Embrace a Centered People-First Company Culture & Fuel Success in Software Development

Jan, 11, 2024

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This blog post is aimed at highlighting the significance of a people-first company culture specifically in the context of software development, outlining its key principles, impacts, and strategies for implementation.

Understanding the essence of a people-first company culture

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. It’s been nearly two decades since legendary management consultant Peter Drucker coined the phrase, and never has it been more relevant.

In today’s dynamic business landscape, success isn’t solely about profit margins or market dominance. It’s about recognizing that the heart of any successful enterprise lies within its people — employees, colleagues, customers, vendors, and the community at large.

A recent Forbes article highlighted the transformative power of people-centric organizations, emphasizing how putting people first leads to remarkable business outcomes from inception to fruition. Global leadership advisory Heidrick & Struggles is also seeing a sharp focus on shaping company culture, with 82% of 500 CEOs surveyed in 2021 citing company culture as a priority.

Leaders in people-centric organizations comprehend that their company’s triumph hinges on the individuals within it. These companies acknowledge that when people feel valued and supported, they exhibit stronger intrinsic motivation, find deeper meaning in their work, and engage at a higher level. The resulting commitment leads them to go the extra mile, contributing more passionately to an organization that genuinely cares about them.

At its core, prioritizing people is the cornerstone of sustained success in today’s business landscape. This philosophy forms the bedrock of long-term prosperity, offering individuals a compelling reason to join your organization and customers a reason to invest in your products or services.

Let’s explore the manifold advantages of prioritizing people across different segments.

Prioritizing people is key

Beyond merely delivering exceptional service and competitive prices, today’s market demands an intangible “it” factor—an exceptional experience for customers, our first segment. Demonstrating genuine care and concern for customers is pivotal. Failure to do so can negatively impact their experiences, compelling businesses to prioritize superior customer experiences to remain competitive.

Recognizing that vendors are also individuals, treating them respectfully is crucial. Every vendor is a potential customer and possesses connections that could impact your business. Maintaining positive relationships with vendors is instrumental in preserving your company’s image and reputation.

Businesses wield significant influence within their communities. By actively participating in and contributing to community interests or philanthropic causes, organizations exhibit their commitment beyond profit-making. Such actions not only resonate positively with employees and customers but also create a ripple effect of goodwill.

The next segment belongs to the concept of colleagues – fostered camaraderie among employees cultivates a sense of belonging and closeness within the workplace. Such connections not only reduce employee turnover but also prompt individuals to work harder, care more, and perform better in their roles.

Last but certainly not least, employees will be the focus of this blog. The peoplefirst approach to leadership prioritizes the holistic well-being of employees, addressing their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs to empower them to perform at their best. This involves providing meaningful work, fostering avenues for career growth and skill development, and promoting a healthy work-life balance.

Placing people at the forefront significantly amplifies employee engagement. This heightened engagement correlates with improved retention rates, enhanced job satisfaction, heightened productivity, superior output quality, increased customer satisfaction, and ultimately, bolstered revenue and profits.

Prioritizing people also yields tangible financial benefits. It sets the stage for business success, creating a cycle of paying it forward that ultimately pays back dividends. Moreover, it instills a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in contributing positively to the lives of others. 

While profits remain essential, they’re seen as an outcome of a well-executed strategy that prioritizes human capital. As Peter Economy, known as ‘The Leadership Guy,’ mentioned in Inc.: ‘While enjoying the success of a thriving company is natural for leaders, it’s crucial to acknowledge that employees are the driving force behind those accomplishments.’

The people-first approach, as articulated by Dale Partridge in his book ‘People Over Profit,’ advocates for a more socially conscious and sustainable business model. Partridge illustrates this ethos through his co-founding of Sevenly, a lifestyle brand that donates a portion of every transaction to a different cause weekly.

The traditional capitalistic system has shown signs of strain, prompting a discussion about more sustainable approaches to successful business operations. Many argue for a fundamental principle: giving to receive, which fosters a more sustainable business environment. 

In essence, embracing a people-first approach isn’t merely a moral imperative; it’s a strategic business decision with far-reaching, transformative impacts on organizational success and societal well-being.

People-first company culture in a software development setting

In the fast-paced realm of technology, software development companies are often driven by innovation, deadlines, and the relentless pursuit of cutting-edge solutions. However, in the middle of the lines of code and the push for advancement, a people-first company culture is a vital element that often becomes the cornerstone of success.

What exactly does “people-first” mean in a software development setting? It’s the recognition that the heart of any successful product development or system integration project is the collective talent, incremental knowledge enhancement, well-being, and collaborative spirit of the individuals involved. 

