Rita Bailey is founder of QVF Partners, a company that establishes
relationships with organizations and individuals who are committed
to creating people-focused cultures. She shares expertise and
resources to help develop workplace environments where people
enthusiastically work together to drive organizational success. She
is also co-creator of Up to Something Partners, which focuses on
helping individuals and organizations unleash their human
potential. Having served in several leadership roles during her
25-year career with Southwest Airlines, including customer service,
sales and marketing, and SWAs corporate university, Bailey knows
what it takes to inspire people to perform because they want to,
not because they have to. She is a past chair of ASTDs board of
directors and currently serves on advisory boards and committees
for various industries, including healthcare and technology. Bailey
is co-author of Destination Profit: Creating People-Profit
Opportunities in Your Organization. She is currently working a
book about people who are Up to Something, which is due to be
published later this year.
LXB: You are very passionate about people-first
cultures and the role they play in employee performance and
engagement. Is that concept more important now because of the
business climate that has emerged since The Great Recession?
Bailey: A people-first culture has always been
important, but it is even more so now. Theres a lack of trust in
business and government. Changing workplace demographics are
bringing in a different mindset: Millennials dont work the way we
did. Technology allows them to be faster and more efficient, so
keeping their attention is more difficult.
LXB: What does a people-first culture look like?
How do you measure its success?
Bailey: A people-first culture looks like an
inverted pyramid, with leaders supporting the people who interact
with customers. Those people are asked for their thoughts and
opinions; their voice is valued. They are empowered to make
decisions. We find that great ideas are generated from people
throughout the organization who want to know that they are adding
value. They also must have access to leaders, opportunities to grow
and develop, and the knowledge that others within the organization
care about them.
To measure the success of a people-first culture, you can use many
traditional metricsturnover, performance, productivity, and
engagement but how people interact with one another is a major
indicator of a people culture.
Although engagement may sound like a key measure of a people-first
culture, many organizations misunderstand its meaning. Engagement
is not about people being happy at work. Its about their tendency
to bring their interests, skills, talents, and full contribution to
the workplace willingly and fully. According to several surveys,
about 70 percent of employees are disengaged at some level. If
organizations dont take the time to connect with employees to know
what they can bring to the tablethey are missing out.
LXB: What is a leaders role in this culture?
Bailey: Leaders should set the tone but not
micromanage. Their people-first focus enables and empowers the
people who work for them. Leaders encourage people to take their
jobs seriously, without losing who they are in the process.
LXB: What role do learning professionals play in
creating a people-first culture? What key steps must be taken to
ensure its success?
Bailey: Learning professionals have the
opportunity to be the keepers of organizational culture. They are
more connected with everyone in the organization than anyone else.
They can help build trust and create a safe environment where
people can learn and grow, which are key elements of a people-first
To ensure success, there must be alignment between learning and
what the corporate culture allows. We can reinforce the values and
communicate the organizational goals and objectives in a way that
not only benefits the organization, but lets people understand
whats in it for them.
LXB: Of the companies you have helped create
people-first cultures, what challenges did they face? How did you
help them overcome these obstacles?
Bailey: I start at the top. Creating a
people-first culture cannot be done from the ground up: Leaders
must want it, believe in it, and embrace it. People must believe
and experience leadership support, not just lip service. The lack
of leadership buy-in can be an obstacle.
Another is tradition. Thats how weve always done things here is a
common refrain. Behaviors that are deeply rooted can drive major
resistance to change. Also, long-tenured employees can sometimes be
resistant to change.
To overcome those obstacles, I encourage people to start with the
end in mind. We describe the desired outcome, then explore why its
not already happeningget to the root cause. Often, learning
professionals are brought in to fix situations that are severely
broken; many of these are not training issues. Its important to use
the most appropriate methods to accomplish the end result. Not
isolated events, but a long-term strategy.
Early on, I thought I could save every organization and they could
all embrace the concept of People First. Now, I have learned to
weed out those who just want to check the box.
LXB: Many organizations profess to be lifelong
learning organizations. How does lifelong learning fit into a
Bailey: It is critical to it. Learning must become
part of the fabric of the culture. Organizations provide multiple
opportunities for learning, development, and advancement. Employees
take an active role in their learning and are intentional about it.
But when there is conflict between what people learn and what the
culture allows, no one wins.