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Implement a People-First Strategy and Results will Follow

Maria, the CEO of a small company, was frustrated with lackluster business performance. She mostly had positive, team-oriented, dedicated employees. But performance outputs had plateaued, and the culture seemed to have lost its edge.

Maria was losing sleep knowing that recession headwinds would continue to be a drag on the business. Her management team acknowledged the declining productivity trend lines but were quick to blame the economy, labor shortages and other external forces. She wanted accountability and fresh ideas, not excuses.

Does this feel familiar? Your business was running on all cylinders, exceeding performance expectations, with high levels of team collaboration, only to have the wheels start falling off?

Maybe Maria’s leadership allowed complacency to creep in. Perhaps management failed to engage, excite, and involve their people in continuous improvement. Either way, Maria and her team might have to embrace the mindset that what got you here might not get you there. A trusted pathway forward is building a people-first strategy – engaging, growing, and empowering your people to co-generate the solutions for recharging the business. The following quote by Toyota’s leadership captures the spirit of this strategic initiative:

“We don’t build cars. We grow people who happen to build cars.”

Here are five performance areas to re-focus your management team, re-energize your people, and accelerate business growth.

  1. Implement a Participative Leadership and Management Style. Fundamentally, this means involving team members in problem solving, continuous improvement, and decision making. Managers must embrace a mindset that emotionally safe and constructive team collaboration will always outperform any lone wolf genius.
  2. Engage Front-Line Team Members in Finding and Solving Problems. This is the heartbeat of a continuous improvement culture. This is a pull, not a push process. Critical to the success of this initiative is committed managers who possess and model excellent coaching skills.
  3. Create a High Recognition Culture. On-going praise of effort, progress, and big wins provides the high-octane fuel to sustain your people’s energy, motivation, and commitment. This must be a high visibility program lead by inspiring managers.
  4. Establish a Feedback Rich Environment. The above quote directs managers to increase the frequency and substance of meaningful conversations with their team members. Managers need to be trained in providing effective corrective feedback and managing difficult conversations.

Replace (or augment) the Annual Performance Reviewwith QTPs (quarterly touch points) and Regular One-On-Ones. Consistent performance and development conversations better meet the needs of a modern workforce. The business case is clear – team members who meet regularly with their managers are three time likely to be engaged on the job than employees who don’t.

Sixty percent of Gen Z want multiple check-ins from their manager during the week; of those, 40 percent want the interaction with their boss to be daily or several times each day.


There’s no silver bullet for turning business performance around. Yes, you need a sound go-to-market strategy, compelling goals, and working capital, but your people are the engine under the hood.

By implementing a people-first strategy – growing and empowering your people – you are developing your organization’s agility; the ability to adapt and change quickly. This clarity and conviction will help leaders, like Maria, sleep a little better.

Keep it Simple. Keep it Focused. Definitely Keep it Inspiring.   –Steve