Here’s a closer look at why cultivating a people-first culture is crucial for companies like Leapwise

Valuing individuals beyond roles and titles
A people-first company culture acknowledges the uniqueness of every team member. It goes beyond mere job titles or roles, recognizing and appreciating the diverse skills, backgrounds, and perspectives each individual brings to the table. In a software development company, this means understanding that every coder, designer, tester, or project manager contributes uniquely to the success of a project.

Encouraging open communication and collaboration
Fostering an environment where open dialogue and collaboration are encouraged creates a foundation for innovation. By valuing everyone’s input and ideas, regardless of their position, a company culture of collaboration emerges. This inclusive approach often leads to breakthroughs and solutions that might otherwise have been overlooked.

Prioritizing work-life balance and well-being
Software development is notorious for its demanding nature, with tight deadlines and long hours. However, a people-first company culture prioritizes the well-being and work-life balance of its employees. Recognizing the importance of mental health and offering flexibility and support not only enhances productivity but also reduces burnout, leading to a happier and more motivated team.

Investing in growth and development
Nurturing a people-first company culture involves investing in the growth and development of employees. This goes beyond technical skill enhancement; it encompasses personal and professional growth. Providing learning opportunities, mentorship programs, and career advancement pathways not only benefits the individual but also strengthens the overall capabilities of the company.

Boosting innovation
When employees feel valued and empowered, they are more likely to innovate freely, experiment, and take calculated risks. This freedom leads to the creation of groundbreaking solutions and fosters a company culture of continuous improvement.

Enhancing product quality
A team that feels supported and heard is more motivated to deliver quality work. In software development, this translates to more robust code, better-designed products, and improved user experiences.

Building trust and accountability
Trust is central in a people-first company culture. And telling the truth. It’s about fostering an environment where trust is the bedrock of relationships between team members and leadership. This trust is complemented by accountability, where individuals take ownership of their work while feeling supported and empowered.

Reducing turnover and attracting talent
Companies that prioritize their employees’ well-being tend to retain talent longer. Moreover, a positive work company culture becomes a magnet for top-tier talent-seeking environments that align with their values.

Increasing employee engagement
A people-first company culture cultivates a sense of belonging and purpose among employees. Engaged employees are more committed, productive, and proactive in contributing to the company’s success.

Clarifying misconceptions about the people-first approach in organizations

When it comes to prioritizing people within an organization, there are several misconceptions that often lead to misinterpretations and flawed execution. Besides understanding what people-first is, understanding what it is not can also significantly impact how this philosophy is embraced and practiced.

People-first is not “me first”
Putting people first doesn’t equate to prioritizing individual needs over collective ones. We are singing Beyonce’s Me, Myself, and I song – it’s not about granting unlimited favors or advantages to individuals within an organization. Instead, it’s a more team-spirited (or even pro-socialistic, as some critics would argue ☺) approach – prioritizing the greater good over singular interests.

People-first is not doing other people’s work for them
An essential element of prioritizing people revolves around empowerment rather than intervention. It doesn’t involve reclaiming delegated tasks when individuals encounter difficulties. It isn’t about micromanagement or being exploited by an employee who shifts responsibility by saying “No one taught me this.” Instead, it entails offering support and guidance while granting individuals the freedom to learn and evolve from their experiences. There’s an old Chinese proverb that we love to use in the workplace: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

People-first is not about emotions (only)
While valuing people, organizations must still make logical and critical business decisions. Emotions need to be considered alongside business needs, ensuring a balanced approach that prioritizes both people and the organization’s greater objectives.

People-first is not financial loss
Contrary to the misconception that people-first disregards profitability, it actually goes hand in hand with financial success. Profitability enables organizations to invest in their people by providing training, development opportunities, and considering their input in decision-making processes.

People-first is not a stand-alone practice
A people-first approach doesn’t mean every decision will be universally liked. At times, tough decisions, such as shifting benefits, layoffs, or discontinuing products, may challenge this philosophy. However, transparently communicating after exhausting alternatives still aligns with a people-first approach.

In essence, people-first is a nuanced philosophy requiring a delicate balance between the well-being of individuals and the collective good of the organization. It’s not just a principle but a guiding ethos that should permeate every aspect of a company culture and decision-making, even in challenging times.

Implementing a people-first company culture at Leapwise

McKinsey did a recent interview with Oscar Munoz, a retired United Airlines chairman on his leadership lessons in organizational transformation. He argued that people-first leadership can make the sky the limit. “The concept of me going out and listening to everybody was how we developed our strategy. It was important to appeal to their sense of strong professional pride, and then match that pride with the resources, procedures, and alignment that they needed to do their job” he said and went on to explain how compassion and empathy can pave the way for rebuilding organizations and delivering value. 

At Leapwise, we understand that leaders and managers take time to know others and allow themselves to be knowable. It is important to interact with people human-to-human much rather than boss-to-subordinate. 

