People-First Culture: Overcoming Barriers to a Successful Workplace 

PUBLISHED ON

September 27, 2023

Adopting a people-first culture can eliminate egos in the workplace and allow employees to reach their full potential. However, we often use factors like hierarchy and job titles to determine success. Focusing on these factors can harm workplace culture and hinder a people-first approach to leadership. This article explores how leaders can identify and overcome barriers to a thriving workplace culture.

Overcoming Barriers that Hold Back Your Team

Several barriers emerge when your company culture stems from traditional, entrenched ways of working that are no longer relevant today. Differing generational approaches to work, the increasing desire for workplaces to feel purposeful, and managing hybrid ways of working have all led to different dynamics within organisations. Companies must confront key challenges to create a more inclusive, innovative, and efficient work environment.

Seniority-based promotions 

Advancing employees solely based on how long they have worked in the company rather than their skills, performance or potential. Promoting people based on seniority often leads to leaders not best suited for the role.  

  Strict hierarchy 

 Balancing hierarchy and flexibility is crucial for a positive and efficient company culture. Flatter hierarchies or hybrid structures can foster a more inclusive and dynamic work environment. 

Micromanagement 

 Managers might measure success through strict control and micromanagement. A controlling management style is one of the fastest ways to undermine trust and autonomy. Employees often feel undervalued, significantly reducing job satisfaction.  

  Silent compliance 

 A culture that values obedience and conformity can stifle creativity and hinder innovation. It’s vital to encourage diverse perspectives to promote progress and prosperity. 

  Excessive bureaucracy 

 A bureaucratic approach to management can slow decision-making processes, stifle innovation, and create frustration among employees.  

Examples of Adopting a People-Centric Culture from the Top Down 

Research by Quantum Workplace shows that 87% of highly engaged employees believe their workplace has a strong culture, as opposed to 39% of disengaged employees. Sticking to traditional work practices could make people feel like a commodity rather than a valued individual, potentially leading them to disengage. People-first work cultures have leaders who set an excellent example. 

We often say that change comes from the top, which is undoubtedly true for workplace cultures. Sachin Dev Duggal is the co-founder of Builder.ai, a company undergoing significant change as it focuses on profitability as economic conditions change. In a recent interview with Sifted, he discussed why he refers to himself as “chief wizard” rather than CEO.  

Duggal believes his title reduces the gravity of his role, emphasising his humility and ongoing learning. This viewpoint is likely to have a positive impact on workplace culture. Of course, it doesn’t only come down to the CEO job title; acknowledging that leaders don’t have all the answers while balancing respect and approachability is good for the workplace. 

Practical Steps for Leaders to Drive a People-First Culture 

Implementing a people-first approach to leadership requires a thoughtful and intentional effort. Here are some practical steps that leaders can take to overcome the barriers to a people-first culture: 

Lead by Example 

Demonstrate empathy, respect, and active listening with employees. Show vulnerability by acknowledging mistakes and sharing learning experiences.   

Re-evaluate Promotion Criteria 

Consider changing to competency-based criteria for promotion and establish transparent guidelines for career advancement based on skills, performance, and potential. 

Encourage Open Communication 

Create channels for both upward and downward feedback. Encourage open communication to share ideas and concerns. 

Invest in Employee Development 

Offer skill development, training, mentorship, and coaching programs to support continuous employee growth and unlock leadership potential. Our Quirk Academy could be a good option for companies considering this. 

Promote Cross-Functional Collaboration 

Encourage employees to broaden their skills and perspectives by working in cross-functional teams and projects. Break down departmental silos and promote collaboration between teams. 

Empower Decision-Making 

In a culture of trust and autonomy, employees at all levels should be given decision-making authority to take ownership of their work and feel empowered to make decisions. 

Embrace Diversity and Inclusion 

Promote diversity in hiring and create an inclusive workplace that values everyone. Foster an environment where diverse perspectives are actively sought and respected. 

Regularly Assess Organisational Culture 

Assess your organisation’s culture by conducting surveys and gathering feedback. Use insights gained to make necessary improvements. Quirk’s cultural diagnostics help leaders understand what influences their culture and how to improve it. 

Align Leadership Development with People-First Values 

Leadership development programs should prioritise empathy, collaboration, and employee empowerment to align with a people-first approach. 

For leaders creating a people-first culture, overcoming workplace barriers is an ongoing process. It requires commitment from all levels of an organisation. At Quirk Solutions, we work with business leaders to embed lasting change and encourage a focus on people, allowing for a productive, happy, connected workplace. 

To find out more about our work, email [email protected]

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