Shifting To A People-First Culture

People sitting around a table talking, laughing and with their laptops and tablet next to them

Picture someone looking for their next job opportunity because they are mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and feeling undervalued in their current company. Let’s call this person Pedro. Pedro’s goal is to feel a sense of belonging in an organization and be allowed to thrive and fulfill his potential.

Imagine he had to choose between the following companies:

  • Company A: in this organization, Pedro is expected to work within a fixed schedule and is entitled to statutory minimum benefits such as annual holiday leave. He will have tight performance targets and goals to reach. The organization offers only an onboarding training program to learn the tools he’ll need to use. Decisions are made top-down. Even though the organization had a set mission and vision, they are not aligned with his values.
  • Company B: in this organization, he will also have quarterly goals to achieve and frequent performance meetings. On the other hand, he is offered benefits such as flexible working hours, an employee assistance program, and unlimited holidays. The organization also provides learning and development opportunities to help him develop any specific skills and competencies he may need to grow in his career (aside from the onboarding training program). They run monthly brainstorming sessions where every employee can contribute their ideas and thoughts to improve the business and the company culture. Pedro feels aligned with the vision and mission of the organization and is inspired to work towards achieving them.

Company A offers a great compensation package, whereas Company B’s offer is much lower but sufficient for him to live a good life.

Which offer is Pedro most likely to accept?

While there are many different variables at stake when deciding on a career move, company A is not a viable option for him. This type of work culture would lead Pedro to exhaustion, disengagement, and consequently, burnout and professional inefficiency.

This exercise illustrates the reality of many people nowadays. After years of committing their time and energy to organizations such as Company A, the workforce is ready for a change and to prioritize lifestyle and health over work.

With the ongoing War for Talent, many organizations have started adopting more progressive work practices in a conscious effort to attract and retain the best talent.

These organizations have realized that top talent is increasingly demanding when choosing their employers and that adopting a people-first culture and offering human-centric benefits is a competitive advantage.

The Shift to People-First Cultures

The main priority for companies in the industrial revolution was to automate processes and streamline operations to lower costs. In such a context, people were simply doers that contributed to the overall success of the operations. For this reason, they would follow traditional organizational systems that value a hierarchical structure and climbing the career ladder.

Fortunately, this mindset has been shifting in recent years, and many businesses are adopting more modern structures where centralized power is reduced and employee empowerment is enabled. Even though organizations nowadays also continuously strive to optimize their processes and inclusively adopt the latest technology developments to become more efficient, they have come to understand and look at the workforce as more than just numbers or tools.

The world of work has come to understand the benefits of investing in its people and becoming employee-centric: it not only boosts individual engagement, helps increase productivity, drives innovation, and improves problem-solving but also enhances the collaboration and relationships between employees and the other shareholders of the organization, which in turn helps boost sales, builds a better client experience, and increases customer loyalty and retention.

While profit remains a crucial indicator of a business’s success and some organizations’ primary motivation to adopt a people-centric culture is to make the business thrive, employees are now considered valuable intangible assets of an organization. People are now valued and recognized for their talents, skills, and competencies. Their psychological needs, emotions, and aspirations are also more respected and acknowledged.

People-Centric Principles

Organizations usually define mission, vision, and core value statements that guide employees toward a shared purpose, and therefore, help them understand how to best contribute to the organization’s success.

People-centric organizations usually put extra effort into defining these aspects of the business; the workforce’s alignment with the why and purpose of the organization is essential to building their sense of commitment to the business, as well as their engagement, motivation, and happiness.

These organizations also take a step further and embrace principles that guarantee that their people are always valued over profit and that they are at the center of every business decision. Some of those principles include:

  • Equitable System: the needs of employees are considered equal to or greater than the needs of operational efficiency;
  • Training and Development: employees should be empowered with the resources and training to succeed at their jobs;
  • Trust and Autonomy: employees should be trusted to do their best work, and therefore, given the autonomy and freedom to determine how to reach their goals;
  • Work-life Balance: work should not overtake the employees’ personal lives;
  • Psychological Safety and Wellbeing: work and the organization’s environment should not negatively influence the employees’ well-being;
  • Flexibility: employees should be able to choose where, when, and how to work.

Employee Experience

Citing the Great Shift’s founder, Domenico Pinto, in his blog piece B4P: Putting people first in your organization: “It is important to be completely holistic in your employee experience, from recruitment to career growth and even off-boarding. Leaders often ask organizational change experts to improve their leadership model, culture, or recruitment. The truth is that these aspects don’t work in isolation. It is, of course, possible to improve these areas and processes, but the overall employee experience is 360º, and all these pieces need to come together at some point.”

Adopting a people-centric culture does take more than a few aspirational value statements. It requires creating a detailed but flexible action plan for employee success, i.e., mapping the employee experience journey.

This also means understanding what organizational drags hold people back from doing their best work through regular internal company assessments and one-on-one feedback meetings.

When treating employees like customers by offering them the best possible experience in the organization, businesses gain loyal brand ambassadors and benefit from highly engaged and productive employees.

From Theory to Practice

Let’s say someone can’t meet a deadline for an important project. How should they behave? Should they communicate beforehand that they may not be able to meet it or inform the team on the day of the deadline?

While the first option is the most viable for the business, if a company’s values do not include empathy, honesty, and teamwork, this employee might fear being penalized or judged and not feel comfortable sharing that they are struggling. This, in turn, would prevent the team from coming up with an alternative or solution that wouldn’t negatively impact the business.

To implement a healthy and people-centric culture in an organization, everyone in the business should understand how they should act in everyday interactions and work. So it is necessary to set the values and principles straight to guarantee everyone in the organization understands what it looks like in practice.

Many employees nowadays are transitioning out of hierarchical companies, which means that, in many situations, they are biased by traditional ways of working. A social contract or handbook helps them navigate this change and gradually shift their mindset. Once they are integrated into the company and have embraced the culture, their common sense will guide them.

This document should include the duties and responsibilities of the workforce, their benefits, how much individual sacrifice they should make, and how much sacrifice the organization is willing to make for them. By doing this, organizations avoid unclear expectations that can damage the employees’ well-being and unrealistic promises that can compromise the business.

A great example of a social contract is Remote’s Handbook. In this public document, Remote shares everything from their expectations toward their workforce and tips regarding internal and external communication to how the company promotes diversity and inclusion.


There is no one way to develop a people-first culture or no set of practices that guarantee success, but the truth is that organizations that treat their employees well increase their chances of success. Take businesses such as Patagonia, Google, and Apple as examples. By contradicting old ways of thinking and adopting employee-centric policies that allow their people to function at their maximum potential, these organizations are market disruptors that continuously excel and profit from their employees’ creativity, innovation, and dedication. Would they have ever come this far if they weren’t people-centric?

Is your organization people-centric? How does your culture affect your employees? Are you setting them up for success, survival, or failure?
Join us on a Discovery Session for valuable insights on how to enhance employee satisfaction and high performance by adopting a progressive work culture and practices that foster psychological safety, work-life balance, and trust throughout the organization.

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