sources.

There is an understanding that the needs of each employee are unique.

This works on the principle that an employee’s career success and the success of the company go hand in hand. Discussions with employees about their career path and promotions from within give employees incentive to stay with the company and continually grow. Internal and external training, industry conferences, and college tuition reimbursement not only equip employees with valuable skills, but send the message that they are valued. Reset, readjust, realign, and redesign as many times as needed. Organizations should expeditiously transform to stay relevant as per the interest of the time and people. People should know that the system values them. They should know that organization understands and appreciates their uniqueness and will fold and mold to fit in.

Employees are not typically driven by financial outcomes, they’re driven by purpose.

Meeting financial goals and objectives is important, especially to leaders and management, but it’s not everything to employees. Employees want to work with meaning and intention which is why it’s so important for leaders to create purpose-driven goals and encourage purpose-driven work for employees to want to excel. To be people-centric is to think about how your people want to work and what inspires and motivates them to do the work. It takes leaders and management to separate their drivers from that of their people.

Company culture isn’t just a sign you put on the wall, a values statement you post on the website or an award you receive at the end of the year.

Company culture needs to be something that is lived every day in order to engage employees to bring their best selves to work, so they can engage with customers in ways that build a true connection. The notion that people are an organization’s most important asset is really essential. If an organization is overly hierarchical, resists change or punishes failure, if it isn’t making a place for the next generation of leaders, it creates a negative energy everyone can feel. Whereas the best organizations celebrate the contributions of all their individuals, whether they have five employees, or 1 million.

Strategy #4: Prioritize Employee Experience

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work - Prioritize Employee Experience

As a leader, you have learn about the triumphs and successes for your employees, and what needed to be in place for that to happen. Understand reoccurring setbacks and obstacles and work towards helping those be removed or mediated. First off, is it easy for the employee to get their job done? Or is an old computer or ancient software slowing them down? Are they always relying on one person to move forward in their process and is that person always swamped with work?

You should constantly reflect on the day-to-day experience of your employees.

Among other things, consider how they get to work, how they feel at work, whether they have adequate time off so they can come back to work feeling rejuvenated. If you create the conditions for the best employee experience, you have a company that people want to work for. This will help you attract and retain the best talent. Good energy is contagious. For instance, excessive bureaucracy can wear anyone down. Even engaged and committed employees get discouraged when they have to wade through numerous levels, checks, and balances just to have their voices heard or ideas implemented. In a flatter organization, workers feel they have more influence over their job and responsibilities. This is both engaging and empowering.

The emerging concept of the employee experience replacing employee engagement is enticing because it innately creates a people-first culture.

Because when you focus on your employees interact and walk through your various HR touch points, you find the critical friction points along the way. These friction points are the ways you can instantly improve the employee experience — therefore, increase engagement and putting your employees first. Many organizations haven’t done an in-depth employee experience roadmap or evaluation — so we don’t know where these gaps are, or how easy it may be to close them. Unfortunately, this leads to our employees having the same bad experience, over and over again — which internally, helps shape the story that you don’t care about them.

Keep in mind that your relationship with a new employee starts with the hiring and onboarding process.

Do your recruitment and interview practices allow for applicants to feel comfortable, welcome, and safe? From the first visit to your company website, the first time they walk through your door for the interview, and the first day on the job, how you welcome them sets the tone for their employment. Take the time to learn about the employee in their interview. Make sure their desk is set up with everything they need to get started and that the team is well aware of their first day. Continue this mentality throughout the onboarding process. Is every employee getting the training they need to be actually set up for success? This takes significant time upfront, but the benefits down the line to the new staff and the rest of the team are immeasurable.

It’s easy to think that employee experience begins with a good salary and ends with some nice perks, but there’s much more to it than that!

In fact, employee experience is everything an employee experiences throughout his or her connection to the organization. That includes opportunities for your employees to advance to more senior positions and interactions like one-on-one feedback sessions that motivate your employees to deliver great results. The talent wars have been raging for many years, and keeping employee loyalty high is getting more and more challenging. When you create a strong employee experience, it makes your employees eager to stay with your company. Poor employee experience prompts workers to leave your company. When you deliver a superior employee experience, you increase employee engagement, improve the corporate culture, and attract top talent. It’s time to place employee experience at the top of your priority list!

Strategy #5: Good Work is Rewarded

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work - Good Work is Rewarded

When employees feel valued for the work they do and the contributions they make, they are typically more engaged. They also tend to be more loyal, and 69% of employees report they are more likely to work harder when their efforts are recognized. Recognition doesn’t always have to come in the form of promotions, pay raises or incentives — although those are certainly appreciated. You can start with celebrations within your company gatherings, simple thank you notes to staff members or sending a small token of appreciation like a gift card or treat.

