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Three Ways to Start Putting People First in your Organization

Blog | Building Culture   |   November 6, 2015

by Janina Aritao

In his book Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek tells story after story about how companies that prioritized numbers over people eventually met their downfall, especially during trying times, whereas companies that put their staff’s safety and welfare first would overcome difficulties, thrive, and keep growing. Looking at those stories all together, it all makes sense, because it’s the people who keep the company running as when you look after them and they will also look out for your business.

“People over numbers” is a hard lesson many businesses have learned over the last few decades and now we have the privilege of learning from their mistakes. Leaders from the world’s top companies have learned to put a premium on culture. An organization called Great Place To Work® Institute in the United States highlights companies that provide a positive, fulfilling workplace culture. Unsurprisingly, those who make it to the coveted positions on their lists are highly successful—Google, Microsoft, Cisco, Hyatt, Mariott, and American Express are among the top 25 MNCs in the Best Companies to Work For 2015 list.

Simon Sinek says it best: “To see money as subordinate to people and not the other way around is fundamental to creating a culture in which the people naturally pull together to advance the business. And it is the ability to grow one’s people to do what needs to be done that creates stable, lasting success. It is not the genius at the top giving directions that makes people great. It is great people that make the guy at the top look like a genius.”

Writer Rebecca O. Bagley, in this Forbes article, says “During my professional journey from Wall Street to state government to economic development, I have seen the differences between companies that focus on their people and those that do not. It is evident to me that strong, smart and healthy organizations are built by employees who feel valued and are clear about their roles and responsibilities.”

People come first, and the numbers follow. Leadership has the responsibility to deliberately create a culture that says people matter. ROHEI’s Chief Executive Rachel Ong says, “I spend 50% of my time building culture.” That is how vital culture is to a company’s success.

Creating the culture starts from the top of an organization. But awareness of culture-building is for everyone. Here are 3 ways that leadership, on any level, can advance a people-first culture.

1. Spending Quality Time With Staff

“Leaders who put a premium on numbers over lives are, more often than not, physically separated from the people they serve,” says Simon Sinek. Leaders who refuse to mingle or be emotionally involved with their team make a big mistake of choosing to see people from a distance in order not to care. It is surprising how many company cultures frown upon taking time for personal conversations.

“All leaders, in order to truly lead, need to walk the halls and spend time with the people they serve, ‘Eyeball Leadership,’ as the Marines call it.” says Simon in “Leaders Eat Last”.

Take some time to know each person you work with, ask them how they’re doing, about their families. Take them to lunch, to dinner, or to coffee. Small things like these add to a great investment in leadership and building a strong team. You can go the extra mile by organizing team building activities or informal gatherings and group excursions.

ROHEI’s biking adventure in Pulau Ubin, a boat ride away from Singapore’s mainland.

2. Investing in staff’s growth and education

At ROHEI, leadership is generous with providing learning opportunities for staff, without any expectation. We believe that this communicates our value for staff—not just investing in their capacity to serve, but investing in their lives.

Investing in people, whether through outside education, in-house seminars, or training sessions, says to them, “your growth matters, and your future matters too.”  

3. Introducing work-life excellence 

Work-life strategies are one of the best ways to say to your staff, “your life matters to us.” The flexibility introduced by work-life excellence gives staff the freedom and trust to manage their time, allowing them to live to the full at work, and in their homes and family life.

Simon Sinek expounds on this principle: “This is what work-life balance means. It has nothing to do with the hours we work or the stress we suffer. It has to do with where we feel safe. If we feel safe at home, but we don’t feel safe at work, then we will suffer what we perceive to be a work-life imbalance. With trust, we do things for each other, look out for each other and sacrifice for each other. All of which adds up to our sense of security….We have a feeling of comfort and confidence at work that reduces the overall stress we feel because we do not feel our well-being is threatened.”

All organizations struggle with their own culture issues, trust issues and relationship issues. Some things take a lot of time to repair and heal. If you are a leader in a company facing challenges in building a culture of trust, these are small things you can start with. Small things that have a big impact. Try different approaches and see how your staff responds, and from that learn to build a stronger team.

Simon Sinek says it so well: “We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings. As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together. As employees or members of the group, we need the courage to take care of each other when our leaders don’t. And in doing so, we become the leaders we wish we had.”

Questions to ponder on:

1. Do you agree that people come first before numbers? Why or why not?

2. Which of the three things mentioned above sound like something you would like to introduce at your organization?

Please feel free to share your thoughts. Email us at

Janina is a Senior Consultant at ROHEI who loves to draw alphabets.

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