10 Things You Need To Create a People-First Culture Through Human Work

Explaining the need for the Human Work has changed over the last year. I’d like to believe that there has been a marked difference in the way people are receiving it and that it is a good sign judging by what we see in the market these days and of course, we'd like to believe we contributed to this sudden normalising of the human topics.

Unsurprisingly, I’m big on retros. I’m big on any time for self-improvement, reflection and learning, but retros in particular. I think looking back is often more valuable than looking forward if approached with curiosity and interest and in a blameless way. It has been a year since we first said we will redouble our efforts to democratise the need for human work. As we said over and again, the first point of call is to normalise the presence and utility of emotions at work in lieu of continuing the corporate tradition of pretending humans are devoid of feelings when in “professional mode”.

Understanding that:

Nothing other than sustained, habitual, EQed people work at the team level aka “the human work” done BY THE TEAM will improve any organisation’s level of Psychological Safety and therefore drop their levels of HumanDebt™.”

…is a big ask, we never said otherwise. It will need changes in both process, resources and mentality to facilitate it. In a sense, this is not new debt, but the part of the debt that connects to any change in mentality or ways of work over the past 60 years that have never really landed in people’s minds. Lean, Agile, DevOps, experimentation, lack of blame, none of them genuinely installed in everyone’s heart but abided to “by numbers”.

The new work reality requires thinkers, not executioners, learners not mindless drones, opinionated humans who care not silent, checked-out witnesses. In my upcoming book Tech-Led Culture, I talk about this new work and what it will require of us but in the meantime, there is much to do already.

These are the 10 things you need to start lowering your HumanDebt and winning in this day of competition with other human-centred businesses:

  1. Clear knowledge and understanding of the people-first cultural needs for the modern enterprise;
  2. Blocked/ Protected Time for the HumanWork;
  3. Autonomous, Empowered Teams that enjoy being together and improving their behaviours and Psychological Safety in those protected times;
  4. Servant Leaders who are genuinely invested in cleaning blockers and enabling their people to be the best they can be, not micromanaging;
  5. A focus on creating an actual practice - from intentional habit-building to finding ways to make it engaging;
  6. Knowledge and Tools that can help speed them up such as coaching or our Dashboard that shows progress and offers team plays, exercises and workshops as well;
  7. A way to show value due to the practice (both to the individuals and to the enterprise);
  8. A way to compensate employees for doing this HumanWork - inclusion in the existent performance measurements at a minimum;
  9. Having enough Emotional Intelligence at every level of the enterprise - and this forms the bulk of the individual HumanWork as it can and should be trained;
  10. Goodwill and passion for the work and the people.

Incidentally -or not really!-, they also map to Aristotle's findings of what it takes to have super-performing teams.

Of the topics above, getting more EQ and becoming a servant leader are the only two that require any study work or preparation to comprehend a handful of topics and democratise some of the data about company cultures to the point that it becomes common knowledge, the rest of the needs are about the organisation creating the conditions for the Human Work and learning to recognise and value it.

Give them the time, the tools, the money and the goodwill and gratitude they deserve, and employees will start doing the Human Work and take to it with gusto but continue giving them no support and ignoring their emotional needs and the fact that your work outcomes are heavily predicated on a collection of human interactions that take work and care to optimise.

We are not your typical HR software makers in the least - what we make is more of a change fulfilment, de-risking product that powers the business to install the Agile, generative mentality they need to move fast in this day and age. The challenge? Landing the need and landing the permission but in the absence of the human work nothing else will last, matter or prevail.

If you are reading this from HR or just leadership - how many hours a week do your employees work on “fluffy” human stuff? Is it an hour on Wednesday? A lunch on Mondays or the traditional after-thought territory of Friday-only initiatives that are “nice to have”? Is there an openly verbalised need for them to have personal responsibility for their own state of mind and team dynamic and above all, are their feelings accepted, validated and welcomed at work? Do they know they are ok to have emotions and human thoughts? Do they know when they learn or better in some way that is work they do for the enterprise and you’re grateful for it and will facilitate more, easier and better? Do they feel empowered, autonomous, psychologically safe and EQed enough to recognise the need?

If not, it needs to change.

If we manage to tell our people nothing else, we must tell them they have the permission or even the mandate to work fervently, sustainably and be remunerated for the Human Work to keep and improve their individual wellbeing and the well-being of the team in the pursuit of high performance.

Related: 10 Things You Need To Create a People-First Culture Through Human Work