How to Create a People-First Culture

The value of a people-first culture is becoming apparent to many company heads. From improved productivity to increased customer service, the benefits far outweigh the cost.

Here’s how to create a people-first culture in your organisation.

Start from the top

To cultivate a people-first culture, start by training your managers. Beyond equipping them with the technical skills required to do their jobs, train them on the soft skills needed to be leaders who prioritise their people.

You should keep this in mind as early as the manager hiring process. Look out for people who are either people-focused or whom you can train for that. The manager-employee relationship is quite crucial and the task to drive it falls on the manager.

As management will be involved in defining what exactly a people-first culture looks like for your organisation, they also should be the first to adopt it. Other employees will look to them and model their behaviour. If it is done right, this culture should permeate the interactions employees have with each other as well.

Another step you can take to ensure leaders are focused on a people-first culture is to try and reduce the hierarchies in the organisation. Hierarchies while important, emphasise the line between the leaders and the led.

Leaders should be seen as employees too. This makes them easier to approach and makes problem solving easier. Breaking hierarchies can be as simple as taking a step to ensure people have lunch together. Let employees mingle as opposed to having a particular corner designated for the bosses.

Treat employees as primary stakeholders

No matter what an organisation’s business is, it has to interact with and serve several stakeholders. Customers, regulators, their environment and employees are just a few of them. Sometimes the interests of these stakeholders compete.

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For instance, in order to serve customers well, a store manager might need to keep employees in the store longer than expected. Unfortunately, some businesses tend to think of their employees needs last.

A business with a people-first culture will strive to always put their people first. That means that they consider the needs of their employees before taking any decision. In such a case, the manager might choose to close the store earlier and communicate to customers in advance to ensure that employees are prioritised.

Show that you are employee focused by including a commitment to your people in your values. Among its values, 3M, a company that produces technologies has this one: “Value and develop our employees’ diverse talents, initiative and leadership.”

This sets the tone and reminds everyone that employees are a priority.

Make the growth track clear

Growth of employees is the corner stone of a people-first culture. It is not enough to hire from within the company or to offer employees opportunities first, you should help them see their future at the company.

This might include having conversations about an employees’ current role, where they see themselves after a few years and what both they and the company can do to help them get there.

These conversations might reveal that someone is in the wrong job and that there is need for a lateral move. Or that they need to take a few courses to ready them for their next position.

Smaller companies struggle with promoting employees but they can still make growth a priority by giving employees chances to take on more challenging projects.

Work-life balance should be more than a catchphrase

Research shows that a work-life balance has become increasingly important to employees, ranking even higher than salary for some. Create a people-first culture by being aware of this need when coming up with policies.

This balance can be reflected in having more flexible schedules. The pandemic has made it clear that it is possible to remain productive while working from home. Work from home days or staggered work days, can be adopted to ensure that employees get time to take care of their needs outside of the workplace.

Beyond that, these schedules show that employers trust their employees to do their work without too much oversight. This trust improves productivity.

Communicating a people-first culture
Image: Pexels

Communication and feedback

It is impossible to build a people-first culture without a strong communication system. Clear, timely communication improves engagement and reduces work place errors. Everyone knows what they need to do, how and when.

A system with open communication also encourages innovation and sharing of ideas. Communication channels should be two way. The goal is to ensure that people can hear and be heard.

The communication system shouldn’t only cater to work related issues. It should include where to report when in need of time off plus how to handle and resolve conflict amicably.

Be sure to examine, refine and even change communication channels so that they can serve the evolving needs of your workforce.

Appreciation is always key

Appreciation is part of a people focused culture. And it pays off too. When employees feel valued, they are more engaged and productive.

Appreciation can be shown through promotions, raises and bonuses. It can also be shown through a half day, a lunch on the boss, or a ‘Thanks for the work done’. Remember that appreciation doesn’t have to be scheduled or given as a reward for a target.

Most companies do this at the end of year party only. Instead make it a habit and impromptu to just pick out and recognise those doing a good job and those who have improved. The idea is to confirm that you see your employees’ efforts.

Practice a little democracy

The different leadership styles all have their strengths and weaknesses but a democratic workplace can cement the people first culture. In a democracy, policies are voted on and the will of the majority rules. This shows employees that they are more partners than workers in the organisation. The sense of ownership can be great for engagement.

However this system cannot work for everyone. Consider a hybrid system instead where the leaders establish hard rules and policies and leave those that are more flexible up for discussion.

In Summary

Like creating any culture in an organisation, putting people first might take some time, effort and refinement along the way. Organisations can however be sure that it is worth the cost.


Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.