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In the corporate landscape, two distinct paradigms often clash: the results-first approach and the people-first culture.

Ask Jill! How to navigate the intersection of a people-first culture and results-first leadership

Five strategies that can help you take care of your people while also getting results.

This month’s question comes from restaurant industry veteran and business development consultant Alex Botelho. His culture question focuses on a very common business approach of “results-first” leadership. Alex asks, “How can an HR department implement a people-first culture when there is a results-first leadership?”

At first these two seem at odds. Do you think there is a conflict between this “results-first” emphasis and that of the EX2CX (employee experience-to-customer experience) “people-first” approach to creating those great results? Are they separate and distinct, or do they cohabitate, achieving the same desired outcome? Or does one perhaps lead to the other? I invite you to share your sentiments on these thought-provoking questions, and I will share them in next month’s article. Please send your thoughts to [email protected].

Let’s explore.

In the corporate landscape in particular, and often in mid-to-large-sized hospitality groups with single or multiple concept restaurants, two distinct paradigms often clash: the results-first approach, which prioritizes bottom-line achievements, and the people-first culture, which emphasizes employee well-being and satisfaction. (And, of course, this employee's well-being and happiness inevitably lead to greater end-customer satisfaction and delight.) This seeming conflict poses a challenge for HR departments striving to cultivate an environment where employees feel valued and supported while meeting organizational objectives. We will dive into the strategies HR departments can implement to not only bridge this gap and foster a harmonious balance between a people-first culture and results-first leadership but also lay out the argument that a people-first culture is, in fact, the best and most natural way to achieve the maximum results desired.

Understanding the Conflict

I believe the conflict is more about the timing expectations for the realization of the desired outcome without considering its permanent effect and impact. At the heart of the conflict lies the tension between short-term gains and long-term sustainability. Results-first leadership tends to prioritize quick wins and immediate outcomes, such as meeting quarterly targets or maximizing profitability, often at the expense of employee morale and engagement. Conversely, a people-first culture recognizes that investing in employees' well-being and growth yields sustainable results in the long run by fostering loyalty, productivity, and innovation. It’s both a short-term and long-term approach. This is the crucial concept leadership must understand.

In organizations where results-first leadership dominates, employees often feel they are insignificant and that the end-goal tasks are more important than they as the people, the heart and soul of the restaurant. They could feel pressured to prioritize tasks over their well-being, leading to burnout, disengagement, and high turnover rates (I invite and encourage you to use my Employee Churn Cost Calculator to input your company's unique numbers to see what disengaged employees and turnover are really costing you in real numbers). Moreover, a culture that values outcomes above all else can stifle creativity, collaboration, and a sense of belonging among team members. Gallup reports that highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability. Ultimately, this approach may undermine the organization's ability to adapt to change and maintain a competitive edge in the market.

Strategies for Implementation

Align Values and Objectives

HR departments can facilitate alignment between organizational values and objectives to unite the people-first culture and results-first leadership concepts. By clearly articulating how employee well-being contributes to achieving business goals, HR can garner buy-in from leadership and foster a shared understanding of the importance of balancing both priorities. And just to appeal to their strong numbers-focused ilk, they will be happy to know that a Temkin Group study found that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 26% in their customer satisfaction. Once again, proof that great employee experience leads to great customer experience!

Foster Open Communication

Effective communication is essential for building trust and transparency within the organization. HR can create channels whereby leadership can learn and connect with their staff by having employees voice their concerns, provide feedback, and contribute ideas for improving work processes. After all, your employees are your #1 most valued resource and source of direct information as to what is working and what needs work from both the employee and customer perspectives. And, in doing so, HR can mitigate any possible risk of a bruised morale and motivation to go above-and-beyond if staff feels they are just a cog in the wheel of a results-first environment.

Invest in Employee Development

One surefire way to demonstrate a commitment to a people-first culture is by investing in employee development initiatives. HR and leadership can implement training programs, mentorship opportunities, and career advancement pathways to support employees in achieving their professional goals, whether within your business or their future endeavors. Employees want to be seen as people, not just clock-punchers, and that the company is investing in their full growth as individuals, not with an attitude of ‘what can you do for me?’ By empowering employees to grow and succeed, organizations can cultivate a culture of continuous learning and development that enhances both individual and organizational performance.

