Should You Create a People First Corporate Culture? 6 Steps to Take

6 teammates in a circle to show a people first corporate culture

Does a People First Corporate Culture Make Sense?
Most employees believe that a people first corporate culture makes sense.  Their argument? Employee engagement and employee happiness result in more customer loyalty and more profitable customers.

Should people in your organization really come first? The short answer – it depends on your business strategy.

Everyone Wants to Work in a Healthy Culture
Regardless of whether you put employees, customers or profits first, every company needs to maintain minimum levels of organizational health to thrive.  And people want to work in a healthy environment.  In general, the health of an organization encompasses the well-being of your employees and their ability to function, adapt, grow and perform.

But, Cultural Health is Just a Ticket to Play the Game
While cultural health has been proven to be necessary for success regardless of industry, it rarely, in and of itself, differentiates the performance of one company from another.  An organization must be healthy enough to be set up for success; but health alone will not set you apart from your peers.

What Does Set Culture Apart?
Our organizational alignment research found that workplace culture accounts for 40% of the difference between high and low performing organizations.  The secret sauce of the high performance was not organizational health, but the level of alignment between the workplace culture (how things get done) and the business strategy (what gets done and why it matters).

What Matters Most?  People, Profits, Products or Customers?
So now that we know the difference between a healthy culture and an aligned culture, should your corporate culture put people first?  It depends upon your strategy and how you want to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.

Some Examples

  • Products First: Apple puts products first. Their strategy is to produce the most innovative and desired products.  They do not put their people first; but they are wildly successful.
  • Profits First: Goldman Sachs is famous for putting profits above all else; they are also one of the top firms in their industry.
  • Customers First: Amazon is known for putting customer service first; they now dominate consumer retail.
  • People First: For the sixth year in a row, Google has won Fortune’s 2017 Best Company to Work For award’ they believe that making workers happier really pays off.

Six Steps to Take If a People-First Culture Makes Sense for You
So if you decide that, for your unique business in your specific industry with your desired workforce and overall strategy for success, people really should come first, here are six initial big picture steps to consider:

#1.  Reduce layers of management
Excessive bureaucracy can wear anyone down. Even engaged and committed employees get discouraged when they have to wade through numerous levels 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.

#2.  Simplify and minimize work policies
Practices that can be easily read and simply understood are a far better guide to desired behaviors than multi-paged tomes. Basically, you want to create a respectful workplace. That should be the expectation.

With that philosophical umbrella, specific policies are simpler to list and define.

#3.  Identify and hire your ideal employees
Know just what attributes you want in your employees and then hire for them. Define the behavioral competencies that you know can help your company succeed and make them a central part of your employee onboarding, career development and performance management processes.

#4.  Resolve conflict quickly and fairly and with empathy
Nip incipient conflict in the bud. The more you maintain an open environment, the less likely conflict is given a chance to grow. Encourage employees to discuss disagreements objectively with the aim of resolution.

Give employees the necessary tools to acknowledge different perspectives and to negotiate fairly.

#5.  Establish personal relationships for team cohesion
When coworkers have a personal as well as a professional relationship, they are much more likely to cooperate and strive for the common goal. Recognize and reward collaboration for the good of the team.

#6.  Provide development opportunities as part of an individualized career path
Each employee should have a clear path forward. What are they good at? What do they like to do? What are their ambitions?

Find out the answers to these questions and create, together, a plan that helps the employee learn and grow.

The Bottom Line
Assuming it makes sense for your business strategy, each of these steps takes you further toward a workplace where the employee is first priority. The good news is that we know engaged employees create loyal customers and higher profits.

If you want to learn more about the different levels of a strong corporate culture, download 3 Levels of a High Performance Culture Strategy

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