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Welcome to episode 25 of the Rethink HR podcast, brought to you by bettHR.

In today’s episode, I share four tips on how to become a people-first culture, even if you’re not sure you’re able to influence your entire company’s culture. It starts with deciding what people-first means, if your company actually aligns with being people-first (and what to do if it doesn’t), and how to build into your HR world, employee first thinking and actions.

Not all companies are meant to be people-first cultures. Even though that’s the “cool” thing, and it’s the type of company most of us want to work at, because hello – we’re all people first, but being honest about the type of company you work at is incredibly important in order to create a real culture. And you don’t need to consider “culture” at the company-level only. Consider how you can add more people-first thinking, actions, and communication methods within the department you reside or the group you support.

Bonus tip inside the episode: you already have invested a lot in people-first activities like total rewards, and you may simply be missing the opportunity of communicating it well.

Listen in to learn more!

In This Episode

  • Why most large companies aren’t actually people-first, even though they want to be (or say they are).
  • It’s ok to do great work at a company that doesn’t have a people-first culture.
  • You can create a people-first micro-culture within your own department by implementing these tips.
  • Your employee experience is the best way to ensure you create the culture you want.


Creating a people-first culture doesn't just have to be at the company-level. You can implement these #employeeexperience actions within your own department #HR Click To Tweet

Melissa Anzman (00:00): What does people first mean for you for your company, for your employees? How are we treating them? How are we communicating with them? What benefits are we offering? What support do we have? All those things. I'm Melissa Anzman.

Melissa Anzman (00:13): An HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner, responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide. And I struggled to move the needle, even after trying everything under the sun, fast forward, past many fail tactics and lessons learned. And you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals, and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step by step strategies to help you make an impact. If you're an HR leader or one on the rise, who's looking to stop spinning your wheels, doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results, or you want to have a career. You love your in the right place. Let's get started today. I want to talk about

Melissa Anzman (01:16): Something that has really caught fire over the last few years. And it's one of those things that as I speak around HR conferences are now 11 are around at HR conferences or even those questions that I get through social media. In my inbox, everyone has like an urge, a want, a desire, I should say, to understand how to become a people first culture. Now people first is one of those things that sort of spread through the HR community like wild fire beginning about five or 10 years ago. I can't quite put my finger on when it first started, but I do remember thinking that there was a lot of people first thought in all of these new mission statements and culture statements and values and all those things and at its core, I totally understand why, but I'm a little uncertain how this became part of the vernacular.

Melissa Anzman (02:19): Particularly when most companies aren't actually people first companies. So I want to explore a little bit more about how to become and truly people, first company, and also a little note about most companies who aren't people first, because there's a little bit of shame or embarrassment or be re astrogen putting your head in the sand about it that I don't want you to experience, but that is going to be a little later on. Let's start with what being people first actually means. So you've probably heard some culture statements or values or whatever that say things like we put our people first, or we care about our employees or we're committed to a good company culture. Now with that commitment came the now infamous and really, really unhelpful in so many ways idea of employee engagement and surveys and all the things, because we are trying to measure what our employees think and feel about our company culture based off of off the shelf questions and standards.

Melissa Anzman (03:22): And, you know, I can talk all about employee engagement surveys. In fact, in episode 24 of the rethink HR podcast, I go into that deep of how they can work for you and why most don't. But I digress because with the employee engagement survey phenomenon thing, whenever that came into the scene, I don't know, 2015, 20 years ago, we also started building in people first because there were a lot of questions in those surveys that made us think about our own culture and about how much we really are, or aren't putting our employees, our people first at the center of what it is that we do. And the thing is, is there's been definite meaningful shifts toward creating better work environments, a hundred percent. There's definitely a focus that your employees are important. Having them be at work. Um, the whole idea of happiness at work don't get me started.