Constant communication and open communication with input from everyone in the team only benefit decision-making if managers know how to actively seek diverse points of view. Open, honest, and transparent communication channels are vital. Regular feedback sessions, town hall meetings, and platforms for anonymous feedback foster an environment where everyone feels heard. This way, we avoid unilateral decisions and show genuine interest in everyone’s opinions and ideas. Leadership sets the tone. Executives and managers should embody the values of a people-first company culture through their actions and decisions. Executives and team leaders need to embody and promote these values to permeate the company culture effectively.

People development

Furthermore, one of the most important aspects of a people-first perspective is the concept of People development. At Leapwise, every employee has a yearly personal development plan that holds 5 to 10 OKR (Objectives and Key Results) that are measurable, specific, and attainable, to facilitate strategy implementation and achievement of individual results. 

Our people-first strategy extends beyond the workplace, encompassing a dedication to fostering growth and learning opportunities. We prioritize continuous learning through various avenues: stretch assignments, regular candid feedback sessions, code reviews at both team and company levels, job shadowing, rotations, mentoring, and comprehensive training for roles and transferable skills. We’re dedicated to enabling both internal and external learning, tapping into respected industry authorities across software development realms—from backend and frontend expertise to product development and marketing strategies like SEO, PPC, and digital marketing. Certifications such as Oracle, Spring, Prince 2, Javascript, and participation in influential conferences play pivotal roles in advancement of careers of our employees. 

We believe in clear communication that sets expectations, minimizing misunderstandings and fostering a deeper understanding of the what, why, and how behind assigned tasks. Each word and action are considered for their impact, valuing the happiness and well-being of our team members. Our commitment is reflected in our offerings, including comprehensive health insurance, childcare benefits, and balanced meals, among others. Promoting a healthy work-life balance is crucial. Encouraging flexible work hours, hybrid work options, and offering adequate time off supports well-being and prevents burnout. 

Recognition and appreciation are at the heart of our company culture. We celebrate every success, encourage effort, and acknowledge achievements. While daily tasks can consume our attention, taking the time to notice and honor contributions remains essential in nurturing strong relationships that support a sense of belonging. 

Understanding the importance of proactive engagement, we conduct regular “stay” interviews that center on employee development, goals, and well-being, transcending mere project updates or task-focused discussions.

Additionally, formal and informal frequent conversations with Tech/Team Leads and team members provide diverse perspectives to evaluate our overall team and company health. At Leapwise, every individual is seen as a potential leader, irrespective of titles or hierarchical structures.

Our stringent selection process prioritizes not only technical skills but also responsibility, independent thinking, and innovative approaches. Once we hire the right candidate, company culture can make or break the onboarding process. It’s essential to highlight your company culture during selection and onboarding to introduce new talent to company’s values and goals from the get-go. This approach sets the tone for how employees will work in the company, and we like to motivate and engage them from the beginning. 

Encouraging company culture - collaboration by putting the ego aside

Encouraging collaboration by putting the ego aside

We foster an environment that encourages collaboration, discarding ego and “traditional” interpretation of hierarchy for inclusive decision-making. This philosophy fuels organic growth, allowing leadership roles to emerge naturally from within the team consensus, fostering genuine leadership rather than imposed authority. There is a common purpose we believe in that unites us beyond mere tasks, offering context and meaning to our work, promoting a sense of fulfillment and unity among our team members.

Furthermore, there is a fundamental belief in fostering leadership skills at every level while actively dismantling both actual and perceived barriers that might hinder individuals from fully embracing their potential as leaders. 

The company’s approach is set towards cultivating organic growth in roles like Tech Leads and other leadership positions, as these arise from a consensus within the team rather than being imposed from above. This natural progression of authority is widely recognized and accepted by everyone in the team, fostering genuine leadership rather than coerced authority.

Our people are united by a common purpose that is bigger than the work tasks they do. Every company should provide a context that helps connect the dots rather than barking out orders for tasks that seem meaningless and mundane. 

People-first company culture is not a value you can fake

Authenticity is paramount in embodying a people-first company culture. Merely adopting it as a buzz phrase or a hollow value statement without genuine commitment undermines its essence. It should be a core, intrinsic driving force within an organization.

In the ever-evolving landscape of software development, a people-first company culture stands as a pillar of strength. Behind every line of code and groundbreaking software solution, there are people whose well-being and growth contribute immeasurably to the company’s achievements. 

The people-first concept isn’t a trend or an anomaly. It’s here to stay. And the best part is it’s good for all of us. It leads to better business outcomes, better work-life balance, and more fulfilling careers.

To find out more about the creation of company core values, check our second piece about company culture – Company Core Values Uncovered: 4 Valuable Reasons Why to Define Them & How to Do It (Examples Included).