Are You a People-First Manager?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Many organizations tout that they put their people first, but do their managers follow through on that ideal. Let's take a look. 

Consider the following scenario: It’s 4:00 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon. Your team has been working diligently to prepare for a key client meeting scheduled for Friday morning. The project leader gets a phone call; she steps out and then comes back in and begins to gather up her papers and files. She very quickly mentions a family emergency as she heads out the door.

What do you do?

  1. Wonder how she could leave out at such a pivotal time; the team really needs her. You call her and talk to her while she’s driving so you don’t lose any more time.
  2. Wonder what happened and whether everything’s going to be okay, but push aside those concerns so the team can stay focused. Indeed, you don’t need the distraction with so much at stake tomorrow.
  3. Assume that whatever happened must be really serious for her to leave like that, but still plan to hold the meeting without her. You will follow-up with her in a few hours and see what she may need and when you can expect her back.
  4. You inform the client that there’s been an emergency with one of the team members and must make some last minute modifications to the meeting, but that it will still go on as scheduled. You will follow-up with the project leader to assure her that all is set for tomorrow, and encourage her to take whatever time she needs to attend to family matters. 

I’ve seen all four of these responses play out, but only the last response is truly "people first." 
Although, we love to talk about how people are our most important assets, do we actually believe that and demonstrate it in our behaviors? Do our day-to-day actions show that we care about the people that trade in so many hours of their day—of their lives—to make our vision happen? Do we say “people first,” but really mean “customers first and last?”

Putting your people first is more than just a catchy tagline or slogan. Putting your people first is a way of thinking and acting, which requires you to address common misconceptions that shape the office culture.

Misconception # 1: The Customer Is Always Right

If you want to manage your team with a people-first attitude, then the very first thing you must do is recognize that the customer is not always right. Somewhere in the course of catering to individual preferences, businesses and business leaders have fallen into the mistaken trap of believing this popular mantra. Wrong. Customers are not always right; but they are always the customer.


Customers who shout at and degrade your employees are not right, and you need to act accordingly. How you respond to a belligerent customer communicates more to your employees about the value you place on them then 100 thank you notes.

Misconception #2: Employees Don’t Care About Profits

Most employees want their organizations to do well. They’re not there to drain resources to the point of rendering a company unprofitable and unsustainable. However, many do not understand how businesses make money or how their actions affect the company’s bottom line. In addition, few understand price constraints, operating margins, or the many other factors that influence what companies can offer to their employees. Indeed, the majority of employees don’t likely understand the true cost of benefits or the full effects of giving a 5 percent salary increase to an entire workforce.

What they do understand, however, is how much money they need to sustain themselves and their families. So that’s the lens through which they operate. Here are few actions you can take, as a manager, if you want to bridge the gap and show that you truly value your employees:

  • Offer financial acumen courses to all employees. (Yes, this includes the frontline sales clerk.) 

  • Offer financial management courses to all employees—not just to those in the upper levels of income. Help your employees learn how to make their money work for them. 

  • Provide a small discretionary budget that the team can use to add some tasteful fun into the workplace. Set parameters on its use, but then let them work out how they want to spend the money.

Your Turn

Here’s another familiar scenario to consider: The cost of living in your area has continued to increase beyond the pace of wage increases. What would a people-first leader do? That’s a question I’ll leave you to ponder.

About the Author

Tiffany Crosby is an entrepreneur, author, writer, researcher, and trainer with more than 20 years of practical business experience. A graduate of Duquesne University and Franklin University, Crosby founded Petra Learning LLC in November 2011 after approximately 14 years at Ernst and Young LLP, where she was an executive director responsible for business advisory services. She combines her passions to develop fun, engaging, and innovative learning solutions for teams and companies. 

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