Melissa Anzman (04:23): All of that has definitely happened. And the work environment is better than it was 20 years ago when this started for sure. And we've also worked on retaining employees. We've even thought of it as a thing, since this came on the scene and we do this so many ways that help our employees, things like providing them different benefits, perks, freedoms, all the things. And we even changed our department's name from personnel to human resources to help us become more human, which again, I get totally rant about. So I won't, but the point here is as we started being more cognizant about our employees, as people, as humans, and that has led us down the path of wanting to become more people, centric cultures in general, but a lot of companies really stalled out because the thing is, is they have realized that perhaps the investment in people first doesn't match the actual goals of the company or the stakeholder goals or bottom line, all those things, the ROI we talk about, and also the money that we put in for things like employee engagement surveys, um, maybe total rewards packages that they just aren't moving the needle any further.

Melissa Anzman (05:41): They're not having enough of a bang for buck type of conversation to get us to the hump of it being something we actually focused on. And also let's be clear the economy, whether it's good or bad plays a role in this because in a good economy, it's really hard to find qualified candidates and people, right? There's tight job market in general are the best people are going to be super choosy. And so we are going to have more investment in our people experience our employee experience because we think of it as retaining them of capturing that one person we want capture maybe, maybe, um, but at least it attract them to our company. Now, the thing is, is in a bad economy or in downturn when there are a lot of unemployed people, that idea of people first really shifts because the company's first focus is not their employees.

Melissa Anzman (06:38): It likely, never was. I hate to break the bad news to you, but when it's a down economy and companies aren't doing well, and you have pick of the litter of the candidates and new employees who bring on it is a very different conversation of how to focus on people. First, it is more of a dare. I say, sacrifice to do that, and it's not necessary. It's just not something that has to be levered in a bad economy. And because the economy cycles, you will see that there are also cycles with the way that companies approach being people first. So I want to look through a few things very specifically that you can do at your company to keep your eye on the prize, to really track toward becoming a people first culture, if that's what you want to do. And the thing here is is if you can't do it for your company, maybe you're not the decision maker, or maybe you're one of many decision makers.

Melissa Anzman (07:39): Perhaps your company has just a different approach that does not mean you cannot create a people first culture within your own department, within the lead team that you lead within a more microcosm environment. So I want you to keep that in mind, this is not about just the big company situation, but it's also about how you can do that going forward. And so the first thing that you have to realize is in order to be a people first culture, you have to actually care about your people. You have to deeply care, truly care who each and every individual who shows up to work every day for your company or department, you have to care about who they are as individuals. You have to understand why they choose to spend a big part of their day working at your company and why you want them to be the external talking, walking, uh, advertising boards about your company to the external world.

Melissa Anzman (08:41): And you have to appreciate all those things, which also means you have to appreciate who they are, their uniqueness, their diverse background, all the things, their experiences, all the things that make them, them. You have to want that to be of utmost importance in your environment. So how do you take that idea and apply it to real terms? Because you're probably sitting there shaking your head in agreement with me, like, yes, we want our people to show up as they are. We'll talk about that in a second. We want them to be who they are. We respect them. We respect everything about them. We, we want them to be successful. People, not just successful employees. We care about them. And this strategy has to start from the top. I know it's not what you want to hear. And I know that you may be sitting there saying, you know what?

Melissa Anzman (09:29): I am in a role that influences the CEO or board of directors, but maybe you're not. And you're like, I just don't know where to take this. You can still apply this for your own organization or whatever, little microcosm that you have influence over because wherever that is, and you're at the top of that or a part of it, you can absolutely influence that. And so at the core of your strategy, you have to really understand and truly believe and know so that your people, your employees are critical to your company's overall success. Not just any person who sits in that seat or people that you can hire if your current key talent leaves, but are you invested truly invested in how successful your current employee population is in their current role and for the overall success of your company. This is a really huge question.

Melissa Anzman (10:25): And those of us in HR are likely going to say, of course we are. Yes, yes, yes. But when we start to really think about it and dig in and really look at the places we work, the answer frankly may be no. And you may look around and see that your current employees may not actually be that critical to the success of your company as a whole. Yes. Maybe the key talent stands out and a few other people and players seem to be critically important. But if your company's strategy does not value each person as an individual, versus looking at them as a cog in the wheel, it is not a core value of your company to be people first. Now, most people are going to go down this rabbit hole of like, but I want to work somewhere. That is people first. And I hear you ideally.

