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Becoming a People Company: 5 ways to build a business that puts people first

Do you put people first in your organization, over everything else?

Some businesses might like to think so. In fact, 55% of senior executives thought that they’re a ‘People Company’ when we asked them. In other words, a company that puts their people first.

Yet, staggeringly, only 29% of employees agreed.

‘People Companies’ explained

Companies that put people first get ahead. They attract the best, and as a result, their business flourishes because they invest in their biggest opportunity for growth – their people. We call companies which do this ‘People Companies’.

They’re organizations that know that their people are the most valuable asset, and that company success is dependent on their workforce being successful. They get that nurturing their people is critical to growth.

They let their employees know how valued and important they are to success – in actions as well as in words – and this is reflected in how their employees feel about the company and their work.

HR’s role in People Companies

HR teams are leading this change. It’s why we’re seeing the emergence of Chief People Officers in place of HR Directors in progressive companies.

It’s also not the first time HR has transformed. Personnel evolved to become HR in the 1980s. Today, HR is changing to become a people function.

If you – or your employees – don’t see yourself as a People Company, though, it can be hard to know where to begin. So, here’s our five tips to get started to become a company that truly puts people first, based on our research from 500+ HR and People leaders.

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  1. Get regular feedback from your employees – and act on it

Want to know how your employees can feel that their company puts them first? Ask them.

Find out what’s important to them at work, and the types of things they’d like to see you do as an employer. You might be surprised at what they say. Furthermore, the simple fact of asking your workforce what drives them will show you value their input.

There’s a few ways you can do this – from employee forums, to encouraging line managers to regularly ask their employees. Pulse surveys are also a great option, as they allow you to get quicker feedback and take remedial action.

Historically, companies have conducted annual engagement surveys to monitor their employees’ engagement and commitment to the company. However, results from these surveys rarely lead to insights or actions, and employees can view these as a ‘check the box’ business commitment.

Today, leaders need to take a much more holistic view to engaging people as part of their business strategy. Getting regular and continuous feedback is a great way to start, and demonstrate to your employees that you value their options and how they feel about their work.

The most important thing, though, is not collecting feedback – but listening and acting on it. For example, can you get feedback from new joiners and act on it in time for when the next new joiner starts? Make sure that you demonstrate you’re listening by communicating what and how you’re changing – and the rationale if some things are not able to be changed right now.

  1. Use data to make HR and people decisions

Understanding what the data is telling you about your workforce is another vital way to know how you can design experiences at work that make your people feel valued, truly putting them first in your business. 

In a People Company, or a company that puts people first, leaders get insight on what drives their workforce through what we call People Science. This means applying data-driven approaches to understanding your workforce —and how you both manage and engage them.

People Science is more than just people analytics. In practice, it means not just mining data and reporting it—but analyzing it, and gaining actionable insights to test hypotheses and identify solutions.

People Companies use insights in this way to design workforce experiences that engage employees, market themselves to candidates, and understand employees’ behavior and motivations. This also adds further credibility and commercial justification to people decisions in their company.

If you’re not sure where to begin with People Science, though, our eBook on the five vital steps to improve workforce visibility is a great place to start to understand where you are on your People Science journey, and what’s next for your organization.

  1. Unleash the power of your brand: apply external marketing techniques internally

In a competitive job market, offering a steady position for a good salary is no longer sufficient.

Companies need to work so much harder not only to attract talent, but retain them too. Making sure your people feel they are valued and put first is essential for this. That’s why it’s crucial that HR leaders adopt the same principles that their marketing colleagues do. This is something we call ‘People Marketing’.

In the same way that marketing teams will stay on top of product reviews in places like app stores, have a look at online review sites: what are people saying about your brand, and how can you engage with them?

Notify your employees of any new policies, benefits, work practices and let them feedback to you too. Listen to them, consider good ideas, implement and promote them.

Think also about your tone of voice, and how this reflects your values. You must be genuine, credible, distinctive and attractive for existing and potential workers to listen and ‘buy into’ your employer brand.

It’s also not good enough to simply pay lip service to how you value your employees and your workplace culture – staff and potential candidates need to see the proof of this, too. Can they see clear career progression within your organization, and evidence of employees being promoted internally? Are your staff advocates of your company on social media?

In addition, just as customer case studies and reviews speak volumes in marketing, the power of employee advocates can’t be underestimated.

Ultimately, think about how you market yourself to potential customers, and adopt some of the same practices in your talent acquisition and engagement programs to develop an authentic employer brand that your people can buy into and benefit from.

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  1. Ditch the annual review – and think about how you recognize the work employees do

It’s been a hot topic in the HR sector over the last year or so: are the days of the annual performance reviews numbered?

Companies that put their people first know the importance of continuous conversations. They provide regular feedback throughout the year, are able to make performance improvements in a more agile and incremental way, and use approaches like peer-led ‘shout outs’ to reward performance. This enables a faster, more nimble way to feedback to employees, that workers, colleagues and the business benefit from.

It’s not just feedback that’s important, though – recognition is vital to making sure your people feel valued for the work that they do. Make recognition programs inclusive, don’t skimp on spending, and make sure you have a range of ways to reward and recognize employees; some may like a company-wide shout-out, whereas others may be slightly mortified at the prospect and prefer a more discrete way of being recognized, such as a personal email from a senior member of the leadership team.

Try fostering a culture of recognition and appreciation; it could be the most cost-effective way to maintain a happy and engaged workforce where your people feel valued. Simply by recognizing and acknowledging employees for their work, you can generate a strong emotional commitment to your company.

  1. Say hello to flexible working

Today, thanks to mobile technology, employees are ‘always on’ and can often work longer hours, and – at times – weekends too. The traditional model of being in the office 9-5 has changed; companies which demonstrate that they value their employees’ work-life balance and recognize that everyone has different ways of working will held in high regard by workers.

Parents shouldn’t have to miss the school run just to be seen to be in the office, when they may be working long evenings too. Commuters don’t need to spend three hours travelling to and from work each day, when they could spend that time working from home.

Give employees the autonomy to work when and where is best for them. They’ll feel empowered and will be more productive in the output of their work as a result. Put in place an approach that works best for your people, and you’ll be putting them before unnecessary processes and traditional ways of working which are now out of date. You’ll reap the rewards in terms of engagement and productivity.

Ultimately, it’s about putting your people at the heart of everything you do

Companies which put people first and truly value their workforce deliver great experiences throughout the entire employment journey. They go beyond free lunches, great workspaces and unlimited holiday. They know their people and what drives them – and they use this information to create an employer journey that constantly continues to energize their workforce and get the best from them.

In total, only one-third of US employees are engaged at work, according to Gallup; they love their jobs and make their organization better every day. 16% of the US workforce are actively disengaged – they’re miserable in the workplace and extinguish what the most engaged employees build. The remaining 50 million employees aren’t engaged at all. In Gallup’s words: ‘they’re just there’.

Which category do your people fall into?