People-driven leaders put people at the center of everything they do. Also known as people-centric or people-oriented leaders, they embrace the power of employee engagement, attracting, developing, and retaining happy and successful people. Above all, they champion a new way of thinking best described as People Success.

“People Success is bringing your best self to work in order to do your best work,” writes Jim Barnett, co-founder of Glint, a software company dedicated to happiness and success at work (now a part of LinkedIn). “Centered on employee engagement, performance, and learning, it empowers employees to take joint ownership of their happiness, development, and prosperity.”

How do people-driven leaders inspire People Success?

In a global economy, People Success is an essential way of thinking when looking to attract and engage the talented people who create high-performance cultures. A People Success approach represents a departure from the Industrial Age when employees were viewed as replaceable units in a task-oriented quest for ever-more-efficient systems of productivity.

“Many of today’s HR programs and practices evolved from this [Industrial Age] view,” according to Glint’s People Success ebook. “Goal setting, performance appraisal, and performance ratings have been around for decades and are rooted in this mentality. If organizations don’t modernize these programs, they perpetuate the same command-and-control environment that delivers short-term results and stifles the true potential of an individual.”

In contrast to the Industrial Age mentality, people-driven leaders are powered by compassion, emotional intelligence, and a growth mindset. They possess vision and determination to champion significant innovation and inspire others to join in.

Why is intrinsic motivation so important to people-driven leaders?

Motivation takes two distinct forms: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside sources. Think of the famous “carrot and stick” approach. Carrots are rewards (money, fame, and recognition). The stick equals punishments like poor grades, shame, and fear—even a literal whack from a horrible stick. 

Intrinsic motivation, in contrast, comes from inside. Think about an individual’s own interior strengths, such as determination, resilience, work ethic, passion, and pride. Think of the joy of mastering a difficult task, or the fierce motivation that comes from a personal sense of purpose or a big-picture mission to improve the world. 

Intrinsic motivation is by far the more powerful source of energy and ideas. But how do you make it concrete and measure it? Perhaps due to this measurement challenge, traditional HR programs and systems have focused on extrinsic motivation—ratings, bonuses, and perks, or, on the other end of the spectrum, performance improvement plans and fear of termination.

Meanwhile, alternative ways to inspire intrinsic motivation are hampered by the fact that many HR programs operate in separate silos. Efforts around learning and development, employee engagement, and performance are often distinct and disconnected, limiting their impact. 

People-driven leaders recognize the value of holistic tools and habits in simplifying this bureaucratic challenge. They see that engagement, learning, and performance are deeply related to one another, and they’re awake to a bigger vision that takes a deep, wide, and empathetic view of the employee experience and lifecycle. 

What are the core ideas of people-driven leaders and People Success?

People-driven leaders span industries, regions, and backgrounds. Each has their own personal story, and, of course, they have individual ideas and sources of inspiration. But there are certain ideas that tend to surface in their personal and professional philosophies. 

Here are five key pillars that people-driven leaders promote to help employees be their best selves and do their best work:

  1. Fit—Each person has a role to match their strengths and interests. They feel a sense of belonging at work.
  2. Alignment—Each person knows what success looks like, what to prioritize, and how to get feedback to change course if needed.
  3. Enablement—Each person has the support, tools, and resources they need to work effectively.
  4. Motivation—Each person has the freedom to own their work, and feel like they’re having a meaningful impact.
  5. Growth—Each person is learning new skills, diversifying their experience, and progressing professionally.

How do you create a people-centered organization?

There is no single playbook for People Success that works for every organization. But there are three qualities that can make a big difference in building culture. People-driven leaders strive to:

  • Think holistically by integrating the essential elements of employee engagement, learning, and performance. 
  • Achieve agility by meeting the challenges of an accelerated world while empowering people at every level to make faster, better, and more informed decisions. 
  • Champion a people-centric view by recognizing that each person has unique needs and ambitions. 

Here are some real-life examples of how people-driven leaders build on the People Success foundation with their own personal perspectives:

  • Terilyn Juarez Monroe, Chief People Officer and Senior Vice President, People & Places at Varian, strives to create an inclusive workplace environment where everyone feels individually recognized, respected and valued for who they are in their entirety—not just their organiozational role.
  • Susan J. Schmitt, Group Vice President of Human Resources at Applied Materials, believes the workplace can inspire personal growth and even emotional healing. “I’m not saying that HR should take on the role of therapist,” she says. “But we do have an opportunity, through appropriate coaching and development programs, to offer our colleagues a path to healing through their workplace encounters and challenges.”
  • Jeremy Robinson, Vice President of Organizational Effectiveness at AdventHealth, focuses on creating an engaged culture in which everyone is inspired to live out their calling and leave a long-lasting legacy. He asks himself and others, “How do I do my work in a way that’s unique to how I was created and how I was called to make a difference in the world?”
  • Joan Burke, Chief People Officer at DocuSign, helps others find and live out their true passion in their work. “It’s about helping other people do the work of their lives,” she says. “That’s a deeply personal experience; it means something different to everyone. But it has to speak to their intrinsic motivation in some way.”

How do people-driven leaders create business success?

“There’s no more critical challenge to your business than engaging, retaining, and developing your people,” says Glint’s People Success ebook. “It impacts everything you do—your ability to innovate, grow, deliver value to your customers, and beat your competition. In today’s environment, prioritizing and investing in developing happy and successful employees with a People Success strategy is how your organization will compete and succeed.”

Want to learn more? The People Success Toolkit: Reimagining People Strategy can help your organization innovate while paying close attention to employee engagement and feedback.