indicatorAdvice for Alberta businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic

8 tips for putting your people first

By ATB Financial 14 September 2020 5 min read

Purpose-driven brands are the future of organizations.

Being a purpose-driven brand not only boosts a company’s bottom line, but it can also enhance employee satisfaction and engagement. A recent survey of LinkedIn members found 58 per cent of companies with a clear purpose saw 10 per cent growth, compared to just 42 per cent of companies that don't prioritize purpose. In addition, 73 per cent of respondents who worked at purpose-oriented companies reported they’re satisfied in their jobs, compared to 64 per cent who are not.

A major part of being a purpose-driven organization is prioritizing your team. After all, employees are critical to business success.

“As businesses adapt to a continuously changing landscape of consumer behaviour, there is a key element of competitive differentiation that enables businesses to remain relevant, innovative and adaptive in a dynamic environment: their people,” says ATB’s Senior Vice President, People & Culture, Craig Hampson.

What’s more is that organizations who don’t put their people first are risking customer loyalty. A recent Edelman report on brand trust among consumers found that 71 per cent of respondents will lose trust in a brand forever if they believe it is putting company profits over people.

So, how can companies put people first? Here are eight tips on how to prioritize people during uncertain times and beyond.

1. Craft your purpose

This is kind of an obvious one, but if your organization doesn’t have a clearly defined purpose yet, it’s time to develop one—and write it down as a starting point. Invite your people to contribute and shape it. Articulating this outside of what’s in your head (and heart) goes a long way. A purpose creates a way for your people to see and participate in something larger than themselves, says Hampson.

“Putting people first is about fostering this connection to purpose. It is highly correlated with intrinsic motivation and the ability of your people to know and feel the impact of their work. A purpose will create a workforce that is willing to go above and beyond task-based work.”

When developing or refining your company’s purpose, Hampson says it’s important that everyone sees themselves in it and that what they do in their day-to-day connects to that purpose.

2. Design your culture

“Every business has a culture. It’s yours by design or by default,” says Hampson. To be more intentional with your company culture, clarify your values and how they show up both in your leadership and the behaviours of your team. Also, observe your team in action and try to identify the behaviours that exist today, and how they chart to your ideal culture. This way, you identify accelerators and potential challenges. Once you have a good purview, put a plan in place to build those desired capabilities within your teams and determine how to measure them in employee performance reviews. Lastly, be sure the internal values align with the external promise of the business.

“Consider that how you shape your culture is also how you shape the customer and employee experience. Putting people first is about exploring the mindsets, skills and capabilities of your people to realize a remarkable and differentiated customer experience,” he says. Your brand promise, and the way your people leverage desired capabilities to interact with customers are not mutually exclusive.

3. Be a coach

“Your people are navigating a lot of change right now. People are looking to their leaders for support. This is a great time to think about how leaders can apply a coaching mindset,” says Hampson. “Putting people first is engaging with a coaching mindset that empowers and builds the capability of your people.”

A coaching mindset emphasizes training, continuous feedback and opportunities for growth, and it can deepen employee-manager relationships, increase engagement and boost motivation. The Association for Talent Development found that 80 per cent of the workforce who have experienced coaching say it positively impacts their work performance, productivity, communication skills and well-being. Coaching can also boost business performance. A Bersin & Associates study found that teaching coaching skills can provide a 130 per cent increase in business performance. By shifting your mindset to “coach”, you also acknowledge that this is a journey towards constant evolution, engagement and improvement, for yourself, your team and your business.

"Every business has a culture. It’s yours by design or by default."

Craig Hampson

Senior Vice President, People & Culture, ATB

4. Foster an increased sense of adaptability in your people

“The pace of change is outpacing organizations’ ability to adapt, but humans are incredibly adaptable,” says Hampson. What they are looking for is direction on what needs to change, what new skills and capabilities they should develop and how to go about doing that. Hampson says instead of talking about the need for change, leaders should identify themes and trends driving change in their marketplace. This way, they can provide clarity on what skill development employees should focus on to make both them and the organization more resilient and sustainable.

5. Kind is clear

“Do your people know what’s expected of them? Are you able to articulate and demonstrate what good performance looks like?” asks Hampson. “People want to perform well. They want to be valued and be valuable to their organization. Putting people first is not the absence of performance expectations and assessment. It’s actually the opposite.” Be clear on what’s expected and empower your people to maximize their contribution to the success of themselves—and the organization.

6. Embrace workplace flexibility

“The workplace has evolved beyond the office. The tools and tech are only a part of the process. It’s about focusing on where and when people do their best work,” says Hampson. The global pandemic has accelerated the flexible work trend, and it now represents an opportunity to put people first by creating an environment of connection and collaboration that spans physical and virtual spaces. This includes how leaders manage their teams too, he says. It’s no longer about ensuring employees are working on tasks at set times or in certain locations. Instead, it requires organizational trust and shifting expectations around how teams come together to get work done.

7. Invest in employee health

If you want your people to bring their best selves to work every day, you’ll need to invest in the total health, or well-being, of your people, says Hampson.

“Putting people first is about making a commitment that you acknowledge and support the physical, mental, spiritual and financial elements of well-being and embed these within the employee experience,” he says.

8. Prioritize inclusivity

Is your business culture inclusive and open to new or different perspectives?

“Putting people first starts with a willingness to listen to your people,” says Hampson. But it’s about more than listening. You must thoughtfully develop feedback channels to incorporate those perspectives across the business. Remember, diversity and inclusivity strengthen businesses by providing a greater mix of insights and solutions.

“When we’re putting people first, I ask myself: what do people deserve from us? When people have a good experience and we put them first, we believe that translates to better business results. What’s good for team members is good for business,” says Hampson.


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