People-First Culture: A Workplace Guide

Jul 6, 2023 | Employee Engagement, HR Trends

In the workplace, nothing matters more than culture. Yet for many years, organizations have prioritized shareholder profits above employee well-being. But today, all that is changing. Moreover, companies are realizing they don’t have to choose between the two.

Building a people-first culture is key to enhancing employee satisfaction—and results. As you develop an incredible workplace culture, your people will become capable of achieving more than they may have believed possible. We’re going to discuss how to strategically build a people-first culture—and why this will benefit both employees and your business.

What Is a People-First Culture? 

“People-first cultures are rooted in a philosophy that values people over profits,” writes Entrepreneurs’ Organization in Inc. “The ironic twist is that when employees are valued as whole individuals and provided the opportunity for well-being, connection, and fulfillment, companies are generally more innovative, resilient, and even profitable.”

Let’s examine what comprises culture, then look at how a people-centered approach can be applied to these elements. 

According to Sheila Margolis, consultant with Workplace Culture Institute, an organization’s culture centers on the “5 Ps”:

  • Purpose
  • Philosophy
  • Priorities
  • Practices
  • Projections

Defining and living by these 5 Ps will ensure organizational alignment. When every team feels invested in the same 5 Ps, they’ll move in unison toward the same shared goals. 

A people-first culture centers its people within each of these 5 areas:

  • Identifying a purpose that resonates with employees
  • Living by values and principles that make employees proud to work there—and support their needs
  • Prioritizing inclusivity, flexibility, and wellness
  • Engaging in practices that empower employees and benefit society
  • Projecting a strong employer brand that affirms your commitment to your people

Guided by a commitment to its employees, a people-centered culture empowers them and cares for their needs. “ An organization with a strong people orientation tends to put people first when making decisions and believes that people drive the organization’s performance and productivity,” writes the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Why Is Having a People-First Culture Important?

Happy workers in a meeting
Credit: RDNE Stock project/Pexels

In our society, work is often viewed as draining. But with a strong people-first culture, work contributes positively to people’s lives. They go home feeling happy and energized, supporting overall well-being.

A full 82% of top leaders believe a strong culture can be a major competitive advantage. But just 12% of leaders believe they have the right culture in place. And 50% are trying to make positive changes to their culture.

Let’s review the impact of a people-first culture on your business. 

Engaged and Satisfied Employees

Happy, engaged employees mean higher retention. This translates into cost-savings and greater productivity. A strong culture can boost engagement by as much as 72%. Plus, absenteeism will drop, further enhancing what employees can achieve together.

Stronger Recruiting

Attracting top talent becomes easier when you have a people-first culture. This culture will shape your employer brand. Today, 35% of job candidates wouldn’t accept an offer from a company whose culture clashed with their values, notes Forbes. A supportive culture grounded in strong values will greatly enhance recruitment.


A people-first culture also promotes innovation. Throughout a company, employees feel empowered to share their ideas, and also believe that their input is valued. The company then has the ability to launch more groundbreaking ideas.

Effective Navigation of Change

In a PwC survey, 72% of respondents reported that culture helps with implementing change. New initiatives are more likely to succeed with a people-first culture. Such workplaces have a stronger sense of community, adapt to customer needs more effectively, and achieve better outcomes, says PwC. 

More Impressive Results

By strengthening their culture, Gallup’s clients have achieved an 85% increase in net profits over a 5-year period. Improved culture also increases safety, along with quality of results.

Now, let’s dive into how to build a strong, human-centric culture.

How to Build a People-First Culture

Colleagues having a meeting inside the boardroom
Credit: Thirdman/Pexels

Building a people-first culture starts with tapping into your human skills. All leaders should work to cultivate these skills, along with emotional intelligence. This will guide your success. Let’s walk through a step-by-step approach to building a people-first culture.

Identify Your Purpose

Building your culture begins with identifying your purpose (the first of the 5 Ps) and communicating how everyone contributes to it. Employees who feel a strong sense of purpose in their work feel fulfilled and energized by it. 

Model Your Core Values

Make sure leaders’ actions align with their words, as Entrepreneurs’ Organization recommends. Business decisions both large and small must align with your purpose and philosophy. Reflect on recent choices, asking, “How does this relate to our values?” 

Show Compassion

Lead with a compassionate approach and employees will follow in your footsteps. Remember that we all cope with challenges differently. If a coworker makes negative comments, for instance, they could be feeling anxious. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and be available to discuss their concerns. Showing compassion in such ways will greatly enhance relationships and workplace culture.

Promote Inclusion and Equity

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are key to a people-first culture. Everyone in your organization needs to feel equally supported in their career journey. This means providing them with mentorship and sponsorship, training, and chances to stretch their abilities. 

Set goals for diversity in higher-level positions, then work to meet them through these strategies. Along the way, address implicit bias that may negatively affect people’s careers. Undergo training in allyship to better serve a diverse workforce. And design an inclusive recruitment process powered by a diverse recruiting team.

Use Supportive Tools

Use performance management software in conjunction with a people-first culture. “Performance management programs can greatly affect corporate culture by clearly outlining what is expected from employees as well as by providing a feedback tool that informs employees about proper behavior,” says SHRM.

