Through our 25 years of experience, we’ve observed that most current and desired cultures can be described by one or more of six cultural archetypes. This article focuses on the People-First Culture. Some other words for People-First? Empowerment, development, safety, care, relationships, and fun.
The drive for People-First cultures is to be the best place to work. These organisations invest in building talent because they believe that with great, engaged people they can achieve their goals. Because they are treated well, they treat the organisation and its customers well. Such cultures have much lower instances of selfish behaviour such as theft, legal suits or the manipulation of rules to capitalise on personal financial gain. When an individual feels valued they give their best. People-First cultures lift the performance of individuals, and make great performers out of people previously tagged as mediocre.
To value people, you have to understand them, and this means applying all of those human skills which make any good relationship work: Listening, supporting, appreciating, enjoying, respecting. People are given the authority, resources and training to make decisions – they are empowered. Underlying all of this activity is the basic belief that human beings respond and contribute best in an environment in which they feel valued.
Diversity is a value within People-First organisations. This approach provides the organisation with the benefits of a wide range of opinions, approaches and views on problems and challenges. It creates a natural curiosity for the ways of others which gives these organisations an advantage in their empathy with customers, their ability to partner with others, undertake mergers or expand into other countries. The safety, health and wellbeing of employees is a natural outflow of this value set.
People-First cultures are usually fun. There is a lot of laughter, employees enjoy each other’s company, they have learnt to be successfully in relationship with one another, and they recognise that one of the benefits of coming to work is to be in the company of great and talented people. Even when times are tough, the sense of humour prevails.
Because people are seen as human beings, rather than positions, there is a strong egalitarianism in cultures which value people. More senior people may be paid more, but they are not seen as better people, and are not afforded status or privileges which do not add to their ability to do their job. People feel safe to speak up. They are not intimidated by their bosses, and they know they will be listened to. Problems, illegal activities, and non-performance will be raised. An organisation that truly puts its people first bypasses the unease many employees feel about whether the cultural process is just another word for delivering to business owners at the expense of employees.
What shapes a People-First Culture?
• Leaders coach, support and listen to their people
• Junior people are treated with the same level of respect
• and interest as their senior colleagues
• Any form of disrespectful behaviour (bullying, lack of performance feedback, aloofness, taking credit for the work of others) is stamped out very quickly
• Constructive challenge is encouraged – everyone’s opinions are valued
• Non-traditional and diverse people choices are made for key roles,
• People are given a go by being given responsibility and the chance to prove themselves (with safety nets in place)
• Employee benefits are equally spread across the whole hierarchy
• Symbols of status are rare (large offices, differentiated travel policies)
• Performance management is treated seriously and based on the importance of giving feedback, learning and development
• Training is broad and well resourced
• Work-life balance policies are well developed
• Diversity is built into all HR policies, visible and measured
• Employee well-being metrics are robust and meeting standards is expected (safety, employee satisfaction, etc)
• Trusted mechanisms exist to report non-compliance behaviour (sexual discrimination, stealing, etc.)
Carolyn is the CEO of Walking the Talk and author of 'Walking the Talk: Building a Culture for Success' (Random House).
Twitter @walkingourtalk or LinkedIn.