NCET Biz Tips: The Power of a People-First Culture.

NCET helps you explore business and technology

Lindsay Bradley

Lindsay Bradley

In the fast-paced business world, where metrics often reign supreme, it's easy for small companies to overlook one of their most powerful assets – people. I believe it's not the size of the workforce but the quality of the culture that truly makes the difference in whether a business will succeed in the long term. When it comes to culture, small business employers are starting to realize that a people-first culture isn't just necessary – it's a smart business strategy.

So, what is a people-first culture exactly? Simply stated, it's prioritizing people over profits. It's about offering meaningful work, engaging in authentic conversations, and, most importantly, clarifying your values and embedding them into your company's operations.

An end-of-the-year pizza party or a ping-pong table in the breakroom may seem like a good idea because, well, who doesn't like pizza? The truth is, to your employees, these seemingly "fun" things are temporary and surface-level gestures. They want to be recognized, find fulfillment in their work, and crave an employee experience that is more than a half-hearted, check-the-box activity fit for a sixth-grade classroom.

The power that lies in your company culture speaks for itself. Gallup Workplace continuously gathers compelling evidence that a people-first culture has many tangible advantages, including higher productivity, lower absenteeism, stronger customer satisfaction, increased ability to attract talent, improved retention rates, and higher revenue growth. Who wouldn't want those kind of results?

What can you do to introduce a people-first strategy into your culture? Here are five things to start with, all of which, by the way, are free:

1. Embrace feedback: Create opportunities for employees to provide feedback, including anonymous surveys, regular check-ins, or "all-hands" meetings. Actively listen and, most importantly, take action based on input.

2. Invest in learning and development: Provide opportunities for continuous learning and skills development. Ask employees what skills and training they find valuable because learning goals should not be a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

3. Lead by example: Culture is everyone's responsibility, but it can only be as good as the behaviors demonstrated by leadership. You must be willing to walk the talk and make difficult decisions when values and behaviors are not aligned.

4. Increase transparency: Be open and honest with your team about the company's state. This means sharing the good and the bad. This level of openness and candor builds respect and trust.

5. Replace policies with parameters and agreements: Communicate with your team about expectations up front and your commitments to them to build a relationship of mutual value exchange.

A people-first culture isn't just a trendy concept; it's a strategy that can turn any small business into a thriving workplace where everyone wins. The best part is you don't need deep pockets or fancy apps and programs. You just need empathy, intention, and perhaps a little out-of-the-box thinking to create a competitive advantage. When your employees genuinely enjoy their work, they perform at their peak. That's when their job becomes much more than just punching the clock.

If you're a small business employer wondering how to gain a competitive edge, consider leaving the ping-pong table for the garage and start putting your people first. As Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell's Soup, once said, "To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace."

After all, it's not about the size of your business that makes you powerful; it's about the size of your heart.

Learn more about navigating people, culture, and compliance in your small business at NCET's Biz Cafe on Dec. 6.

NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces educational and networking events to help people explore business and technology. More info at

Lindsay Bradley is the Founder and People & Culture Strategist at Guided Arrows ( She helps small business employers navigate the complexity of compliance and build human-centric workplaces through personalized systems, tools, and guidance.


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