Building a Lasting People Philosophy

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Vaso Perimenis

Building a Lasting People Philosophy_photo of people looking on laptop

Change is ubiquitous in today’s world and almost all industries feel its impact. Many companies have to restructure, downsize, and close businesses and products to remain viable. These changes always affect people, either through job changes including loss of job, training for new opportunities, and reallocation to another part of the business etc. But these are just the technical changes. What about the impact on a person’s psyche? The result of the change is just as important as the process and method by which the company makes decisions. I posit that the process used to make decisions and implement associated actions, rather than the result, has the greatest impact on people’s engagement, performance and psyche.

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So how does a senior leadership team make business decisions? What is the lens or the North Star used to guide the decisions? Fundamentally, a company must have an enduring people philosophy to guide decisions, desired culture, priority setting and communications throughout the organization. A company’s CHRO must spearhead this very significant work, in collaboration with the executive team and in alignment with the talent, culture, growth and performance agendas. According to Bersin research, the most enduring philosophies talked about the nature of the entire organization. These were environmentally focused philosophies, such as creating the “best place to work” or “creating an environment of innovation and collaboration.

People Philosophy

When do you start creating a people philosophy?

Ideally, the company and executive leadership should create the people philosophy as part of the overall business strategy to grow the business and improve performance. This implies a proactive versus a reactive internal environment. However sometimes the progenitor of a people philosophy is turbulence, including increased competition, downsizing and excessively high voluntary turnover rates. In either case, there is intentionality behind the work. This means that business circumstances acknowledge that a people philosophy is foundationally necessary for a healthy company.  In other words, a people philosophy is created not as part of the HR agenda, but as part of the business agenda.

How do you create and implement a people philosophy?

Creating a lasting philosophy requires an investment of creative energy, time and resources from HR and leadership. The most enduring philosophy is co-created with the business. Otherwise, if HR creates the philosophy in a silo and delivers it to the business, its acceptance and use, no matter how beautifully worded, will be limited. Instead, the philosophy will sit on a shelf collecting dust.  HR must lead the business through creation and inculcation on the culture.

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The People Credo

While working for Novant Health, we designed a people philosophy that we called the “People Credo”. We began the work in June 2016, and in March of 2017, we began rolling out the People Credo.  

  1. The design process started in HR as our team examined how other companies described their workplace in a way that entices people to be part of a great environment.
  2. We took great care to invite stakeholders from different parts of the business to be part of the design team.
  3. Our HR executive team facilitated those design meetings and the exercises used to stimulate ideas and solidify written concepts.
  4. Once we had a draft people philosophy, vision, guiding principles, employee value proposition, sub-groups of the design team were assigned to vet the draft product with other influential groups in the company such as:
    1. Senior nursing leader groups
    2. Physician councils
    3. Business line senior leadership teams
    4. Business resource groups
    5. Team member advisory councils
    6. Team member recognition award winners
  1. The CEO approved the final product.

Bringing the People Credo to life required much more than static communication, emails, or single presentations. We needed consistent and repeated messaging.  We dedicated all 2017 quarterly leader retreats to deploying the People Credo to 1,000 plus leaders. Since leaders can influence a culture, we decided to focus on the guiding principles of the People Credo. We assigned members of the design team to lead review of the guiding principles and used interactive exercises to generate rich conversation. We asked questions such as:

  • How will we as leaders demonstrate this philosophy?
  • As we adopt this philosophy about our people, what are the implications for how we lead?
  • What excites you about this aspiration?

The remaining retreats took a deep dive into all parts of the People Credo including the vision, aspiration, value proposition. In addition to focusing on leader adoption, the HR team embedded the People Credo into our employment branding strategies, onboarding, development and education opportunities for both HR professionals and business leaders.

The apogee of creating and inculcating the people philosophy was when the CEO asked the board to add the People Credo to our mission, vision, values and patient promise visual. This meant that the People Credo core beliefs were fundamental to all of our people interactions, expectations and decisions.

In Summation

Living by a people philosophy requires more than lip service from HR and leadership. It requires an investment in time, resources and the willingness to make tough decisions based on that philosophy. An organization makes this investment willingly and easily when it recognizes that growth and superb performance is highly reliant on its people.  The Novant Health team member engagement survey, which showed a year over year significant improvement in percentile ranking, is evidence that investment in people has a positive impact on the workplace. After all, the people make or break an organization.

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Photo courtesy:  Pexels