Melissa Anzman (11:17): Yeah, every company would be people first because first and foremost, each of us who show up every day at work are people and we want to be treated as such. And we want to be respected as such. And we want to have the opportunities and the freedoms and all the things that come with that. But a lot of us work for these things called corporation and corporations have very different set of standards and success measurements that are likely based on things like profit and how their stakeholders think they're doing things that having a focus on people first on paper, doesn't seem to make sense, but here's the thing. We know that we can't necessarily change it, but we can influence our own little space and it's not okay to sort of feel shameful about it or embarrassed that you work for a company that cares more about profit than the employee.

Melissa Anzman (12:15): That's pretty typical for most employees, especially in the U S who are at least 5,000 employees and above not being truly people. First is kind of the default like yes, in general, every company wants their employees to be at the core of their success. But in truth, it's really hard to start from there when you have to deliver certain numbers to a bottom line, to certain bosses, to certain people, et cetera. I mean, it just, it sounds callous, but I'm just being truthful because a lot of the problem here is we want to create something that isn't real. We want to be in and create a people first culture at a company or environment that doesn't really care about our people. And how do you know? Here's the thing, you know, at your core, you already know without me teaching you or how to do this, that you don't work at a company first culture, but here here's one of those things that you now, number one, if when people leave, it's like, all right, cool, bye.

Melissa Anzman (13:16): Or it's not announced, or it's not shared, or it's not celebrated. And we don't wish people. Well, that is a key sign that you don't live in a people first culture. Okay. Another sign is that you, they may have opportunities for growth and development, but you're not really allowed the time off to take advantage of them. Have you all been there? I've been there. So that means they want to sort of up here that there are people first, but really when you try to improve yourself, you're not going anywhere. Another big one is the internal promotion rates. So you can ask about it if you don't have access to those numbers. But really what you're looking for is how many people are moving around and up and in different roles and given opportunities within the company. If that number is low, especially if it's a lot lower than those that are brought in from external hires, then you're not really a people.

Melissa Anzman (14:08): First company, all these things are just indicators. You want to dig deeper, but these are ways that you can know that it's probably not for you. And I don't want you to fry. If you work at that company and know that you as an employee or the employees that you support in HR, aren't ever going to be the first consideration for success in stat. I want you to reframe the situation of how can you put people first in this sphere of influence that you control, do your decisions, start with how it's going to impact affect influence those employees, those people around you. And if your answer to those questions is, yeah, then you are being people first and after strategy and decision, I want you to consider your hiring tactics, those HR investments that you make, the technology projects, solutions, compensation, and rounded out with the people you partner with.

Melissa Anzman (15:03): So these would be vendors, consultants, contractors, partners, and so on. Do each of these things, all of these activities that you invest in, support your stance on putting people first, you know, I can talk about this for hours because I am truly being on both sides of the fence in HR. I have like experienced it and I have some real thoughts around it, but there tends to be a real disconnect when we partner externally creating a discrepancy between what our company believes in what our partners believe. And when we come to the table, your vendor may be super people first, and you as a company are not. And it just as a Mitch miss match. And it's like, how, how does that happen? And furthermore, what's more upsetting is when you do partner with a people first culture and they treat their vendors, terribly vendors are people too.

Melissa Anzman (16:04): So our contractors, so our consultants, right? And so I want you to really look at how your company sets up all these different things for success and is being kind, respectful, fair, all those things that we'd like to be treated and treated as people does your company uphold that as well. So here's another example of that. And I use this one. It is true. It breaks my heart a little every time I share it, but I use this one because it was really, really glaring example of a disconnect. I once, um, partnered with a company who's external clients, um, really were obsessed, like, so I was the external person. So let me reframe this. So I was the vendor and the clients that we were, I was the consultant and the clients that I had. So the client, the company was really obsessed in the best way with being recognized on the human rights campaign, corporate equity index.

