Promoting a People-First Culture: Rethinking Organizational Change

Organizations can leverage human capital for success by cultivating a people-first culture. This approach requires empathetic leadership, effective communication, employee well-being, and the strategic use of technology. Ultimately, valuing human potential leads to lasting success.
Published on  
4th Aug 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of business management, a shift is taking place - a shift towards a ‘people-first culture.’ The basis? A realization that nurturing human potential - the intellectual and emotional skills vested in each employee - is the key to navigating the complexities of organizational change. This insight is driven by data indicating that companies focusing on employee well-being report an average of 89% better customer satisfaction and 96% higher employee engagement.

But transitioning to a people-first culture isn't just about nurturing human resources; it carries the profound potential to reimagine how businesses strategize change. Let's delve into how organizations may harness this people-first orientation to manage, and even capitalize on change.


People over Processes: A Strategic Tool for Managing Change

For many years, organizations have relied heavily on process-driven strategies to manage change. These frameworks, while useful, often overlook a critical factor - the people executing these processes. A 2018 report by McKinsey & Company illuminated that 70% of change initiatives fail due to resistance from employees or lack of sufficient resources for managing change.

Enter the people-first approach. By prioritizing the human factor, businesses can reposition themselves to become more agile, resilient, and adaptable. The name of the game is emotional intelligence, empathy, and capacity building - pillars of a culture that puts people first.


Strengthening the ‘People Chain’

Investing in a people-first culture means focusing on developing the "total" employee. This involves not just hard skills but also soft skills, mental wellness, job satisfaction, and possibilities for career advancement. A 2017 Gallup study discovered that 87% of millennials - the present majority in the workforce - state that professional development or career growth opportunities are significant to them in a job.

Plus, a well-rounded employee assures a sound, holistic approach to problem solving. For instance, emotional intelligence can enhance team collaboration, empathy can improve customer service, and mental wellness can eliminate burnout – all operational improvements that impact the bottom line.


Redefining Leadership for a People-first Culture

Transitioning to a people-first culture isn't a quick, painless process. It calls for a change catalyst: a new style of leadership. Leaders must don the mantle of not just managers, but also mentors and coaches. A Harvard Business Review survey found that people first leaders who show empathy and are open to feedback, contribute to an addition of 140% more capacity to their teams.

Leadership, in a people-first culture, means setting aside hierarchical barriers and promoting an environment where employees feel safe voicing their opinions. It means understanding and acknowledging the different motivations, aspirations, and emotions of team members.


People-first Culture: An Adaptable Advantage in a VUCA World

The Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) nature of today's business environment demands greater adaptability than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic was a large-scale manifestation of this reality. Organizations that had a robust people-first culture, reported 20% higher adaptability and resilience during the crisis.

In this context, a people-first approach to change is not just necessary but an investment for future readiness. A business's ability to not just survive but thrive in a fast-changing world rests on the resilience, adaptability, and creativity of its people. And that is precisely the promise of a people-first culture – a strategy to use change as a catapult to future success, rather than an obstacle.

By fostering a people-first ethos, companies can better manage the human side of change, reduce friction, and transform change into a strategic advantage. The journey to promote a people-first culture begins with the first step – acknowledging that indeed, it's the people who make a business, not just processes.


Encouraging Ownership, Fostering Engagement

Another critical facet of a people-first culture is fostering a sense of ownership among employees. When individuals feel a sense of responsibility towards their work, change becomes less threatening and more navigable. Moreover, a 2016 study by Gallup found that organizations with high employee engagement outperformed those with low employee engagement by as much as 202% in terms of business performance metrics.

Recognizing and rewarding efforts contribute to nurturing this sense of ownership. Employees who feel valued and acknowledged for their contributions are likely to show higher engagement levels and exhibit resilience in the face of change. This recognition can be tailored to the individual's motivations – for some, public acknowledgment works best, while others may prefer private appreciation or tangible rewards.


The Role of Communication in a People-First Culture

The importance of effective communication in managing change cannot be overstated. Clear, consistent, and honest communication forms the bedrock of a people-first culture. According to a survey by the American Management Association, businesses lost an estimated $37 billion per year due to employee misunderstanding and miscommunication.

In a people-first culture, leaders must aim to be transparent about the rationale behind organizational change. Open forums and platforms for employees to voice their thoughts, ask questions, and provide feedback facilitate this process and promote a culture of trust.


Putting Employee Well-being at the Forefront

Prioritizing employee well-being is paramount in a people-first approach. Mental health, work-life balance, and job satisfaction play a crucial role in driving employee productivity and organizational success. According to a study by the World Health Organization, depression and anxiety (common mental conditions) have a direct impact on productivity and cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

In conclusion, to foster a thriving, resilient, and adaptable organization, business leaders must adopt a web of strategic components to imbue a people-first culture effectively. A culture that acknowledges and amplifies its human capital, prioritizes well-being and inclusivity, encourages open communication, and invests in lifelong learning and development may be better equipped to navigate the seas of change.

As Peter Drucker, a revered management consultant, rightly said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." It's high time organizations cherished their most invaluable assets - their people - and let this understanding steer their reason and response to change. Herein lies the path to not just surviving but excelling in a rapidly transforming business landscape.


Leveraging Technology to Facilitate a People-First Culture

While investing in people is indispensable, leveraging technology can serve as a mighty adjunct to underscore the people-first culture. Be it through HR Tech tools for seamless onboarding and training or digital communication platforms that foster remote collaboration, technology can aid businesses in creating high-spirited, well-connected teams.

In fact, according to Deloitte's 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report, 84% of respondents rated "people analytics" as important or very important, acknowledging the role of technology in understanding and enhancing employee experience. When used pragmatically and soundly, technology can encourage a culture of flexibility, inclusivity, and continuous learning.


Diversity and Inclusion: Core Pillars of a People-First Culture

A people-first culture cannot be sustained without an active commitment to diversity and inclusion. This does not only refer to multicultural or gender diversity but also diversity in thoughts, skills, and ideas. According to a 2020 report by McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile.

Inclusion enhances the richness of ideas, fosters creativity and drives organizational and business excellence. However, it goes beyond merely diverse hires; companies must actively promote an environment where all employees feel seen, heard, and valued.


The Bottom Line: Investing in People is Investing in Success

Prioritizing the human aspect of organizational change is no longer an option; it’s a business imperative. With the demands of today's VUCA world, companies need to be adaptable and resilient, and that resilience stems from a committed, engaged, and valued workforce.

Inducing a people-first culture calls for seismic shifts in traditional business mindsets. It demands a change in leadership style, a renewed focus on learning and development, an embrace of diversity and inclusion, and a strategic use of technology. It requires an active commitment to employees' emotional, intellectual, and career development.

Overall, a people-first culture offers organizations a competitive advantage, paving the way for greater employee engagement, improved productivity, better customer service, lower turnover, and ultimately, increased profitability. It's not just about the numbers; it's about creating a work culture that respects and celebrates the human spirit - and that is a recipe for lasting success.