How to become a people-first company

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4 mins, 31 secs read time

Before the pandemic, most employers and employees believed that work had to be done at the office and in a specific way. But the sudden, mass shift to remote work during 2020 challenged conventional thinking about how and why we work.

Employees have realized they can take more control over when and where they work, yet the increased blurring of boundaries between work life and home life have left many questioning what they want from their employers and their careers. They’re realizing they want to work for organizations that recognize their humanity, have leaders who share their values and use technology to expand – rather than constrain – employee value.

To succeed in the new world of work, companies will need to transform their operations based on one underlying thread: employees want to work for companies that put their people first.

What are people-first companies?

Winning companies understand that talent is business critical. Understanding that employees are their most valuable asset, they regard all of their People practices – especially hiring – as a strategic rather than an administrative function.

For the past half century, companies have tended to focus on resource administration, not the employee experience, regarding people as an operational cost rather than a profit generator.

In contrast, today’s most successful companies view their people as the core of their business, and not just part of the HR process.

These people-first companies care about the employee experience and prioritize people in all of their decision-making. The result? An improvement in employee retention, morale and productivity that turns companies into resilient and flourishing businesses.

Becoming a people-first company

Transforming into a people-first company takes time, but leaders can start by taking action in a few key areas.

Change your hiring mindset

When companies look at hiring as an “HR process,” they fail to see the true value of the workforce because they regard staffing as an operational expense as opposed to a profit-creating expenditure. They approach hiring with an Operational Excellence mindset (OpEx) – meaning to them, employees’ salaries and hiring costs fall into the same expense category as day-to-day expenses like rent, utilities and property tax

On the other hand, people-first leaders take a Capital Expenditures (CapEx) mindset about hiring. They know that having the right workforce increases company profits, so hiring the right people has a compounding value. They regard hiring expenses in the same way that they regard outlays for land and physical infrastructure: it’s an investment in an asset.

Live your values

Today’s employees want to work for companies and leaders who share their values. They want to feel connected to, and inspired by, a company’s purpose, so they expect their leaders to be intentional about setting values and culture.

People-first leaders accept this responsibility. They are proactive about developing a set of ethical principles that govern how the company does business. These core values aren’t treated as framed and forgotten wall ornaments: they are lived values that play a role in how the company and its employees make decisions, handle challenges and set culture.

Get serious about DE&I

People-first leaders understand that innovative ideas happen when people with different experiences and backgrounds come together in welcoming, open environments. They also know that diversity isn't a box-checking exercise that ends with hiring.

These leaders recognize that social inequities affect people’s life experiences, and that they have the potential to create positive social impact by making their hiring more equitable and inclusive.

These practices include evaluating representation in the top-of-funnel hiring pipeline, using structured interviewing and continuously reviewing their hiring system for unconscious bias and other factors that could be contributing to inequitable outcomes.

Select human-centric technology

People-first companies use technology that expands human ability, enhances workplace collaboration and improves the employee experience. They avoid compliance-only tools that are purely for administration and a low value-add for employees.

They also see technology as an enabler, and want their employees to use tools that improve work-life balance, create more inclusive practices, and help them feel more fulfilled in their work. For instance, a people-first leader sees the value in purchasing software that improves the experience of data entry – a task most people don’t enjoy – because it enables employees to solve problems with insights gleaned from data analysis while removing the burden of the task.

Empower HR as an employee partner

People-first leaders want HR to focus less on resource administration and more on processes that meet human needs.

They empower HR to help employees develop career paths that match their interests and capabilities with business needs. They encourage HR to evaluate the impact that company policies have on DE&I, acknowledging the link between flexibility and inclusivity. They want a hiring system built on engagement and a great candidate experience. They want Talent Acquisition teams to work closely with hiring managers to determine the skills a team needs and to implement equitable hiring practices that identify, source and attract the best candidates.

People-first leaders know that compensation alone isn’t enough to attract and retain employees. Rather than narrow their focus to administering the workforce, these leaders broaden their focus to think about employee lifetime value and how they can enhance the work experience for every employee.

Looking for some examples of people-first companies and what do they do differently? Learn more here.

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Carin van Vuuren

Carin van Vuuren

is the Chief Marketing Officer at Greenhouse Software. She has deep experience growing businesses by creating distinguished brands and leading high-performing revenue marketing teams. At Greenhouse, she is the executive sponsor of WomenGrow, the ERG advocating for the growth and development of women at work. She is also a Marketing advisor to startup tech founders and a member of Chief, a private membership network focused on women executive leaders.