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The Business-Oriented and
People-First HR Leader

A blackboard with several colored pawns on the left linked with white lines and lots of entangled lines on the right.
Hacking HR Team

Posted on December 08, 2023

Business-oriented and People-First, in the same sentence? Say what?

Well. Yes. And it is not an oxymoron.

It is possible to have organizations that focus on creating the conditions for the business and the people to succeed together rather than at each other's expense. Not only is it possible, however. In fact, organizations that care for their people (people-first) deliver value (revenue, innovation, risk-taking, resilience, long-term sustainability, and profitability) in better and more efficient ways than their peers who do not.

This is the truth.

An organizational culture that is solely focused on people is likely to fail. A business strategy only focused on the financial bottom line will probably be achievable only via the carrot-and-stick approach to "managing people." And that is unsustainable in time (plus, you do not get the “best” of your talent). Instead, when a people-first culture that is also business-oriented emerges, people and businesses can succeed together, one with the other, not without the other.

Unlocking the power of the people at work can have the most significant impact on the (financial or any other metric) success of the organization. Not only that, unlocking the power of the people makes that success sustainable over time. However, to unlock the power of the people, organizations must focus on developing a strong, people-focused culture. Therefore, culture must be great for the people for people to be great for the business. And that is how we create a people-first, business-oriented culture.

Creating a people-first culture is often and wrongly misconstrued as a distraction from delivering business results and achieving business goals. However, there is an absolute interdependence of people and business success. At work, they intertwine. One uplifts the other while being lifted.

The secret sauce lies in a robust people-first culture that intertwines the pursuit of business objectives with focusing on people, creating a powerful recipe for enduring success.

Business-Oriented and People-First HR Leaders

The role of Human Resources (HR) leaders has undergone a significant transformation over the past five to ten years. Gone are the days when HR was seen merely as a function concerned only with hiring, firing, and managing employee records. Today, HR leaders are pivotal players in charting the strategic direction of businesses. Modern HR leaders are tasked with one of the most complex yet impactful strategic initiatives any company can undertake: aligning and balancing business success with people's success.

When Business-Oriented Meets People-First

The intersection of a business-oriented mindset with a people-first approach represents a powerful synergy that delivers more value to people and the organization than anything else. This convergence is not just a balancing act but a strategic integration where the goals of the business and the needs of the employees enhance and support each other. When executed effectively, this fusion leads to a sustainable and thriving organizational culture that benefits both the business and its workforce.

A business-oriented mindset focuses on profit, efficiency, growth, and competitiveness. It prioritizes organizational goals, market position, and financial outcomes. A people-first approach emphasizes employee well-being, engagement, and satisfaction. It values the human elements of the workplace, such as diversity, empowerment, and personal growth.

However, the real magic happens when these two mindsets are not viewed as opposing forces but as complementary elements of a holistic business strategy.

When business-oriented strategies and people-first approaches intersect, they create a dynamic and robust business environment. This synergy enhances organizational performance and fosters a culture where employees feel genuinely valued and aligned with the business objectives. The future of successful business leadership lies in recognizing and harnessing the strength of this intersection.

Balancing Business Goals with a People-First Approach: 10 Key Strategies

Here are ten ways in which a business-oriented mindset can also be people-first and vice versa:

  1. Empowering Leadership: Leaders who empower and trust their teams create an environment where employees feel valued and business goals are met through increased employee initiative and innovation.

  2. Investment in Employee Development: By investing in the growth and development of employees, businesses build a more skilled and adaptable workforce, directly contributing to the company's agility and competitiveness.

  3. Performance Incentives: Aligning employee incentives with business goals ensures that achieving company objectives also fulfills individual employee aspirations, creating a win-win situation.

  4. Feedback Culture: A culture that values open and honest feedback helps address business challenges while respecting and considering employees’ perspectives and ideas.

  5. Flexible Work Arrangements: Flexibility in work arrangements can lead to increased employee satisfaction and well-being while also boosting productivity and reducing turnover costs for the business.

  6. Health and Well-being Programs: Investing in employee health and well-being is not just good for the employees but also reduces absenteeism and healthcare costs, contributing positively to the business's bottom line.