Acknowledge Work-Life Balance

We often hear about this seemingly unattainable “work-life balance,” yet it remains a goal for many. I’ve heard it said that there’s really no such thing as work-life balance, so maybe it’s best to accept that and, instead, lean into finding what makes you happy and healthy. Nevertheless, promoting this concept of balance does seem to be good advice for a healthy roadmap to longevity. (Maybe being a Libra, I find the idea of balance particularly a logical and healthy one). Promoting work-life balance is integral to nurturing employee well-being and preventing burnout. They can implement policies and practices that encourage employees to disconnect from work during non-working hours, such as flexible scheduling and paid time off, perhaps to volunteer together as a team. By valuing employees' time and promoting healthy boundaries between work and personal life, organizations can enhance employee satisfaction and retention. Leadership will be surprised at how their people will be more committed and go above and beyond for the company that gives to them, that shows them (not just lip service) they care and ‘see’ them as people, not just paid employees to accomplish a task.

Lead by Example

Leadership and HR are role models in their actions and words. They can influence organizational culture by modeling people-first principles in their own practice, for all to see how work and life coexist in the big picture. By prioritizing employee well-being, demonstrating empathy, and advocating for work-life balance, leadership can set a positive example for the rest of the organization to follow. Additionally, HR can collaborate with senior leadership to integrate people-first values into organizational policies, practices, and decision-making processes throughout all operations. This should be given if they’ve followed the strategy of the E3+1 Recipe grounded in aligned values, vision, and mission. (The E3+1 Recipe is explained in detail in previous articles. I invite you to run a search here on and read the other articles in this Ask Jill! column.)

While at first the concepts of a results-first emphasis and a people-first approach may seem at odds and irreconcilable, it’s clear that they work in tandem, and in fact, a people-first approach will lead to the end goal, better results with the benefits of committed, engaged, and happy staff. HR departments play a pivotal role in bridging these two philosophies and fostering a culture that prioritizes both employee well-being and organizational success. HR can create a synergistic relationship between people-first culture and results-first leadership by aligning values and objectives, fostering open communication, investing in employee development, prioritizing work-life balance, and leading by example.

In conclusion, in today's competitive business landscape, organizations must recognize the intrinsic and inseparable link between employee satisfaction, customer experience, and organizational performance. By embracing a people-first culture and results-first leadership jointly, HR departments can create a workplace where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered to contribute their best work. Ultimately, by striking a balance between these two priorities, organizations can achieve short-term results, as well as long-term sustainable success, while cultivating a positive and inclusive work environment for all.

Bottomline, for a stronger ‘bottom line,’ the bottom line is this: If you want great results and lead by prioritizing results-first as your end goal at whatever cost, your cost will be at the expense (your expense financially and culturally) of your people who represent your brand to the world. They are your frontline. They are the face of your company, good or bad. Focus on your people first and your awesome culture; it's inevitable that your outstanding results will naturally follow!

Every restaurant, large or small, faces cultural challenges. Let me help you! ASK your questions about your restaurant’s company culture and get them answered (anonymously, if you prefer). Have your culture questions or concerns highlighted in the next Ask Jill! Develop Your Company Culture article. Email me your questions, or just say hi and send your thoughts to [email protected].


Jill-Main_Headshot_color_241.jpegJill Raff is the globally recognized EX2CX Advisor, working with executive leaders who recognize the paradigm shift: the non-negotiable creation of a more humanized culture prioritizing their people. She helps organizations that recognize their people are their greatest asset but need help creating new systems and procedures to develop the culture resulting in higher retention and greater productivity. Companies experience employee and customer lifetime value using her methodology connecting the employee experience (EX) to the customer experience (CX) — EX2CX. 

Jill grew up working with her parents, owner/operators of McDonald's franchises, starting with store No. 150. Her customer service philosophy of Transforming Transactions Into Interactions starting with the employee originated from observing her parent's work and their interactions with legendary founder Ray Kroc. EX and CX is in Jill’s DNA. Based on her diverse background working in multiple industries — and living in 7 countries — Jill developed her Inside-Out Framework based on her “3+1 Recipe” to build a culture creating attraction and retention, often described as “where McDonald’s & Michelin meet.” Contact her at [email protected].

TAGS: Operations
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