Put People First, and Results will Follow

Jim Ludema Care for people, Culture, Leadership, Return on Values

Circle of growth**NOTE: This article is republished with permission from the Return on Values Project.**

Universally, the companies in our study have a “people first” approach that drives profitable growth.

The equation is simple: great people practices lead to employee loyalty, which leads to customer loyalty, which leads to profitable business. BerylHealth, a healthcare call center company in Dallas. calls it “The Circle of Growth” and illustrates it as you see on the left.

See the powerful impact of the Circle of Growth at Beryl in this video.

How Do You Stack Up Against Great “People First” Companies: Assess Yourself

Most leaders want happy, engaged team members. But that level of employee satisfaction and engagement cannot happen by chance. If you desire to be a “people first leader,” the following information will help you asses how you are doing and where you can focus your energy to see the greatest improvement.

There are three clear ways our featured companies put their employees first.

Great people-first companies put their people before their clients: The leaders we studied invest heavily in the development, growth, and success of their team members, which allows them to serve customers better. They also work aggressively to protect employees from unreasonable client demands. ROV companies know how to fire a client, and consider it easier to lose a client than to lose a valued team member. Why? Because engaged employees delight customers and disgruntled team members never will.

Ask yourself:

  • How have I invested in the development, growth, and success of my employees?
  • When a team member really excels at his or her job, how is it rewarded?
  • Does my team know I value them more than my customers? How do I show this?

Great people-first companies put people before leaders: The leaders of the exceptional companies we study know prime parking spots, lavish offices, and unguarded expense accounts can become pitfalls. Instead, these outstanding leaders find ways to communicate humility, and to celebrate the hard work of the whole team.

Ask yourself:

  • Do my team members see me, as a leader, putting them first? Does our senior team communicate humility?
  • Do we know the names of people in our offices? Do we know their roles?
  • What actions demonstrate our people-first beliefs? What behaviors (such as eating lunch in the break room or picking a parking spot farthest from the door) could I encourage for my leaders?

Exceptional companies put people before budgets: Sound fiscal policies are essential, as is a sustainable business model. But when companies sacrifice the needs of people in order to turn a dime, or save one, employees do not feel valued. Conversely, a $200 investment in an employee may lead to a lifetime of loyalty, as at least one of our featured companies has discovered.


  • What company events, gifts, or activities have your team members most appreciated or found most rewarding?
  • Are there comforts I should offer, benefits I should provide, that would help our team members understand their value to the company?
  • Think of a time you knew of a team member’s personal needs, outside of work. Did you help address these needs? How does the company help meet the concerns of team members?

All this leads to a fair question: From an economic perspective, what is there to be gained from putting people first?

Many of the companies we’ve featured can articulate a clear explanation of why this matters: because happy employees do better work, which leads to sustained growth. Investing in people is really an investment in your company’s bottom line.

This virtuous circle is self-reinforcing: the more profits your business derives, the more you can invest in people, leading to more employee loyalty, which leads to more customer loyalty, which drives profits.

It’s brilliant and practical in its simplicity, and powerful in its impact.

Dr. Jim Ludema is the Principal Investigator for the Return on Values Project and the Director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. Learn more about the Center’s work, specifically it’s Ph.D./D.B.A. program, designed for executives, atwww.cvdl.org/doctorate.

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