  7. Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives: A diverse and inclusive workforce fosters creativity and innovation, both crucial for business growth and success in a global marketplace.

  8. Transparent Communication: Clear and transparent communication builds trust among employees, leading to a more engaged workforce and better execution of business strategies.

  9. Community Engagement: Engaging with the community and involving employees in these efforts enhances the company's reputation and employee pride while contributing to business sustainability.

  10. Data-Informed Employee Insights: Using data to gain insights into employee needs and satisfaction can help make informed decisions that benefit both the employees and the business regarding retention, engagement, and performance.

How To: The Skills to Create Business-Oriented, People-First HR Practices

Creating business-oriented, people-first HR practices requires a unique set of skills that blend the acumen of a savvy business leader with the empathy and understanding of a people-focused manager.

No other function has a greater vantage point for this blend to be effective than HR. The dual capability of business savvy with empathy toward people is essential for HR leaders who aim to drive organizational success while ensuring employee well-being and engagement. It is about striking a balance where business goals are achieved not at the expense of the workforce but through its empowerment and development.

To effectively integrate business objectives with a people-first approach, HR professionals must be adept in areas that transcend traditional HR functions. These skills involve strategic thinking, an understanding of broader business operations, emotional intelligence, and the ability to leverage technology for human resource management.

Essential Skills for Crafting People-First, Business-Driven HR Practices

Here is a list of 10 crucial skills needed to create and implement business-oriented, people-first HR practices:

  1. Strategic Thinking: Ability to align HR strategies with business objectives, foresee future workforce needs, and plan accordingly.

  2. Emotional Intelligence: Understanding and managing one's own emotions and recognizing and influencing the emotions of others, which are crucial in managing a diverse and dynamic workforce.

  3. Effective Communication: Skills in both conveying messages clearly and listening actively to understand the needs and concerns of employees.

  4. Data Analytics: Proficiency in using data to derive insights about workforce trends, employee satisfaction, and other key HR metrics.

  5. Change Management: Ability to lead and manage change effectively, especially in today's fast-paced business environment.

  6. Problem Solving: Creative and critical thinking skills to navigate complex HR challenges and align solutions with business goals.

  7. Empathy and Compassion: Understanding and genuinely caring about employee well-being and creating a supportive work environment.

  8. Leadership and Influence: The ability to inspire and motivate teams and influence decision-making processes at all levels of the organization.

  9. Conflict Resolution: Skills to manage and resolve conflicts in a way that respects all parties and aligns with the company's values and goals.

  10. Technology Savvy: Keeping abreast with the latest HR technologies and leveraging them to enhance HR functions, such as recruitment, training, and performance management.

HR leaders equipped with these skills are better positioned to create and implement HR practices that are both business-oriented and people-first. They can effectively navigate the complexities of modern business environments, drive organizational success, and foster a workplace culture that values and develops human capital.

The Challenges and Solutions

Balancing business-oriented and people-focused strategies is rife with challenges. HR leaders often grapple with limited resources, changing workforce dynamics, and aligning diverse employee needs with business objectives. One significant challenge is the rapid pace of technological change and how it impacts workforce dynamics.

To address these challenges, HR leaders need to be innovative and adaptable. Solutions may include investing in technology that automates routine HR tasks, freeing up for more strategic initiatives. Emphasizing continuous learning and development helps manage the skills gap arising from technological advancements. Moreover, fostering open communication and feedback mechanisms can align employees’ expectations with business goals.

However, the biggest obstacle will always be having senior leadership buy-in, support, and championing of bringing together people and business success. HR must show that this is possible and that there is more value at that intersection than anything else.


The modern HR leader stands at the intersection of business strategy and employee wellbeing.

The role of the business-oriented, people-first HR leader is crucial in steering organizations toward success in a sustainable and people-oriented manner. By mastering the balance of being business savvy and empathetic to employee needs, HR leaders contribute to the bottom line and build a workforce that is engaged, committed, and aligned with the organization's goals.

The future of business leadership is undeniably human-centric, and at its helm are the HR leaders who understand the value of a business-oriented, people-first approach. That's why it matters a lot, for your own future and the future of the people and the organization you serve, that you invest in anything that helps you deliver value at the intersection of people and business success.


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