People-first companies recognize that achievements deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded.

This may take the form of bonuses, perks like extra vacation time, awards, and even simple actions such as a heartfelt thank you or small gift. Incentive programs can be beneficial in motivating employees to meet specific goals. There is an understanding in people-first organizations that employees are individuals, and as such don’t respond to recognition and reward in the same way. Some employees love being in the spotlight at a company awards ceremony, while others are uncomfortable with public praise and would be far happier with a private note of thanks. While some are motivated by monetary reward, others are motivated primarily by appreciation and knowing they are part of the company’s success.

It is a fact that working eight to nine hours a day can be an overwhelming task for your people.

Nurturing a people-centric company culture will require the leadership to go out of their way and ensure the team’s comfort in those hours. The incorporation of more human-centered approaches at the office makes people at the company comfortable, feel appreciated, and valued as essential stakeholders at the workplace. It is the little things that matter like rest areas for unwinding, meeting, or being social. Ensure that they feel at home while at the office through simple comforts that support productivity and community.

It’s a typical scenario in business and in the world in general. You set a goal for something, and then you establish attractive rewards for reaching that goal.

Then, when someone attains that goal, you reward them as a way of saying thank you for the hard work. It all seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, some behavioral scientists say that this way of thinking may not be getting the best results. A results-only focus misses a lot. A good way to think about this is to remember the old phrase, “the journey is more important than the destination.” Too many companies fixate on the bottom line — and only reward at the end when the person crosses some pre-determined finish line. This ignores, however, the process that it takes to get there and often excludes many good producers along the way, and they may be your best talent.

If that sounds intriguing to you, remember that many studies are showing that employees are ready to try looking elsewhere for jobs that reward them more often and in different ways than have been done previously.

They are looking for companies that take a personalized approach to how they do their work. These companies know that by keeping their workforce happy, they create a great working environment that leads to teamwork, and ultimately to increased productivity. Rather than just looking towards increased profits and sales, they look at their people first. Now’s the time to think about changing the way you reward your people. Perhaps you can reward them at different times throughout the year rather than at the end of the fiscal year when they’ve crossed an arbitrary finish line. Or, set new standards by rewarding the hard-working, but lower-revenue person so it’s not just your star person reaping all the rewards. Rewarding the process rather than just the result could be your best decision yet.

Wrapping Up

Five Winning Strategies to Foster a People-First Culture at Work Final Thoughts
The responsibility of a company is to serve the customer. The responsibility of leadership is to serve their people so that their people may better serve the customer. If leaders fail to serve their people first, both customer and company will suffer.Simon Sinek

Leaders invest in creating sound business strategies, carefully crafted with logic, research, and best practices. However, results are often different than expected because the same strategic approach was not applied to culture. An organization that truly puts their people at the heart of everything they do is an organization that’ll flourish from the inside out.

Organizations should recognize that if you take care of culture, then the customer experience and profits will take care of themselves.

Putting your people at the center of your thinking and decision-making will never steer you in the wrong direction. Nowadays, there is no doubt that life and businesses have been disrupted worldwide. Today, transparent decision-making is required, and rapid action is necessary. Employee safety and emotional wellness must be top of mind for all organizations. By demonstrating that you value your people and actively engage them in your company’s future, your organization will develop a more positive culture and have a greater opportunity for success as we move into 2022 and beyond.

The more leaders recognize the power of creating people-centered organizations, the more powerful the organization becomes.

The evolution from perks and benefits to the employee experience and ultimately to the creation of people first culture has proven to be a challenge with most organizations. However, benefits far outweighs costs and the companies who do not center their strategy around people will suffer the consequences of disengaged workforce, lack of talent, unhappy clients and lower profits.

Creating a truly people-first culture takes some time — as you need to evaluate the applicable items to implement and then shift the culture.

In the people over profits era, business leaders have to pay more than lip service, and at the very least, rethink how we handle employees’ feelings. That might be the best way to create greater profits as well as a legacy of positively impacting employee well-being. Putting your employees, as a whole, at the center of your business strategies, will never steer you wrong. Creating engaged employees is important, but having them be your company’s biggest ambassadors has an even bigger payoff.

A great culture is a space created by organizations where each individual can proudly say, “It’s my space, and it’s beautiful!” Create one and retain all!

All this is just what your organization wants, right? Creating a people-first culture takes time, dedication, and resources. There are no shortcuts or handouts. But by putting the work in to create an authentic people-first culture – from the employee experience to the decision-making process – you will build a company that cares about its employees and a business model that helps you stay ahead of the curve. Start making these changes right away to ensure that a people-first culture saves your organization and empowers your leadership to make positive strides in growth.

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