People-centered workplaces: hollow marketing tool or authentic cultural shift?

People-centered leadership involves respecting the agency and dignity of each employee, irrespective of their identity, job level, or role.

  • Is a manager justified in lying to an employee to get them to perform?
  • Is a manager justified in lying to or asking employees to lie to a customer if they think it is in the business’ best interests?
  • Is a manager justified in pressuring their team to perform in a way that is detrimental to their wellbeing simply to secure their own promotion, or to meet an arbitrary deadline?
  • Are leaders justified in ignoring the toxic behavior of a fellow leader when that leader’s team is delivering results?
  • Is it appropriate to liken employees to children and managers to their parents, and to treat employees in this way?
  • a lack of concern for how decisions impact others, and;
  • a lack of consideration of input from others, especially and usually those lower in the organizational hierarchy.
  1. Those who design organizational policy, programs, and systems must have a deep understanding of individual differences and organizational dynamics and they must be data-driven. Many well-meaning HR departments often rely on fads, trends, or tradition to create policies and programs. However, when challenging the status quo, you cannot rely on any of those things. I have said it before and I will keep saying it: there is actual science behind leadership, management, and people in organizations. If your HR department has no organizational psychologists, then I am highly skeptical that the organization is seeking the type of change needed to create a people-centered workplace. Organizational psychologists can use data, analysis, and scientific research to create programs & environments that are truly effective for people in the specific context of your organization, without relying on trends or tradition. These individuals are trained to design many different programs including leadership and management training, hiring, recognition, DEI, and performance management — all based on science.
  2. The organization must provide and enforce comprehensive leadership training programs to undo the ineffective tactics many leaders have learned throughout their careers. The organizational leaders of today learned how to be leaders from those of yesterday. The longer someone operates within an environment in which authoritarian management tactics are normalized, the less they will be able to identify when damaging authoritarian behavior occurs. Further, people-centric and evidence-based management practices have never really been taught, as traditional management tactics are derived from slavery and hierarchy. Without a concerted effort directed at re-training leaders and holding them accountable for applying new management skills, how can any organization expect to undo the often ineffective leadership tactics that were previously learned? Saying “we put our people first” isn’t enough concrete guidance for old dogs to learn new tricks.
  3. The organization must implement a 360 feedback program for all leaders and managers to establish accountability. 360 feedback programs typically allow employees to leave feedback on their direct and skip-level managers. The program must include specific competencies designed to assess leaders’ and managers’ people-centric leadership skills. Feedback from employees, who are the people actually impacted by leadership decisions, is essential to understand whether people-centric decision-making is happening. Often, leaders are judged by the productivity of their teams, but in my experience, teams can often be highly effective despite poor leadership. In organizations where the cultural differentiator is the way employees are treated, not monitoring 360 feedback on leaders and managers makes the people-first message ring hollow.

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