Most leaders are naturally conscious of the need for their organisation to make money. Clearly if that fails to happen, it won’t be long before there is no organisation.
Even in this context, thoughtful leaders recognise the importance of putting people first and continue to do it successfully. These leaders focus on putting people first because they are looking past today and tomorrow. They have a longer term view which elevates their thinking out of the hustle and bustle of everyday activity and gets them looking ahead.
Why does putting people first make such a difference?
Focusing on creating an environment where people are relatively happy to come to work is very important. When people in your organisation are happy with their situation, here’s what happens:
People are more helpful: When you’re angry about your job and your life and someone asks for help, do you really feel like putting in extra effort to assist them? I didn’t think so.
People build better relationships: Satisfied people are happier and are less likely to engage in bickering, arguments or passive-aggressive behaviour. Conflicts are resolved more constructively, because people respect each other more.
People resonate with the organisation: What I’ve noticed in people-focused workplaces is that people bond with the organisation more strongly. They are less likely to do things that hurt the organisation or the people within it, because that may jeopardise their position. People who bond strongly with the organisation become “organisational citizens” and are less likely to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour that may harm the workplace environment.
Putting people first matters.
Leaders who practice putting people first know what type of team they want
Leaders who are good at putting people first have put thought into the team that they want to lead. They realise that failing to prioritise people will leave them in a situation where they lead people who don’t want to be at work.
Do you know what type of team you want to lead? Have you thought about it? Or are you fighting one fire after another, struggling to keep your head above water day to day? Yes, it is a strange world when you can be fighting fires while drowning, but I’ve seen it happen to leaders in several workplaces.
Consciously thinking about the type of team you want to lead means that you can monitor your situation through that lens.
Leaders who practice putting people first still need to make compromises
Leaders who put people first make difficult, conscious decisions to do so, because they recognise the long term benefits. These leaders still need to juggle priorities and handle external pressure, but they rarely give in to this pressure.
Leaders who practice putting people first are always weighing up the benefits of pushing back on their stakeholders relative to keeping their people happy, and in conditions that enable them to do their work effectively.
A leader who puts people first may make a decision to push back on a stakeholder who wants his team to work late. But a leader can’t do this every time. Sometimes, even these leaders must reach a compromise and request their team to go over and above to deliver something.
However, leaders who put people first know that if this happens too often, this will have adverse effects on the team and all their good work will be undone.
What does putting people first look like?
Putting people first means ensuring that people in your team have what they need to be productive. It also means enabling an environment where your team are able to work in a way that suits them and where they feel respected.
Putting people first means enabling flexibility
Enabling your team flexibility in the way they work is a key factor in creating a functional team. Assuming that their arrangements do not adversely affect their ability to do their job, provisions that enable working from home or flexible working hours are important in creating an environment where people want to work.
Flexibility allows people to more easily work around their personal commitments so that when they are working, they can be productive. Employees who feel as if they are unable to attend medical appointments or school graduation ceremonies without withstanding intense scrutiny are likely to feel as if they are compromising their relationship with their employer each time they choose to attend.
Flexibility means setting up situations for employees where balancing work and outside life is more achievable.
Putting people first means enabling personal development
I’ve worked in many environments where leaders have provided limited development opportunities outside of on the job experience. On the job experience is definitely critical, but it should comprise approximately 70 per cent of an individual’s learning.
Ten per cent of an individual’s learning should come from structured learning activities such as classroom learning or online training.
Learning on the job is important, of course. However, structured learning effort often helps to get the most out of the on the job experience. This is because the individual is able to apply their new knowledge to their role.
Where possible, you should make an effort to enable structured learning within your teams. Some organisations provide learning materials, but what they don’t provide is the opportunity to spend time on structured learning.
Leaders who endorse learning but fail to carve out time to undertake it are shortchanging their teams. If people are required to spend their own personal time on learning then they are less likely to partake, even if the resources are provided.
Putting people first means publicly supporting positive behaviours
Workplaces have quite an intricate social fabric which needs to be understood to navigate them effectively. There are often unspoken rules and rituals within workplaces which are never formalised. I’ve worked in many places where you can work from home, but it isn’t actively encouraged. The people who do it have worked out that it’s possible, but they don’t crow about it, because it isn’t formal policy.
Others know they can leave early to attend a medical appointment without organising it beforehand, because they know how their workplace operates.
What this means is that employees try to decide for themselves what is acceptable and then work accordingly. Depending on the employee, this can be quite stressful because people are concerned that they are always “doing something wrong”.
This is why leaders should publicly endorse factors like flexibility and learning in their workplaces. Providing and communicating formal policy is also beneficial because it removes the guesswork as to what is allowed. Employees are then free to act accordingly and all the rules are on the table for everybody to see.
Many organisations offer learning opportunities, but then introduce conditions that make it very difficult to take advantage of them. For example, one organisation I worked for indicated that training was available “if it didn’t affect your client work”. Well, if you’re constantly busy with client work, this can be a challenge. Employees who do take advantage of these opportunities are those that push for them. Not all employees are like this, and some will be left behind.
Putting people first is an admirable quality in leaders. It demonstrates conscious thought about the team and creating conditions that people are comfortable with.
Many leaders operate behind a facade that appears to prioritise the people factors. However, these leaders often make compromises which reduce the people focus and make the leader appear disingenuous, “all talk”.
The only way to really start putting people first is to consciously make a decision that it’s how it will be and to make that known amongst your peers and team members.