Such tools identify opportunities for growth in a supportive, straightforward way. Moreover, people can take ownership of their own growth through these tools. This provides them with a personal roadmap for development. Additionally, tools like performance evaluation software will complement these solutions. Together, they’ll help you positively shape employees’ growth and development.

Demonstrate Trust

Show you trust your employers with greater responsibility. Let them have a higher level of autonomy, specifying which decisions individuals and teams can make on their own. With this trust, they’ll feel more valued—and able to more fully use their creativity.

Promote Collaborative Leadership

Similarly, view each employee as a leader in their own role, as Entrepreneurs’ Organization says. Employees today value a collaborative approach, they note. Rather than taking orders, people enjoy designing solutions as a team. And they welcome the opportunity to share responsibility for group success. Invite them to share their expertise and cultivate their leadership abilities.

Share—and Ask for—Feedback

With daily feedback, employees are 3.6 times more motivated to excel. And maintaining high levels of engagement and motivation promotes a people-first culture. Instant feedback tools will help you share input frequently. Strong feedback loops improve relationships in an organization, strengthening culture. 

Additionally, ask employees for their input routinely. Using opinion surveys lets you do this easily; employees can complete them at their convenience. You can also implement a virtual idea box and simply invite them to share ideas with their manager. Show you value their feedback by putting their solutions into practice. 

Show Appreciation

Thank employees regularly for their efforts. Show that you see how their contributions helped the team achieve specific outcomes. And thank teams for their collective achievements, expressing how they benefited the company.

Prioritize Social Responsibility

A broader sense of social responsibility also factors into a people-centered culture. Today’s employees want to know they work for an employer with a social conscience. 

Here are a few ways to demonstrate social responsibility:

  • Sourcing materials ethically and sustainably
  • Giving back to your community
  • Adopting environmentally-friendly practices
  • Carrying out all operations in an ethical manner
  • Letting employees devote paid time to volunteer efforts of their choice

Taking these steps will make a great impression on current and future employees.

Examples of a People-First Culture 

Let’s examine several well-known companies with a strong people-first culture. 


In 2022, Microsoft topped the list in Comparably’s rankings of companies with the best culture. Microsoft supports employees in large and small ways, from purchasing ergonomic furniture for home offices to providing counseling services. They work to support employees through change and maintain highly inclusive practices. And above all, they prioritize compassion.


Elsevier has also been lauded for its employee-centric culture. Employees share a sense of purpose: 95% feel personally invested in its goal of creating an inclusive and sustainable world. Coworkers go the extra mile to support one another’s growth. They create an atmosphere of psychological safety that fosters collaboration. 


Since its beginnings, Marriott International has had a strong people-centered culture. As Forbes reports, the Great Depression began shortly after its founding. In response, Marriott hired a doctor to provide medical care for their workers. Today, chairman Bill Marriott stands in the cafeteria line with other employees and eats his meal with them. The CEO visits hotels across the world and seeks the opinions of staff at all levels. 

During the pandemic, Marriott suspended their eligibility rules regarding health benefits. Though hours had to be reduced, they made sure that didn’t affect access to health benefits. And in 2018, they shared tax cut savings with their workforce by putting extra funds into retirement accounts. In all of these ways, Marriott models how to create a people-first culture that builds employee loyalty.

People-First Culture FAQs

Let’s address a few common questions about developing a people-first culture. 

Are there any drawbacks of a people-first culture? 

Absolutely not! Companies that are new to this idea may fear it will undermine profits. But as mentioned earlier, the opposite is true. Happier employees will achieve greater results, benefiting the bottom line.

My culture is far from ideal. Is it possible to transform it into a people-first culture?

Some companies face greater roadblocks than others in this journey. But if you and your company’s leaders truly want to transform your culture, you can do it. The key is to obtain buy-in from leadership. This will allow you to implement the right practices and policies, while conveying the right attitude. So, make that your first goal.

Do all generations want a people-first culture?

Everyone might not be accustomed to prioritizing a people-first culture. However, people of all generations will feel more valued and empowered by it. As they experience the benefits, their job satisfaction will likely improve. 

Quotes on Having a People-First Culture 

We hope you find these quotes inspiring as you begin your journey to enhance your workplace culture!

  • “Culture affects every member of the organization and should be owned by all members. It truly is co-created through dialogue.” — Deri Latimer
  • “I used to believe that culture was ‘soft’ and had little bearing on our bottom line. What I believe today is that our culture has everything to do with our bottom line, now and into the future.” — Vern Dosch
  • “At Zappos, we really view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the very best customer service, will just take care of itself.” — Tony Hsieh
  • “If you really want to know what an organization or a team values, just study their culture.” ― Dele Ola, Be a Change Agent: Leadership in a Time of Exponential Change

A people-first culture is indispensable for long-term success. These tips and strategies will help you create this type of culture in your own organization. With them, you’ll improve job satisfaction, happiness, and productivity in your organization—along with results.

See how performance management software can support a people-first culture. Sign up to demo our product!

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