Talent Management
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Prioritizing people at all levels is the key to an organization’s success 

By Justin Fragapane

By now, we’re all hopefully aware that the shift toward employee engagement is here to stay.

Millennials continue to flood the job market, surpassing Gen Xers as the largest slice of the workforce, bringing with them an evolving set of expectations of employers. For companies looking to gain an edge in the coming years, there’s literally never been a better time than now to adopt a people-first mentality.

For many organizations who have already taken that plunge, it begins with a shift at the most fundamental level – the language used to consider their employees. Labelling humans as “resources” is rapidly becoming antiquated nomenclature, and forward-thinking companies like Google reframing their HR department as “people operations” is proof positive.

Former human rights lawyer Kahina Ouerdane spearheaded a similar change when she took over HR at the Canadian company GSOFT, rebranding her new team under the banner of “culture and organization”.

“Calling departments responsible for people operations ‘human capital’ is very dehumanizing,” said Ouerdane. “That vocabulary is dangerous. I think words are extremely powerful in a world where that’s how we communicate. Now every time I hear someone pronounce the term ‘HR,’ I say something and explain why the mind-shift to putting people, not resources, at our centre is so important.”

Prioritizing people, not just in terminology but at all levels of an organization, is what makes these initiatives stick. In other words, simply updating your department name won’t get you far if you’re not committed to walking the walk. The good news is that choosing to lead the charge towards this shift in culture may actually provide companies with a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment.

Organizations invested in people-first initiatives, employee satisfaction and work-life balance haven’t only strengthened their company culture, they’ve strengthened their brand as employers. Millennials who value these traits (often over other forms of traditional compensation) won’t just choose to work for companies who reflect their ideals, they’ll work harder for them.

As it turns out, happy workers really are better workers.

“When the people of a company are at the centre of an organization’s mission and actions, they begin working harder without even realizing it,” said Ouerdane, whose own company recently took a step towards helping others achieve this goal by permanently transitioning their employee engagement software solution to a free-to-use model for all businesses.

“Whether it’s by offering them unlimited vacations, allowing them to work remotely, giving meaningful feedback or constant recognition, it’s about showing them through concrete actions that they really matter,” she said.

Unsurprisingly, when people are inspired by where they work, they become more engaged. As they become more engaged, mental restraints are removed, creativity and commitment are kicked up a notch and, by proxy, so is productivity.

Establishing an infrastructure of employee satisfaction creates a ripple effect that impacts every level of an organization’s identity. Employee experience and consumer experience intersect constantly, and having an engaged workforce of internal brand ambassadors means customers are met with higher levels of effort and care. In turn, these positive experiences extend themselves outwardly in a way that affects the bottom line.

Establishing an infrastructure of employee satisfaction creates a ripple effect that impacts every level of an organization’s identity.

Clearly humanity and business aren’t mutually exclusive, and putting people first consistently provides the companies that do so a strong return on investment. While profit should never be the main reason for making this people-centric shift, it’s certainly not hard to see it as an attractive benefit.

Because of the way that the majority of companies are structured, having worthwhile change take hold typically means it has to come from the top down. HR teams are in a unique position to drive the adoption of a people-first approach, both in the language they use to present themselves to employees, as well as the training they provide to the leaders who oversee them.

The question, then, becomes how willing and proactive is the leadership of large organizations when it comes to implementing this shift in mindset? With no pre-set checklist or 10-step approach to instituting cultural change, the decision to act, and how to do it, takes on a personal quality. Once a company understands the “why” of human value, “how” they choose to underline it becomes a matter of operationalization and creativity that uniquely fits with their DNA.

While this transformation in the modern workplace can be uncomfortable at times, HR departments have become more vital than ever as a result. Their ability to create lasting positive change is a powerful thing, both in the way companies position themselves to the external world, as well as how they organize themselves internally.

And as the number of organizations adopting a people-first mentality for themselves continues to rise, it becomes even clearer that truly valuing one’s employees isn’t just smart people management – it’s smart business.

Justin Fragapane is a content strategist at Officevibe.

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