Plenty of businesses big and small love to talk about putting people first. And it makes sense — in order to attract top talent, you have to show your employees that they’re not just a cog in the wheel to you. But saying that you put people first and actually putting people first are 2 different things.
Does your company actually put people first? Are you walking the walk or just talking the talk? What does it even mean to truly put people first? Here’s a crash course in making your people the stars of the show in 2023.
What it means to put people first at your business
There’s no single way to think about what putting people first means. For most companies, there are several groups of people that are central to your business.
First, there are your employees. The people who work for your company are your company — without them, you wouldn’t have a business in the first place. That’s why workers are one of the most common groups that businesses think of when considering a people-first strategy.
The people who work for your company are your company — without them, you wouldn’t have a business in the first place.
But putting employees first doesn’t just mean from the employer perspective. Putting employees first can also take the form of a coworker perspective.
As Great Place To Work explains, belonging at work matters a lot. “Belonging is an accumulation of day-to-day experiences that enables a person to feel safe and bring their full, unique self to work,” the blog says.
When people have friends at work and when they feel like they belong at work, they’re more dedicated to their work. They’re also more likely to be engaged in their work and are more likely to stick around.
Putting people first can mean creating a culture where employees are incentivized to value and support their coworkers on their teams and across the company.
Customers and contractors should also be put first
Customers are additional groups of people that businesses can put first. This is often a recipe for success. Putting customers and their needs first helps with everything from turning a purchase into repeat business to becoming a brand that people connect with.
Another group of people to consider putting first are your contractors. The people who supply your business with contract labor and services are critical to your success as well.
Finally, your community is another group of people that your business can prioritize. Unless you’re a local non-profit, chances are it’s going to be hard to truly put your community first. But that doesn’t mean you can’t prioritize them.
What putting people first does not mean
Putting people first can be misunderstood or misconstrued. As People First Productivity Solutions explains, there are several things that people first isn’t:
People first does not mean “person first”
Being people first means that you put all people in these groups first, not individuals. Some people may want to interpret “people first” as an opportunity for abuse.
This can take the form of asking for (or simply just taking) extra time off. This can mean, as People First Productivity Solutions (PFPS) notes, “lashing out with ‘that’s not putting people first’ when the answer is ‘no.’”
People first is not an excuse to slack off
“A common misunderstanding of people first (and of servant leadership) is that doing work for people is a kindness,” PFPS notes.
Being people first doesn’t mean that people can ditch the responsibilities they’re struggling with or work they simply don’t like. “Putting people first is about empowerment and giving people opportunities to grow, not about depriving them of learning and growth opportunities,” PFPS adds.
People first does not always reign supreme
PFPS explains that there are still business realities to contend with. Not every single decision is going to be able to come from a people-first perspective if a company is to stay in business.
However, the way you go about rolling out changes and the impact of decisions can be handled in a people-first way.
How to put people first: Having accessible leadership
There’s not a singular approach to putting people first. You can do it in whatever way makes the most sense to your business. However, there are a few common approaches you can consider and adapt.
One is to create a company culture in which leaders are expected to be available to their teams and to the company broadly.
With power comes responsibility, and it can be considered the responsibility of leaders to support the people who keep the company in business. The more that people have access to leaders and decision-makers, the more they can feel like they matter.
Ensuring accessible leadership can take any form that makes sense to your business. This could mean instituting an open-door policy for the higher ups. This can also mean hosting lunch-and-learns or allowing employees to schedule one-on-one time with those in leadership positions.
How to put people first: Treating contractors respectfully
Putting vendors and contractors first means doing what you can to be a good client for them to work with. Treat them respectfully and pay them on time. Never treat them like they need you more than you need them (plus, this is often untrue).
Express your gratitude and appreciation. If you ran into a snag and you needed something above and beyond from a contractor (think a last-minute, late-night change), thank them accordingly. Pay them extra. Send them a gift or a gift card.
How to put people first: Taking a People Ops approach
People Operations, or POPS, is the new Human Resources that focuses on the employee experience. While Human Resources is chiefly concerned with compliance, People Operations is concerned with creating an excellent employee experience. This is, by definition, a people-first approach.
People Ops focuses on things like keeping employees connected across remote workforces. People Ops focuses on encouraging connection and collaboration among employees and between teams.
How does POPS achieve this? Through leveraging technology and data.
POPS is concerned with making decisions based on data rather than old practices. POPS uses technology to automate as many HR processes as possible.
With menial tasks carried out by technology, HR teams can focus on the people -work, like creating compelling career paths that serve to put employees first.
How to put people first: Helping coworkers put each other first
Company culture goes a long way here as well. Of course, you can encourage your employees to support and consider their coworkers, but there’s a lot more you can do than just that. You can actively incentivize it.
Bake teamwork, collaboration, and supporting others into promotion decisions. Not only does this make it clear that these behaviors are important, it helps to ensure that the managers and leaders at your company will come into those roles with a people-first perspective.
Like any change you make to your business, transitions can be tough. Take it slow and start small. Find out what’s working well already that you can promote or put more attention toward. Figure out the places where you stand to improve the most and consider starting there.
One of the best things about putting people first is that even just the intention and the attempt matter. Although intention and attempt can’t stand alone by themselves, they say something really powerful about what matters to you and your business.
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