One year and a bit into my new role at TPXimpact I’ve begun to reflect on how my first senior leadership role is going, and how adopting the people-centred leadership style I first saw in action at mySociety has changed my approach to looking after people at work.
Being a people-centred manager means prioritising the well-being and growth of your employees over the short-term productivity and profit of the business. It is a philosophy that recognises and embraces the reality that our employees are humans with unique needs and circumstances, and that creating a safe and supportive workplace that incorporates them can lead to greater long-term outcomes.
People-centred management intentionally forgoes traditional productivity-driven approaches and instead focuses on providing employees with the support and resources they need to succeed. This can include things like flexible work arrangements, adaptations for work that go above and beyond legislative requirements, bold opportunities for professional development, and a focus on mental and physical well-being.
People-centred management recognises that life events, sickness, and injury are inevitable, and seeks to accommodate these things rather than treating them as obstacles to productivity. This approach establishes employment as a partnership, with the goal of benefiting both the employee and the organisation by building a relationship on trust, empathy, and respect.
I began my career two decades ago in local government, where traditional working practices were unquestionably maintained. Being new and eager to please I slotted right in, until a personal experience led me to question the accepted dogma of the time.
Early in my career I had a minor back injury that left me bed ridden for two weeks, followed by a slow recuperation period of physio, phased return and constant adjustment. While this situation was within the bounds of the organisations’ sickness policy and I was well supported, the onus was on me to ‘get healthy’ and return as soon as possible. Few, if any, accommodations were offered to support me outside of time off and the planning around my return were based around a desire to get me ‘productive again’ as soon as possible while minimising the impact on the business.
Many years later in another role I suffered a mental health crisis which led to me taking a month off work and big lifestyle changes to help support my return. The people at that organisation I worked for went above and beyond my expectations in supporting me, putting my personal needs ahead of the businesses’ and giving me the power to design my own support.
The contrast between these two approaches was eye opening and inspired me to pursue this type of leadership and learn how to apply it not just to sickness and absence, but to all parts of leadership.
One of the early benefits of people-centred management is that it helps individuals see their own value and potential. By providing support and opportunities for personal and professional growth, people-centred organisations help their employees feel valued and motivated. This, in turn, leads to higher levels of job satisfaction, loyalty, and retention.
Medium term this can improve an organisation’s reputation. By prioritising the well-being and development of its employees, the organisation can demonstrate its commitment to social responsibility and ethical business practices, attracting people looking for work and building trust with customers, investors, and other stakeholders.
Finally, people-centred management can have a positive impact on the wider society. By demonstrating the success of being people-centred, more organisations can wholly or partially adopt the approach and help create a more inclusive and equitable society.
All that said, implementing a people-centred approach in a traditional organisation is a challenge. It can require a significant effort to shift the culture and mindset of an organisation, and there may be resistance from those who are used to more hierarchical and top-down management styles.
Another challenge is that people-centred management can be perceived as combative, unbusinesslike, or naive. Critics may argue that prioritising the well-being of employees over the bottom line is not sustainable in the long term. As such, people-centred managers may need to find ways to demonstrate the long-term business benefits of their approach, while also addressing any concerns or skepticism from other stakeholders.
Additionally, people-centred management can be difficult to implement in organisations where management is at an arm’s length, such as in consulting or outsourcing situations. In these cases, it can be harder to create a sense of community and support among employees who may not have regular contact with their managers or colleagues.
Once implemented it’s vital that people-centred management isn’t seen as a luxury. Expect to constantly defend your people-centred management approach from detractors, particularly in times where business performance is below expectations. It’s easy to enact forward-thinking policies in times of feast, but during famine is where your people will need them most. Gather evidence, build your business cases and double down.
Looking to the future, I’m excited to see how people-centred management will continue to evolve and be tested. Some organisations may experiment with more dogmatic or radical approaches, similar to the early days of the agile movement. I’d love to see a people-centred manifesto or set of principles that guides decision-making and accountability as a way for organisations to adopt people-centred management piece by piece.
However, this may not be possible in practice, and implementing a people-centred approach from the bottom up can lead to frustration and unmet expectations if it is not aligned with the overall goals of the business.
As more organisations adopt this approach, test the assumptions and refine the processes and share their experiences, we will have a better understanding of how it can impact productivity, innovation, and overall organisational performance.
The arguments for people-centred management suggest that a holistic and human-focused approach to leadership and management will lead to long term benefits for all involved, and this reflects my experience so far.
Additionally it’s made me reconsider many of my own assumptions and beliefs and as I continue to develop my own style I find more and more evidence that prioritising the human over the business is always the right choice.
I believe the best workplaces of the future, by finding individuals’ motivations and shaping their working life around them, will enjoy a new kind of success that’s defined by the collective individuals rather than the business, and I can’t wait.