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.
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.
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