Melissa Anzman (17:03): Okay. So to do so they were overly proactive and providing equal pay, had lots of employee groups supporting these efforts had and provided is a very safe work environment with zero tolerance against anything else provided those best in class benefits to support their entire population. And so on. I mean, they were above and beyond. They were what I would call a great company, not just because they've paid to be on the list of it, but they were truly a great company and really deeply cared about being on this list of human rights campaign, corporate equity, like very, very important to them. Well, the people that they partnered with, some of the other vendors, um, or the consultancies had a completely different approach to their workforce. They were not even close to being people first. They didn't care at all about being on the index and their actions and their work environment reinforced that they didn't have any employee groups that got off the ground.

Melissa Anzman (18:05): They had zero senior leadership support. There was hardly in a divert. Any diversity. There was definitely no diverse thought background and experience or culture experience as well on the board. Like it just was a huge mismatch, including down to like the benefits that they offered were totally unbalanced and unsupportive and so on. And the thing is, is that they're there. They became associated with each other. And by that association, the employees at this company who deeply cared about the humans, right? Campaign corporate equity index number, and being on that list started asking why they were partnering with some other organization that didn't believe in that they offended many of their employees because that decision was so not a people first decision that their true commitment was question. So here's the thing I want. I, I bring us up, it's super extreme example, but it's one of those things that if you are a people, first culture, you have to protect that.

Melissa Anzman (19:15): You have to make sure that every action and decision that you make is really aligned with holding forward your employees first, and you create that you create, what is P what does people first mean for you, for your company, for your employees? How are we treating them? How are we communicating with them? What benefits are we offering? What support do we have? All those things, okay. You get to define people first. But the meaning of that is simply your employees are the first thing for your company. You cannot succeed without your employees being successful. And that is what it takes to being truly people. First. Now, the second thing I want you to think about is how you're investing in communication with your employees. So

Speaker 3 (20:03): I know

Melissa Anzman (20:05): I have a thing about employee engagement surveys, but the cool thing is, is you can see what really are friction points across the company that come up and communication or lack thereof. And lack of transparency is like a 99 out of a hundred times a top complaint. And this is going to be true regardless of the size of your company. Most organizations operate on the let's not be transparent. Let's under share. We're only going to tell you things in vague terms or corporate speak, or they're going to tell you like a brain dump of things. So you have to weed through everything to figure out what's important. Neither approach is going to work. And neither approach is a people first communication. So like, it's just doesn't work. It's not putting that value front and center. So if you leave too much space with a lack of communication where most of your companies are falling right now, employees are going to start creating their own stories and experiences.

Melissa Anzman (21:07): And usually what they come up with is a lot worse than what's actually going on. And once they feel as though they're out of the loop, they have that bad story loop in their head. I talk about them as bad employee experiences, right? And they're going to lash out or check out, or just add it to the pile of negative experiences. Why are they going to want to be engaged in tapped into your outcomes and an age? Like if they're not feeling as part of the conversation now in HR, in particular, we are the worst at this. I'm going to just, I'm just going to call us out right now. We stand behind the shroud of needing to be secret of having a constant CYA, covering your whatever conversation defending possible. One day down the line, lawsuits and sharing just as little as possible, just in case now, I don't think this is the best approach for communication.

Melissa Anzman (22:03): And when you think about becoming a people first culture, this is definitely not what's best for your people. And it's certainly not putting them first. So instead I want you to really rethink the way that you look at communications, if you are going to be a people first company. So I want you to look at, do the platforms that you use a long, your employees experience, reinforce your commitment to them, argue, being extremely clear in how you communicate, what you communicate, what action and information they need to take away from it. Do your messages say what you mean? Are you using channels that make sense your employees? And are you saying it a few times in a few different ways so that they understand, I always talk about communication and messaging channels and making sure that we're doing different types of communication to reach different employees.

Melissa Anzman (23:01): And if you are a people first culture, we are obsessed with making sure that all employees are getting information in a way that matters to them. And this type of commitment, just like stating that you're going to be a people first culture, it's an investment. It's not just an investment in communication plans or consulting, or what have you, but it's also investment of your time of your focus being vulnerable and open to feedback and being open to it, to changing how things have been done in the past. So the way that you become people first is not just saying your employees are first, but also now the second part is how we're bringing them into the fold through the way that we're communicating with them and having those ongoing conversations so that they feel part of the company as a whole. The next thing is you have to provide real feedback opportunities.

