The people-first approach brings humanity back to business. Employee satisfaction is as important as profit, and leaders treat their employees with respect, understanding, and fairness. They create an environment where teams are highly motivated, see deeper meaning in their work, and are more engaged. Naturally, this then translates to the company's reputation and profitability.
"Take good care of your employees, and they'll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back." – J. W. Marriott, founder of Marriott company, a prime example of a successful people-first approach.
The opposite of the people-first approach is the ruthless pursuit of profit and the priority of satisfying shareholders. A way of running companies that has become a trend, and later the norm, since the publication of The Theory of the Firm.
But we ask—isn't it high time to leave this approach in the last century? Employees invest their time in companies and spend a substantial part of their lives at work. If time is money, why don't we value our people as much as our investors?
But changing the approach from profit-first to people-first shouldn't start and end with creating catchy slogans on a careers page and smiling employee photos on Instagram. People-first is not another marketing buzzword.
It's a fundamental change in management philosophy that must first take place internally. People-first starts with leaders, whose actions should embody the company's mission, vision, and values. Setting an example and inspiring the rest of the team to naturally follow.
What made companies start thinking about changing their approach? The pandemic had shuffled their cards and triggered a mass wave of resignations in the US, UK, and Europe.
"Companies face a range of challenges, including geopolitical, and economic uncertainty, climate issues, social changes, and cyber threats. In this kind of environment, they’ll succeed only if their people are fully engaged, motivated, and eager to contribute," PwC stated in their Global Workforce Hopes and Fears 2022 report.
But one thing is universally true. Profit-first is not a sustainable long-term strategy and companies are beginning to realize this. And it will be these organizations that attract the best people.
We are paving the way from creating processes to setting goals so we can grow together as a company and as a team. In a sustainable and meaningful way, where we are not dragged down by events and change, but set the pace and stay the course.
"We build everything around simple values that serve as a compass for our decisions and also force us to keep our feet on the ground. From the start, we want to make sure we don't live in a bubble of a small team, but that our people-first value can grow with us," explained Igor Kubíček, CEO and co-founder of Behavera.
Behavera is going through a challenging chapter right now. During 2022, we have grown from 3 co-founders to a team of 16 people. "We were looking for certain types of people who have the passion, potential, and desire to help others succeed, in addition to relevant experience, and expertise," said Igor.
We processed over 500 candidates and interviewed nearly 200 before we found the right people. Some we talked to for months and others we knew within five minutes we'd seal the deal. Our first team building has proved that we made the right choice, but only time and the first hurdles will tell if our people-first approach is limping somewhere.
"For me personally, it's important how that approach manifests itself in difficult times. Igor and I have gone through our fair share of crises, gritted our teeth, and somehow got through it. The rest of the team hasn't gone through tough times with us just yet," Dušan Švancara, CTO and co-founder of Behavera, revealed with sincerity.
"We expect conflict––it would be naive to think we can manage without it. People-first is when, after a difficult and frustrating week, we can sit down together for a beer, have a good laugh at ourselves, and still look forward to Monday at work," added Dušan.
That's why we started building a company culture at the team building. We used the Culture Design Canvas tool and gradually created our own Culture Deck. Even though we are still a relatively small team, we take culture seriously and believe that we need to build it from the very beginning.
"The prerequisite for creating the best environment for a people-centered culture is genuine interest. In the people themselves, in their work, and in their contribution to the team beyond their results,” says Samuel Nvota, Head of Product at Behavera. So we started to explore what is important to each of us and step by step our company culture will emerge.
We don't want to preach a people-first approach as a one-size-fits-all solution to all company problems. Instead, we would like to open a discussion on how to build better companies and how to bring humanity back to work in an era of digital boom. We believe our society needs a change in approach to the workplace like new shoes. We may be in for a few uncomfortable blisters, but the pandemic has revealed that no one wants to walk in those worn-out shoes anymore.
People want to work where they feel good. Happy employees and good old-fashioned chatter work best to attract candidates. Whether you're a good or bad employer, people will talk about you––in person or on social media, your reputation will precede you.
Changing your approach to people-first is a long-term investment, and building a reputation works like compound interest. It's pennies in the beginning, but it will pay for itself many times over in time. How?
What do you think about the idea of a people-first approach? Let's connect on LinkedIn and you will make us happy if you share the article with your colleagues.
 Behavera.com: The Biggest HR challenges of 2022, our research
 Forbes.com: The Power of Putting People First, author Rasmus Hougaard
 PwC.com: Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022, author unknown