Insights — October 12, 2016

Six ways to put people first in your company

by Josh Levine

Leadership Workplace

A group of people performing on a counter

Putting people first in your company provides an undeniable boost to productivity, efficiency, and employee satisfaction. A people-first company creates a unified team of motivated and engaged employees–leading to happy customers–by focusing on the person behind the work and their individual growth.

In 14 years of running a people-first company, I’ve found the challenge isn’t how to define the policy, but how to maintain it. Here are six tips to help you successfully put people first:

1. Make Empathy a Core Value

A successful people-first organization acknowledges that its employees are human beings, not positions or resources. Valuing people for who they are and appreciating their uniqueness is at the heart of empathy and essential to the creation of meaningful work relationships. Empathy drives team chemistry, enabling people to get the best out of each other through collaboration, healthy debates and positive conflict resolutions. Without empathy, a people-first culture is unattainable.

2. Invite Employees into the Company Vision

It’s human nature for employees to wonder how their efforts contribute to the greater good of the company. Maybe you have a well-defined company vision that outlines exactly that. Maybe you even take time to explain it to new hires. But people-first means earning, not demanding, the personal commitment of your employees. As individuals, we all want to hear how that vision was created and has evolved. Invite recommendations and questions, and make sure to demonstrate (as often as possible) how this vision manifests through their own day-to-day efforts.

3. Assemble a Committed Leadership Team

A people-first culture derives exclusively from a set of people-first leaders. “Management accounts for 70% of variance in [employee] engagement across business units,” according to a recent report by Gallup. Your leadership team must work as a collective unit putting the needs of employees and company mission ahead of their respective departments. You want managers with interpersonal skills who lead with purpose (not power) to create relationships with employees founded in trust and understanding. Leaders that take pride in seeing their team succeed set the example for a thriving culture, company-wide.

4. Build on People’s Strengths

A people-first approach sees individuals for who they are and what they can become, honing in on strengths rather than weaknesses. Helping people understand where they can contribute most effectively results in improved individual performance, loyalty, and job satisfaction, as well as a more collaborative, dynamic, and diverse team. This doesn’t exclude new skill development or self-improvement. On the contrary, it should reflect the positive ways in which employees can grow and achieve their goals, both individually and as part of a team.

5. Speak With Candor

People-first is often misconstrued to sound delicate or soft. It shouldn’t be. To be effective, it must be about being fair, and not about just being nice. People-first requires everyone in the company, from top to bottom, to do what is naturally uncomfortable: speak with candor. Consistent feedback rooted in honesty and focused on growth is the foundation by which individuals improve. Withhold such feedback and you hinder their ability to evolve, thus going against everything that defines a people-first company.

6. Don’t Be Afraid To Fire

The easiest way to lose all the benefits of a people-first culture is by not protecting it against me-first employees. Cultivating a team where everyone is personally invested in a shared vision doesn’t leave room for those invested only in themselves. Often, this is a high performer who delivers through personal achievements at the expense of others. Your team probably has a lower tolerance for this behavior than you do. Firing anyone should happen as a last resort and with respect and empathy, but letting go those who don’t contribute to your vision is the only way to demonstrate a strong commitment to your employees, their growth, your company, and the overall people-first mission.

As someone who has grown a company using people-first principles, I promise you there’s no greater reward than seeing your employees share a common pride and commitment to the well-being of each other, and the company they work for.

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