How to Create a People First Culture

people first culture

When I work with companies to help improve team functions and performance, someone in leadership inevitably asks, “Everyone talks about putting people first, but what does that really mean? What does it look like for my company to put people first?”

When this question comes up, I start by explaining that there are three key factors that every employee needs in order to be their most engaged and most productive self:

  • A sense of autonomy
  • The ability to progress
  • The knowledge of their work’s importance and greater purpose

While this is going to look slightly different depending on a company’s industry, structure, and goals, there is one step all leaders can take to help create a culture of putting people first. And it is something within every leader’s control to start doing today.

Be Approachable.

I’m not talking about smiling at people every time you walk by – although that does help! Being approachable means that your employees know that you are willing to listen to them and to let them engage in solving problems and making the team better. Here are three simple ways to do that, no matter what industry you’re in.

Ask for Input

Start by simply asking people for their input. Then, listen to what they say. Clearly, you can’t act on every suggestion or request. But by simply asking, you are giving employees an opportunity to share their ideas and concerns. This helps them buy-in to the process, the team, and the organization. Take action where and when you can; if you can’t act on a suggestion, explain why. It’s important for people to know they’ve been heard, and taking time to explain why their suggestion isn’t being put into action, goes a long way toward making people feel valued and respected. 

people first culture


A great team starts with the foundation of trust – and one way trust develops is when people feel they can speak up and engage in healthy conflict – even with the leader. When someone brings a concern to you or gives constructive feedback, don’t jump to justify or defend. Instead, listen. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes and ask yourself what their real concern or criticism is. By listening to employees’ concerns and questions, you will help them feel heard – and you may just identify a key issue that wasn’t identified by leadership.

Act as a Guide

In today’s ever-changing environment, organizations require teams who are agile and adaptable. And these need for change is often a friction point that leads to frustration on the part of both leaders and those they lead.

It is important to remember that leaders often know about changes long before their employees do, and have had an opportunity to debate, dialogue and process the change. Yet too often employees are expected to buy in to change with little or no time to process what is happening. To buy-in to and get on board with change, employees need the opportunity to ask questions and share concerns, as well as be a part of determining how the change will be implemented. It is the leader’s job to determine the “what” and the “why”. Let your team be part of figuring out the “how”.

Adopt a Leader Mindset

Help your employees grow by giving them the vision, respect, and autonomy they need to contribute at their full potential.

Want  ideas or advice specific to your situation or organization? Schedule a 15-minute meeting with Julie to discuss your team’s needs and how Action Strategies can help you accomplish your goals.

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POSTED ON: Leadership