Building A People-First Culture
Years ago, I spent 18 months as a missionary in Mongolia, an eye-opening and enriching experience. My most valuable take away is something I apply to the management of AdvancedMD every day, which stems from a Maya Angelou quote:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
To this, we added, “намайг чухал гэж мэдүүлээрэи”, which in Mongolian means “Make me feel important.”
Every person wants to be valued; acknowledgment of worth is one of our greatest human needs. To perform high quality work with persistence and passion, employees need to feel they are essential to the organization. My top priority is reaching each person, encouraging their greatest strengths and empowering them to uphold the company mission. Cultivating a people-first culture yields significant productivity, can redefine your business, and take you to new heights of success.
Know the talent, keep the talent
At AdvancedMD, “people-first” has become intrinsic due to the nature of our business. We supply the healthcare industry with technology to help providers deliver better, more efficient care and help patients easily access information and take a proactive role in their own care and wellness. We’re always thinking about people, and that doesn’t stop at clients or end-users; the mindset embraces our most valuable resources: our employees.
When I say our employees, I’m not referring to a pool of people who carry out the daily functions of the business. I mean we embrace each employee for his or her specific talents and ability to turn them into high-performing results. Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, says managers should encourage people to take responsibility for who they really are:
“It is the only way to show respect for each person. Focusing on strengths is the storyline that explains all their efforts as managers.”
Instead of assigning tasks and responsibilities randomly, take great care to understand what each employee is good at and allow them to contribute so they can express that strength optimally. Value uniqueness, and watch employees shine.
Plus, happy employees stick around. We have a booming job market here in Utah, one of the best performing in the entire country. In fact, there’s only a 2.8 percent unemployment rate. The state’s businesses must attract and retain talent in this climate. But here’s the catch: it isn’t “businesses” or “companies” that do that. In Break All the Rules, Buckingham points out: “People leave managers, not companies.” Managers need to show employees they care about them as individuals. Here are some areas to prioritize.
The 3 Cs for “People-First”
When people come first, managers focus on the Cs. No, not the C-level tasks, but actions to communicate, cultivate, and create.
Communicate openly and effectively
Managers often fall short with communication: employee surveys say so, including one in which 91 percent said communication issues can drag executives down. It’s time to embrace the concept of radical transparency. Don’t present information—whether in emails, meetings or other channels—ambiguously. When people are left to their own devices to interpret a message, there’s a tendency to invent stories. The truth, generally, is not as harsh as people’s imaginations, so be honest and thorough with your communication.
It’s also vital to let people know you care about their feedback, and to close the loop when you begin a conversation. Don’t merely survey employees or ask for opinions: take action and then communicate the outcomes directly to those who gave feedback.
Bringing people from across the organization into discussion increases inclusivity and allows for multiple points of view. At AdvancedMD, we run cross-functional Kaizen events—mixing team members outside their core function—that encourage employees who are closest to complex issues to create and execute on projects to resolve them. Give people power by letting them know their input is key to company success.
Finally, don’t be afraid to give sincere praise liberally. If you appreciate something that someone has done, tell them. Be honest and genuine in your feedback about performance.
You might know employees’ titles or work style, but what do you know about their contributions outside the company? They’re more than work bees: they have hobbies, passions, and relationships. One of the greatest leaders I’ve ever known personally knows each of the 150-plus people in his organization, including their spouses’ and children’s names. Each employee even has a nickname that’s based on an embarrassing moment the person had! He takes the time to be present and engaged, making people feel cared for. They don’t forget how he makes them feel, and, as a result, the company boasts high employee retention.
As a manager, take the time to build relationships with teammates outside the strictly professional realm. You’ll be surprised what you find out at offsite meetings, book club events, and holiday celebrations—not to mention the connections you’ll forge with them. When people care about those they work with, everyone’s intrinsically more motivated to perform at a higher level.
When I go back to AdvancedMD’s mission of enabling healthy practices and healthy patients, it’s important that the people in our organization understand what we’re trying to accomplish. Both collectively and individually, how can everyone contribute? Why is this mission so important? The urgency and sincerity of the purpose always need to be top of mind. Each person has a set of opportunity costs—or next best alternatives—related to their employment with your organization. For me, this is time away from my three small children and family. What I’m doing has to be of greater value or bring more personal fulfillment than the opportunity costs to make it worthwhile.
When people understand the purpose of the organization and the impact they have, it gives additional fulfillment and gratification to their work. This value generates rewards that grow exponentially.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or what your business is seeking to accomplish: to achieve great outcomes, companies need great people. People deliver service to clients. Clients provide for financial results. It all starts with the people – and being “people-first” will help you attract and retain the very best people.