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4 minutes

How to Create a People-First Culture at Work

Cassandra Rose, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Putting ​“peo­ple first” is an idea that has final­ly arrived in board­rooms and HR depart­ments. But how can com­pa­nies go beyond a catchy, feel-good slo­gan to imple­men­ta­tion? We have some ideas.

1. Get To Know Your People

One of the sim­plest ways to put peo­ple first is to vis­it and speak with team mem­bers reg­u­lar­ly. Of course, you will be speak­ing with them on work mat­ters through­out the work week, but this isn’t what we mean. We mean get­ting to know who they are and what moti­vates them:

  • What’s their ​“why” for work­ing in this business/​industry?
  • What brought them to this com­pa­ny in the first place?
  • Is what brought them in the first place what’s keep­ing them here now?
  • What do they think man­age­ment should know?

Not every­one will be spurred to engage in a direct one-on-one way at first. You can prime the pump for those con­ver­sa­tions by oth­er forms of engage­ment, like inter­nal pub­li­ca­tions and pod­casts, town halls, and direct­ed small groups.

Need­less to say, none of these tac­tics will work if you haven’t cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment in which employ­ees feel com­fort­able approach­ing man­age­ment and shar­ing their thoughts and ideas. Team mem­bers should feel that as long as they are respect­ful and direct with their thoughts and feed­back, they will be met with empa­thy and inter­est by management.

2. Share Decision Making

Grav­i­ty Pay­ments, which made head­lines years ago for cre­at­ing a com­pa­ny min­i­mum salary of $70,000/year, made head­lines again dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. As a pay­ment proces­sor, Grav­i­ty saw its rev­enue plum­met in the ear­ly part of 2020 and saw a finan­cial path that would lead to bank­rupt­cy with­in months if dras­tic changes weren’t made. The obvi­ous road was the one tak­en (under­stand­ably, to some extent) by many busi­ness­es: layoffs.

Dan Price, CEO of Grav­i­ty, laid out the sit­u­a­tion in an all-com­pa­ny meet­ing. By the end of that meet­ing, 98% of the com­pa­ny had vol­un­teered to tem­porar­i­ly cut their own pay by any­where from 5 – 100%. Price and his COO matched that effort by cut­ting their pay to 0.

These team sac­ri­fices allowed pay­roll to be reduced by 20% and, more impor­tant­ly, bought every­one some time and peace of mind. While March and April were down months, each month since then out­per­formed the pre­vi­ous year. By the end of the sum­mer, Price felt con­fi­dent enough to pay back all that had been tem­porar­i­ly cut and the com­pa­ny not only sur­vived but became stronger as a result.

Most com­pa­nies are not going to have to deal with such a chal­leng­ing and life-chang­ing deci­sion on a day-to-day basis, but Gravity’s response indi­cates the pow­er of involv­ing employ­ees in major deci­sions. There’s so much more pow­er in a response from some­one with skin in the game.

More impor­tant­ly, every­one was able to demon­strate by their own actions (with­out a com­pa­ny man­date) the pow­er of ​“peo­ple first.”

3. Develop Potential

One of the objec­tions you’ll hear about devel­op­ing employ­ees is: ​“What if they leave?” While the obvi­ous (and pow­er­ful) response to that objec­tion is: ​“What if they stay?” the peo­ple-first mind­set doesn’t focus on what ​“might hap­pen” but instead looks at what is right in the here and now.

It’s right for peo­ple to have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to bet­ter them­selves through con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion or lead­er­ship devel­op­ment classes.

It’s pos­si­ble that as peo­ple devel­op them­selves they may get oppor­tu­ni­ties to grow finan­cial­ly and pro­fes­sion­al­ly with­out you. If that’s the case, as CJ Przy­byl said in a recent episode, wish them the best. In all like­li­hood, they are going to spread great PR about your com­pa­ny to oth­ers who may end up com­ing to work for you, primed by the great treat­ment a friend or col­league received.

But it’s also pos­si­ble that these peo­ple find an even stronger desire and moti­va­tion to work and grow with­in your team. So now you’ve trained and devel­oped your next gen­er­a­tion of lead­ers from with­in, sav­ing your­self the time and mon­ey of an exter­nal hire that may or may not work instead of an inter­nal hire that has buy-in (and a proven track record) from the start.

4. Work Together

In the 1920s, indus­tri­al psy­chol­o­gist Otto Köh­ler observed mem­bers of the Berlin row­ing club lift­ing weights. He asked row­ers to curl a 97-pound bar as many times as they could until they were too tired to go on.

Then he had the row­ers do curls in groups of two or three, hold­ing a long bar that was exact­ly two or three times heav­ier, ensur­ing that each row­er was lift­ing exact­ly the same weight as before. The sur­pris­ing (or per­haps not?) dis­cov­ery was that row­ers could do sig­nif­i­cant­ly more reps in groups than they could on their own.

Research since then has indi­cat­ed that this hap­pens, in part, because peo­ple don’t want to be seen as a weak link that is hold­ing the team back. When some­one knows they are depend­ed on, they step up.

This goes back to some­thing we start­ed the arti­cle with: get­ting to know your team and know­ing their indi­vid­ual ​“whys.” This can be pow­er­ful knowl­edge when com­bined with com­mu­ni­cat­ing a com­pa­ny-wide ​“why.” As peo­ple know they are being depend­ed on and have skin in the game, they will go beyond what they could have accom­plished on their own and become an ​“over­per­form­ing” mem­ber of a team.

5. Celebrate

Final­ly, don’t for­get to com­mem­o­rate achieve­ments. Peo­ple want to be seen and rec­og­nized for their con­tri­bu­tions, so find ways to do this in har­mo­ny with mile­stones, projects, and big and small wins. ​“Peo­ple first” think­ing under­stands the pow­er of pos­i­tive reinforcement.

Of course, there are many oth­er ways to make ​“peo­ple first” more than a slo­gan at your com­pa­ny. We hope these strate­gies will help take what you’re already doing to the next level.

Check Out the Full Episode

Inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about how to fos­ter a peo­ple-first cul­ture? Check out the episode of The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy. Jor­dan Peace talks with CJ Przy­byl, Co-Founder & CSO of Snap­sheet Inc. Snap­sheet offers cloud-based claim pro­cess­ing tech­nol­o­gy, both in a trans­ac­tion­al mod­el and in SaaS form. Snap­sheet was remote-ready and paper­less long before it became a stan­dard to aspire to in this indus­try. It has led to explo­sive growth in the last two years, par­tic­u­lar­ly as the whole indus­try is rush­ing to be as remote and vir­tu­al as pos­si­ble.

CJ talks about adjust­ments Snap­sheet has made dur­ing Covid-19 and what it’s like to grow a busi­ness from a hand­ful of team mem­bers to hun­dreds. He also dives into their focus on train­ing and devel­op­ing lead­ers, why cul­ture is so impor­tant (and should some­times be overem­pha­sized in the ear­ly days), and what he sees for the future of work, post-pandemic.

Look­ing to build your own Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture? Fringe can help. Fringe is the num­ber one lifestyle ben­e­fits mar­ket­place. Give your peo­ple the pow­er of choice and save a ton of admin­is­tra­tive headaches by con­sol­i­dat­ing exist­ing ven­dors and pro­grams into a sim­ple, auto­mat­ed plat­form. Talk to our team to get started.

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