All business owners think they have the best offering. We spend our marketing dollars telling our audiences that our service is second to none. And today, when everything seems to be about platforms and technology, it's really our people who make a difference. And having a people-centric culture can help you focus on your real differentiator.
“Companies are struggling not because they don't have the tools they need to be successful," says Kirsten Kuhlmann, owner of Cliff Consulting, a 45-year-old consulting agency based in San Francisco. [Disclosure: Kuhlmann is also a good friend.]
“They're struggling because they got distracted and took people—their customers and employees—out of the equation," she continues. "People do business with people, not processes and certainly not robots. The businesses that excel do so because they've made people a focal point."
Kuhlmann makes a good point. Thinking about people first means thinking about your employees and your customers, and creating a culture that values them. Here's what that can look like.
People Over Processes
It's a common practice to implement processes in your business to help accelerate growth, but in a people-centric culture, the processes never replace sound logic. Employees are empowered to, and capable of, making decisions based on real-life scenarios and can adapt to exceptions as needed.
A few months ago I moved my family across the country. We sold our house and decided to rent until we learned the ins and outs of our new location.
We found a house we liked and reached out to the real estate agent. From the start, it was clear that she had a process—a list of steps that needed to be completed before she could move forward. And things were good until we disclosed that we were business owners.
It became clear right away from her processes that she had not accounted for business owners in her steps. For example, the application form asked for employer information, required pay stubs and asked for our monthly income. And she really struggled to get her head around how to handle the application when all of the boxes on her form couldn't be checked.
It was clear that the process was broken and that the real estate agent didn't have the skills to handle it, so we eventually moved on to another property. As a result, the agent not only lost out on a sale but received a bad review that will stick with her and her firm.
At the end of the day, processes are great, but they do not replace people. In a people-centric culture, your team knows that and is trained on when it's OK to deviate when exceptions arise.
In a people-centric culture, everyone in the organization is trained to understand how they're all connected. They work together to achieve a common goal.
But there's something else you see in a people-centric culture: Employees have empathy for their colleagues. They have a natural ability to see beyond team/department boundaries and do things because it's the right thing to do, not because it benefits them personally.
This type of behavior isn't something you can teach. Someone either has it or not, and good recruiting practices can help you identify these individuals quickly and, more importantly, weed out the ones who don't.
One of my mentors, Stephen Callahan, VP Technology Services at Imagine Technology Group, says it best: “Hire for culture first."
Yes, you want to hire smart people who have the skills you need, but you can teach skills—the hardest gap to train for is a cultural one.
People-Centric Reward Policies
Policies that reward a people-centric way of thinking tend to focus not just on your performance but who you supported along the way. And in people-centric cultures, these policies are embedded in everything they do.
At my agency, we do 365-degree reviews where everyone in the organization has an opportunity to review their peers, boss and our customers. And the scores of all three areas are taken into consideration, along with the individual's performance.
These policies help us reinforce how important people are to our success. It's also a reminder that everyone we come in contact with is important and to be aware of our role in their experiences and success.
In a people-centric culture, employees know that job titles don't define you. If you're a part of the team, that means everyone all the way up to the CEO feels responsible for making sure that people are always at the forefront. If something needs to be done, everyone feels obliged.
The sales and marketing team doesn't make a sale without confirming the implementation team can handle it. And the implementation teams know the project isn't over once their work is done. Everyone sees their role in the context of the bigger picture.
When you consider how closely connected the customer experience is to the success of your organization, it's much easier to see how your customers and your employees are connected. Putting people first can help propel you forward and set you apart from your competition.
Read more articles on company culture.