Before we jump into the ingredients of a people-centered workplace let’s start with some foundational assumptions. If you don’t agree these assumptions then what follows might not resonate.
First, the purpose of a company should be rooted in serving people not in producing profit. This is not to say that a company should not care about profit at all—a healthy company should be profitable. But serving people should be the number one reason the company exists.
Serve people, not profit.
Secondly, companies should put their employees first, not their customers. I’m guessing this is where I might lose some folks, so I hope you can stick with me a for a minute.
Let’s consider what happens when you put the customer first. It doesn’t take long before the employee is seen and treated as a cog in machine. They feel like second class citizens—not unique, creative beings capable of great things. And it’s no secret that when a company says “customers first” it translates as “money first.” That isn’t the case in all instances, but more often than not it leads to a profit-first focus.
Put employees first, not customers.
And finally, a company must compensate people fairly for their work. Underpaying or lack of equity in pay can easily undermine any other efforts you make to create a strong employee experience. If you are skimping on compensation, you won’t have much chance of attracting and retaining top talent either. Fix that first.
If you accept these foundational assumptions – serving people over profit, putting employees first, and fair pay – then you’re well on your way to building a people-centered workplace. I’ve found the following ingredients a good framework to consider when you’re ready to invest in your team.
4 Ingredients for a People-Centered Workplace
Ok, let’s dig into the 4 ingredients I believe need to be present in a people-centered workplace. It begins with the individual, then to the tribe, then ripples out to the work, and finally the impact.
This speaks to the personal journey an employee takes through their work experience, including their physical, mental and emotional health. The physical space they work in plays a big role in this zone. If an employee doesn’t feel good, it directly impacts their work in a negative way. Employers need to remember that their employees are unique individuals with specific needs and preferences. Treating them well on a basic human level outputs with increased productivity.
Good things happen when you invest in wellbeing at work.
We now move from the individual to the group, the tribe. With very few exceptions, we work in teams. When we feel like we belong and are accepted into the “tribe” it creates a needed safety net to be ourselves, which means we bring our best to the work. This outputs as increased creativity and collaboration.
Having a "best work friend" can matter more than you think.
This is the “work” itself. What we are doing at work. Are we mowing lawns, crunching numbers, or designing experiences? All work is of interest to someone. Even that which one might deem most undesirable is desirable work to someone else. Are we engaged by the work we are doing? Does it capture our attention and keep it? I often ask people, “When do you forget to eat?” That’s usually a clue about what work they should be doing. Engaging work gives us purpose. It's absorbing and puts us into a state of flow.
Unlocking purpose in work leads to greater employee engagement.
This addresses impact, when what we do goes out into the world, and also speaks to how the work changes us. I believe we have a deep need for meaning, which rarely happens without movement and change. Something must be transformed to create meaning. It could be a life changed with a new medicine or a friendship formed through a shared love of a product. People-centered work must be transformative on some level. Otherwise it leaves a void in our lives, one that pushes us from job to job as we seek work that brings meaning for us.
While most of us want to be able to make a difference at work, Millenials and workers of the future will pretty much demand it.
I believe that organizations that have all 4 of these ingredients in place innovate and compete at a level other organizations simply can’t keep up with. They have an engaged workforce that is empowered to do their very best work. They know why they do their work and they feel the impact of it.
Don’t feel discouraged if you still have a way to go to achieve all of these. No company on earth consistently delivers on these 4 ingredients for all its employees. But I believe this framework helps give an organization areas of focus as they look to build an attractive environment and culture for talented creatives.