HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

People-First Culture

Is your organization people-first? Would you like to know how to create a people-first organization? Find out why a people-first organization builds a culture of growth and longevity in the long run.

What Is a People-First Culture?

A people-first culture is all about putting people at the center of an organization and building systems and structures that aid in the flourishing of the employee.

The Importance of a People-Focused Culture

Our organizations aren’t as important as we like to think they are. Work shouldn’t be the most important thing in our life all the time. We’ve all seen, either personally or in the news, the danger of putting work, the company and the bottom line at the top of our priority list at the expense of something else. We see people risk their health, freedom, relationships and passions at the expense of pursuing work or the bottom line. COVID-19 was a worldwide experience when people were forced to evaluate their priorities. It forced us all to look at the areas of our life and re-prioritize them. Our job and career can be an important and meaningful part of our life, but it isn’t the only part. We all have relationships, passions, hobbies and our health as important aspects of our life. When an organization focuses on putting people first, they think about the whole person and not just their contribution to the organization. They build systems and structures to help the whole person and not solely their productivity level. It recognizes that when we care about the whole person, that person brings their best self to work. Ultimately, when we focus on people over profits and processes, organizations set themselves up to succeed in the long run.

Characteristics of a People-First Culture

A people-first culture tends to look like the people who make up the organization. The characteristics will change depending on the makeup of the organization. Here are some general characteristics that benefit all people:


People need to know that they’re doing the right thing and are appreciated by the organization. The most obvious form of recognition is adequate pay. If we care about people, we should pay them enough to live. Recognition can also come in the form of public recognition, private praise, awards and any other fun way to thank people for what they do.

Meaningful Work

A people-focused culture helps employees understand how their work meaningfully impacts the organization and their customers. Assessing whether an employee’s work is meaningful may even uncover work that doesn’t need to be done. People want their work to matter. Nobody wants to come into a job and do work that is pointless. Help people see how their piece of the puzzle fits into the larger picture.


COVID helped us all see that the typical 9-5 office hours doesn’t equate to productivity. There are obvious industries that require official opening hours to interface with customers, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be flexibility in staffing. People have lives outside of work, and sometimes aspects of life take precedence over our work life. We need to realize that life happens; kids get sick, tires go flat, dentist appointments need to be made, and so many other things interrupt our day to day. When we give people flexibility on when or how their work gets done, they tend to do their best work. We can’t assume that every person works the best during a set period of time or in a set environment.


If we truly want to put people first, we need to put our money where our mouth is. Investing in people shows that they are more than just a cog in the wheel. Investments could look like learning and development opportunities, employee engagement systems, bonuses and salary adjustments, wellness benefits and fun community-building times.

How to Build a People-Focused Culture

A people-focused culture takes time, energy and resources, but is a positive investment for organizations of all sizes.

Step 1: Assess Where You Are

How do your people feel about working for you? Don’t start building based on assumptions. Collect data. Have one-on-one meetings. Get feedback. Ask for help. Highlight the wins and the losses. The more honest the assessment, the more likely you’ll succeed at putting people first.

Step 2: Plan It Out

What’s the low hanging fruit that could be tackled first? People-first culture can span a wide variety of aspects, with varying amounts of time and cost associated. Start simple and easy. Think through the implications of initiatives. Ensure that the people-focus is on all people and not just ones who affect the bottom the most.

Step 3: Assess and Reassess

Changing culture takes time. People change, and so do their needs. A people-focused culture should constantly have its finger on the pulse of the people and adjust accordingly. You are not leading in a sterile environment where the outside world never changes. You can’t control things outside the organization, but you can control how you respond. Economic downturn, catastrophic events, supply constraints, talent shortages or whatever gets dropped on your plate can be worked through in a way that puts people first.

Potential Roadblocks to Creating a People-First Culture

A people-first culture often feels like a hit to the bottom line, and often leaders stop before the investment starts showing. Here are a few roadblocks to implementing a culture like this.


If you’re going from nothing to something, employees might feel skeptical. Any change needs to be genuine and communicated openly, otherwise you risk this venture to come across as fake.


Leaders often lack patience. Sadly, too many earning calls and stock prices are based around short-term views and not the long-term trajectory. The same can be true of implementing a people-focused culture. Change is hard; some are quick to change and others slow to change. Any adjustment takes time to become a habit or long term change. Change doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient.

Built Around a Culture of One

A people-first culture can accidentally get built as a person-focused culture if you're not being careful. Often initiatives, projects, systems, and structures can be viewed through the lens of the CEO/founder or the team that’s implementing the change rather than the whole organization. The more diverse the inputs into this process, the more likely you’ll be able to help all employees. We may have similar needs, but we don’t all prioritize those needs in the same way.
Jack Grimes

Jack Grimes

Jack Grimes is new to the traditional "HR" role. His previous experience building and leading teams in the restaurant and non-profit industries is a natural on ramp to a dedicated HR role. He wants to build systems and structures that aid in the flourishing of people.
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Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Accountability in the Workplace
Company Core Values
Company Mission
Company Personality
Company Purpose
Company Vision
Corporate Social Responsibility
Culture Add
Culture Audit
Culture Committee
Culture Fit
Culture Interview
Culture Strategy
Employee Loyalty
Mission, Vision and Values
Occupational Folklore
Open Door Policy
Organizational Commitment
Sustainability in the Workplace
Team Building Activities
Team Culture
Toxic Work Environment
Transparency in the Workplace
Workplace Culture
Workplace Diversity
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