Putting People First, We Can Still Have Performance & Profit

Ron McIntyre
6 min readJun 3, 2024

We hear a lot of jargon regarding putting employees first to solve the employee engagement problem; however, this is mostly lip service. This topic is subject to many formulary answers offered by consultants and coaches worldwide, but the main roadblock lies deep within the organization. No matter what anyone tells you, there is no simple answer unless leaders are willing to be open, vulnerable, and self-aware.

Balancing the treatment of people, performance, and profitability is challenging for leaders due to several interrelated factors:

  1. Tug of War: Leaders often struggle between short-term financial goals and long-term investment in employee well-being and development. Resolving this conflict is challenging, and it requires leaders who are willing to fight for long-term improvement. Unfortunately, very few are willing to take up this battle.
  2. Resource Constraints: Budget limitations can make investing in employee programs, benefits, and training difficult while maintaining profitability. However, studies have shown that companies that invest in their employees’ well-being and development often see a significant return on investment through increased productivity, reduced turnover, and improved customer satisfaction. Budgets have been an issue since the dawn of businesses, yet anything is possible with the right mindset and innovation.
  3. Measurability Issues: Employee satisfaction and well-being are more challenging to measure than financial performance, making it difficult to justify investment in people-focused initiatives. However, there are effective methods for measuring these intangible factors, such as regular employee surveys, one-on-one feedback sessions, and tracking employee turnover and absenteeism rates. Surveys are often biased on many fronts, and productivity is dehumanizing, so the dilemma is to find a way to allow for self-evaluation and group validation based on that data.
  4. Cultural Resistance: Organizational culture may resist changes, prioritizing employee well-being over traditional performance metrics. However, the leaders are responsible for driving this cultural change and creating an environment that values employee well-being. Too many business cultures today are toxic, making the resistance even more intense. There is always a way to break that toxicity, but it will require sacrifice and determination, which few leaders and investors are willing to tackle. Most want the largest payout in the shortest time, regardless of people.
  5. Short-Term Focus: The emphasis on quarterly earnings and immediate results can overshadow the long-term benefits of investing in employees. However, companies prioritizing employee well-being often see long-term benefits such as increased employee loyalty, improved company reputation, and a more resilient workforce. I have harped on this one so often that writing anything new is challenging. The right way is to balance short-term and long-term focus without becoming legalistic.
  6. Lack of Understanding: Some leaders may not fully understand the link between employee well-being and performance, leading to underinvestment in people-centric strategies. While this is true, it is more of an excuse for treating people like tangible assets, especially by the stockholders of public companies.
  7. High Expectations: Stakeholders, including shareholders, often have high expectations for financial performance, putting additional pressure on leaders to prioritize profitability. However, redefining what ‘reasonable profits’ mean in the context of employee well-being and long-term sustainability is important. The attitude is that we are entitled, as investors, leaders, and, to a degree, even employees, to grab as much profit as possible and dispose of the entity.
  8. Complexity of Human Needs: Addressing the diverse needs of employees can be complex, requiring tailored, time-consuming, and resource-intensive approaches. One of my favorite topics everyone avoids is “Career Planning.” This could go a long way in achieving engagement, but few want to do the work or even offer the advice necessary. To address this complexity, it’s important to have open and honest conversations with employees about their needs and expectations, and to provide them with the necessary resources and support to meet those needs.
  9. Balancing Act: Leaders must constantly balance the needs of employees with those of customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders, which can create conflicting demands. Balance always requires juggling conflicting demands, so it becomes a great excuse when we are unwilling to do it properly.
  10. Change Management: Implementing people-first strategies often requires significant organizational change, which can be challenging to manage and may face resistance from various levels of the organization. Again, many specialists will offer opinions and processes used in company X to help you manage the change at company Y, even though the industries, regulations, and competition are entirely different. The best change management must be done by internal leadership using innovative and creative methods of communication, management, and mindsets. Don’t hire change managers; instead, hire educators who can be open leaders and manage it correctly.

The difficulty arises from the need to harmonize immediate financial pressures with the long-term benefits of investing in employee well-being, all within a dynamic and often resistant organizational environment.

Below are my thoughts on improving the chances of success by putting people first. Tailoring them to your organization’s unique needs and culture is vital.

  1. Employee Development: By investing in training and development programs, you can empower your employees to grow their skills and advance their careers, fostering a sense of optimism and potential within your workforce. The key is ensuring that the training is logical, practical, and applies to the person’s field of expertise. More importantly, they should be allowed to use what they have learned on the job. Don’t second-guess them; discuss differences and agree.
  2. Transparent Communication: Fostering an open communication culture where employees feel valued and informed about company decisions can make them feel included and important, enhancing their sense of belonging and commitment. Again, I have written so much on this subject that finding a new approach is tough. However, I see many leaders are so afraid of the subject because it means that they must be accountable for their communications.
  3. Work-Life Balance: By promoting policies that support a healthy work-life balance, such as flexible hours and remote work options, you can show your employees that you understand and care about their personal needs and well-being. This issue fails for several reasons, from fear of leaders losing control to employees taking advantage of the program. Unfortunately, both happen, but it can work if everyone is willing to be accountable and transparent.
  4. Recognition and Rewards: Implement recognition programs to celebrate employee achievements and contributions. Recognition programs are often overused, underdeveloped, and, in the employees’ eyes, useless; however, it doesn’t have to be that way. Well-thought-out rewards and recognition can be valuable when stabilizing a culture.
  5. Employee Well-being: Offer wellness programs and resources to support employees’ physical and mental health. This is a great idea, but leaders must resist the temptation to weaponize the program for internal modifications. This happens too often.
  6. Inclusive Culture: Create an inclusive environment where diversity is celebrated, and all employees feel they belong. Statistics show that the more diverse and inclusive a company’s culture is, the more profitable, high-performing, and sustainable it will be.
  7. Empowerment and Autonomy: Empowerment and autonomy give employees the freedom and authority to make decisions and take actions aligned with the company’s goals and values. This is another of my favorite topics, and many leaders fear it today. However, it is not hard when done right, and the benefits far outweigh the costs.
  8. Feedback and Growth: As many of you know, I am not a great fan of the feedback process because it often serves as an excuse or a weapon in the workplace. However, I am a great fan of having constructive two-way discussions and creative exposure to opportunities. That is well worth the investment. Provide regular conversations for employees to improve and develop.
  9. Fair Compensation: Ensure that compensation and benefits are competitive and fair to attract and retain top talent. In 2024, this is a volatile subject. With the separation of the super-wealthy outpacing the growth of the average population and often an unwillingness of the super-rich to pay a fair percentage of taxes to support other programs, and many average people taking advantage of legitimate programs, it is not something that is going to be resolved in my lifetime. However, it must continue to be discussed, and positive actions must be implemented to find a path that will serve everyone.
  10. Purpose and Meaning: Help employees connect their work to a larger purpose and the company’s mission to increase engagement and motivation. I find it interesting that as we become more enlightened, as Maslow’s Triangle of Needs points out, we become less open, philosophical, and compassionate for others around us in the workplace, at home, or in society. Every leader and employee must step up to the table and agree on a competent, positive, compassionate purpose and vision that everyone can work within without compromising reasonable personal values.

There is a lot to digest here; however, when everyone throttles back egos and better understands that on this planet, we must find a solution because there are no reasonable alternatives. There are too many extreme ideas being put forward that must be curtailed so humanity can survive.

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Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.