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Being a people-first leader: 4 keys to prioritize your people



As economic troubles rage on, it can be easy to develop tunnel vision when it comes to what matters most to your business. For most companies, amidst a turbulent and unstable market, it can be hard to think of anything other than maintaining a profit. 

But a profit-first mentality instead of a people-first mentality can have detrimental effects on a company’s culture, morale, and even its bottom line – because the hard truth is that if you don’t take care of your people, they’ll burn out before you even turn a profit. 

Simply put, taking care of your people allows them to take care of the rest. It’s a win-win for companies and employees. Here’s how to do it.

What it really means to be people-first

Being a people-first leader can mean a lot of different things, but all it really boils down to is prioritizing employees’ happiness as much as the bottom line. 

“Organizations championing a people-first approach put their employees’ well-being, development, and satisfaction above all else,” says Ivori Johnson, head of People, Talent and DEIB at Charthop. “People-first organizations acknowledge and prioritize building a culture of belonging [and] consider the needs and interests of employees as central to the company’s success.”

When employees are happier and more satisfied, they feel more engaged and connected and simply do better work. Focusing on a people-first culture can: 

  • Increase productivity, morale and satisfaction
  • Attract high-quality candidates, and
  • Reduce turnover. 

It’s not just a nice-to-have, though. Companies that aren’t focusing on their people enough run the risk of losing them. As worker priorities shift, culture is becoming a more important factor in whether an employee stays or goes. 

“Employees may seek opportunities elsewhere if their organization doesn’t meet their needs. But high turnover rates are costly for businesses in terms of recruitment, training, and lost knowledge,” says Johnson. “Additionally, a negative employer reputation may make it challenging to attract top talent in the future.”

For employees who do stay, not keeping a focus on their satisfaction and happiness can lead to:

  • Decreased morale and motivation
  • Disengagement, which can lead to lower creativity and productivity, and
  • Feelings of unappreciation or exclusion.

4 ways to cultivate the right culture

In an ever-changing world, organizational resilience is the name of the game. And a people-first mindset can help cultivate resilience and equip your workforce to handle any changes that may come your way.

Here are four ways to cultivate a future-proof people-first culture from Johnson. 

  • Invest in employee growth: Organizations should provide opportunities for professional development via training programs, mentorship initiatives and resources that empower employees to enhance their skills and advance in their careers. Employees should feel encouraged to continue learning and pursue their passion and interests.
  • Promote a healthy work-life balance: Organizations can encourage a work-life balance by offering remote work options or flexible schedules. People-first leaders also ensure employees care for their mental, physical and emotional health. 
  • Increase transparency: A culture of transparency requires leaders to democratize their organization’s people data. With access to org charts, feedback, 1:1 notes, and individual, team and company goals, employees understand what they need to achieve to deliver results and how to stay connected to the rest of the organization.
  • Celebrate successes: A people-first organization recognizes employees’ efforts by providing regular feedback, praise, and rewards for their accomplishments. Recognition creates a sense of validation and motivates employees to perform at high levels. 

“Implementing a people-first strategy isn’t a once-and-done task,” adds Johnson. “Organizations must constantly revisit their strategy and ensure efforts remain meaningful, impactful, and focused on improving the employee experience. And it’s up to company leaders to lean into this strategy in order for efforts to be felt throughout the entire organization.”

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