A “People-First” Culture is Not a “People-Only” Culture: Why Trust and Respect Go Hand in Hand with Productivity and Profits

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3 min

Written by: Tobias Günther

I applaud every founder who puts people before profits.

But I notice that some of them wrestle with a false dichotomy. They think they have to decide between productivity and kindness, between making profits and caring for the humans on their team.

But creating a culture of kindness doesn’t mean you cannot ALSO expect hard work from your team. One is not in conflict with the other!

Not only can you have both: a culture of trust and respect is in fact the perfect breeding ground for productivity and results.

Thankfully, this is not just my own, personal opinion. We have more than enough scientific studies to confirm this. Like one coming from Harvard: companies that took culture seriously saw a 7x increase of their net income — compared to their culturally indifferent competitors!

An Outdated Theory of Success

The archetype of the successful founder / leader / manager is one of strength. One of power. One that pushes through obstacles with sheer will.

It’s important that we clear up this misunderstanding. That “whipping your subordinates” is the only way to achieve success. Because it creates an incredibly unhealthy narrative. And an excuse for bad leaders to choose the easy way: not caring for their people; not building a healthy workplace; not nurturing trust, respect and kindness.

But this is not a recipe for success anymore. Today’s world is much too complex for a single heroic founder / leader / manager to save the day, hell-bent on getting their own way.

Today’s world calls for cooperation and collaboration more than ever. All of the challenges worth accepting are too complex to be tackled alone.

It’s not the companies with the best funding or the most charismatic founder that are going to win.

It’s the ones with the best teams.

A Black-and-White Model of the World

I see many founders caught in black-and-white thinking. They only see the extreme ends of a spectrum:

  • On the one hand, we can try to lead our team with force and control. Towering behind them, whip in hand, we push them towards productivity.
  • On the other hand, we can try to lead our team like a loving parent. And, in the process, cuddle them to death.

But of course (and thank God) there’s a middle way!

When you aim to build a people-first culture — one where you truly care for the humans in your team — you don’t have to throw other things out the window. You can still expect people to be productive, exchange candid feedback and have an appetite for achieving great results.

But how does this work? How can we build organizations that bring both of these aspects to life?

In previous essays, I’ve shared many tools that founders and leaders can use to build better teams:

…and I will offer many more in future essays. But my strong recommendation is that you start right now, with the above ideas (or, of course, any others you might have in mind).

Let me offer two closing thoughts:

  1. If there’s a specific topic or challenge currently on your mind, write me an email (brief and unpolished, if you want to). I can’t promise I have the perfect solution, but I DO promise I reply to every email. And in most cases, I can offer helpful ideas. Put me to the test :-)
  2. If you’re serious about building a better company culture, take a look at the masterclass I run: Building Better Teams is a wonderful place for leaders and founders who want to grow their companies, their teams, and themselves.

It really is dear to my heart to get this message heard: you can care for your employees’ wellbeing AND expect hard work from them. You can strive to create a wonderful, healthy workplace for your team AND create a financially successful organization.

Take care,

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