Melissa Anzman (24:02): So surveys are fine, but it's not going to give you a true and op op open and honest feedback forum and listen for most of us, the truth is feedback hurts, like good feedback that really can help us improve is usually either not delivered or delivered terribly. And it's hard to hear, especially if you're sensitive, it's hard not to be defensive about feedback, and it's hard to change behavior to ensure that the feedback's heard and action upon. And this is why we have to provide an, a people first culture opportunities to provide real and honest feedback in an ongoing conversation at the macro level. So company wide engagement surveys are fine, but they're not going to be able to get you the right information. You really want to know how your people think about things, what they want, what they feel, what they need. And so it has to be real and accessible ways to do that.

Melissa Anzman (25:06): And likely anonymous. People are not going to give you decent feedback if they feel any type or a shred of an inkling of retribution possibility there. And in this environment right now, it's going to be even harder because people are very grateful to have their jobs and don't want to rock the boat for fear of losing them. But you needing feedback is just as important as it would be an, a good environment, a good economy, because we still want to make change. And if we have these employees who are dedicated at our company already, why not make it a good experience for them? Why not ask them what needs to improvement and how we can do better in a safe way to do it. So I have a whole list of how you can do this on my website. So go to bettHR.com and hit the blog button.

Melissa Anzman (26:02): And you'll sort of be able to search for how to give real feedback. But the point here is we need honest and real feedback in order to make your people experience the company in a way that makes them feel like B. They are people first. So the other thing I really want you to consider is experience like really going deep in the employee experience. Now, I obviously am a fan of the employee experience. I wrote a book on it, but when we think about the experience as a whole, when we think about all of the different ways that employees experience our company, what we, um, what they need to know, feel, act, and touch those touch points. We really can control and influence and create a really intimate people first culture. And what I mean by that is it's something that we can do once and just reinforce along the way to ensure that it becomes an employee experience.

Melissa Anzman (27:09): It's not just about saying where people first, but it's about creating the experience of them feeling as though yeah. That company does care about me. They have invested in me. They do know what's important to me. They are listening to me. They have removed all these annoying things and friction points. And this is that whole thing about actions speak louder than words. And this is how we do that. This is how we take all of those previous steps, wrap them together and really make sure that our employees not only think that we are saying where people first, but we're really creating an experience once they have joined our company, once they are with us, that does put them front and center. And I'll tell you one other thing. This is kind of a bonus tip. If you would, a lot of you are investing a lot of money in your employees right now.

Melissa Anzman (28:05): So when I think about things like compensation and pay, and I think about things like, uh, benefits and total rewards, you huge bottom line numbers for you guys like you, that is a huge spend for your company. And your problem may just be that you're not communicating that, that you're not sharing the investments that you're making, that you're not sharing whether at all, or perhaps appropriately and properly, how you have put your employees people first. And so really think about that because that is a gap that's w that's true that you may just need to shore up and things will be good. But the point here is, is if you are doing things that are people first focus the intention, and the point here is to make sure your employees know and can acknowledge that you have created a really warm and welcoming people. First culture.

Melissa Anzman (29:05): This podcast is brought to you by bettHR microsites. With your HR budgets being cut, and you being on the hunt for ways to do more with less. Why not consider a total rewards or benefits microsite to not only increase your employee experience, but also deliver increased value. At half the cost. We all know that your off the shelf benefit administration website is extremely user unfriendly, lacking customization, easy to find information, a crazy firewall, and the missing search function all at an extremely high cost. Better microsites are a hundred percent designed based on what your employees need to know your branding and your information, improving the speed in which your employees can find that critical benefit information while seamlessly connecting with your enrollment vendor. And it's ready quick. We need about six weeks to get you up and rolling just in time for annual enrollment. Learn more about better microsites at better.com/microsites, bettHR.com/microsites. Thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information, including show notes and resources, please go to RethinkHRPodcast.com/25.

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