3 Principles of People-First Leadership

Success in business hinges on your people and putting them first. Here's how to do it.

learn more about Steve Arizpe

By Steve Arizpe

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As a result of the last two years, one of the silver linings has been a greater emphasis on people throughout all aspects of life. From emergency rooms, classrooms and boardrooms to individual households, stores, venues and workplaces, the health and well-being of people has been at the core of most decision-making activities.

The workplace is one area that has seemingly experienced the most significant changes as more and more employers realize that people are their greatest asset, propelling HR to the forefront. However, faced with "The Great Resignation," a job seekers' market and more remote or hybrid work models, many leaders are in unfamiliar territory as they strive to identify a formula that works to attract and retain top talent.

Putting people first is a key ingredient for all successful endeavors and one in which leaders should embrace to make a difference for their companies, as well as their employees. Savvy leaders who maintain a people-first philosophy adhere to three core principles — genuine care, serving others and the employee experience.

Related: Putting People First: The Future Of HR In "The New Normal"

Display genuine care

When leaders display genuine care for employees and treat them as human beings rather than numbers, it lays the foundation for building trust, loyalty and respect with workers. Employees who feel valued and respected are more satisfied, highly engaged and exhibit discretionary effort, which leads to individual and team successes. In addition, leaders who care for their employees are perceived as more approachable, making it easier to build strong ties and long-term relationships that facilitate business growth.

While there are many components of care, an important element is empathy, which enables leaders to place themselves in others' shoes to gain a better understanding of their situations. When leaders listen to employees and learn their concerns, they are better positioned to help develop ways to address their needs to optimize the work environment for all. This is especially critical as many workers continue to juggle their work and personal lives, leading to high levels of burnout and employee turnover, which might be alleviated with more empathy.

Some ways that leaders demonstrate genuine care for employees include practicing active listening, enabling frequent two-way communication, being engaged, showing appreciation, soliciting worker opinions, taking an interest in their careers, having employees' backs and treating the team like family members. Leaders who demonstrate genuine care and compassion in the workplace are boosting the corporate culture and setting the stage for like-minded behaviors throughout the company.

Related: Winning Includes Putting People First in Your Business. This is How You Do It.

Practice serving others

Leaders who have a mentality of serving others by placing employee needs above their own are not only exhibiting humility, but they are empowering workers to grow and develop, leading to efficient, high-performing organizations. If leaders work alongside employees, as opposed to dictating from above, they are better prepared to guide them with the proper tools and resources to help them succeed.

When leaders are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get involved to help implement strategies or ensure projects remain on track, they are showing valuable belief and support to their employees, which increases team building and improves employee performance. As leaders help employees achieve their full potential, it unleashes the power that people can provide to an organization for sustained success. In addition, with many individuals reevaluating their priorities and purposes in life, practicing service to others aligns well at all levels to create more synergies within the work environment.

Some ways leaders serve their employees include conveying a "we" versus "I" mindset, sharing clear expectations and goals, removing obstacles that get in their way, providing training and coaching to address performance gaps, and ensuring a good work environment. Actions speak louder than words, so when leaders put people first through servant leadership it sends a resounding message to current employees and potential hires about the company's leadership style and culture.

Related: The Pandemic Created the Next Generation of Great Entrepreneurs

Emphasize employee experience

In order to put people first, the philosophy should be woven into the company's DNA and emphasized throughout the employee experience. Leaders should ensure that all programs and processes are developed and implemented keeping employees top of mind to facilitate a culture that takes care of its people from hire to retire. Companies that provide employees with an all-encompassing encounter that impacts their daily activities inside and outside of work, including professional, social, physical, emotional and financial well-being are supporting a solid people-first strategy that makes a difference.

In fact, millennials and Gen Z, who are fast becoming a significant majority in the workplace, are strong proponents of the employee experience with professional development, well-being and relevant technology ranking high on their lists. Leaders who take note of their desires and make changes to appeal to this sizable segment of the workforce will gain a competitive advantage in the workplace as they compete in the war for talent.

Some ways leaders can make an effective impact on the employee experience include using robust HR technology that covers numerous employee touchpoints from recruiting, hiring and onboarding to training, performance and career advancement; boosting well-being programs with a holistic approach that views all business operations through a health and wellness lens; promoting professional development opportunities by offering an optimal mix of learning tools to grow leaders; and developing employee recognition programs that make workers feel appreciated and valued.

Savvy leaders with a people-first philosophy are signaling their commitment to meeting the needs of the workforce and nurturing them from within to grow the leaders of tomorrow for ongoing business success. When genuine care, service to others and employee experience are optimized in organizations, it can dramatically change workplace dynamics and have a positive impact on the future.

Steve Arizpe

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

President & COO for Insperity

Steve Arizpe is president and COO for Insperity (NYSE: NSP), a leading provider of HR and business-performance solutions. He provides strategic leadership and guidance throughout the organization to ensure success for its small and mid-sized business clients.

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