Future State is a management consulting firm with 30 years of experience driving success for leading companies across Silicon Valley. Its people-first model is more than a marketing angle: Employee-owned, women-owned, and a certified B Corporation, Future State is on the forefront of progressive business models. Here CEO Shannon Adkins shares her thoughts on a people-first management model and why it makes good business sense.
The kind of people we want on our team have so many options; they demand (and deserve!) a work environment that provides them with the resources to do their best work, that surrounds them with team members and leaders who see them as whole people, and that supports them in pursuing their passions.
You describe your company as people-first. Why is this strategy the most likely way to success?
Shannon Adkins: Our business model is simple, but at times challenging to execute. We thrive and grow when we deliver extraordinary results for our clients — who then love us, refer us, and come back to us again and again. To do that we must recruit and retain the very best talent — smart, connected, kind and passionate collaborators. The kind of people we want on our team have so many options; they demand (and deserve) a work environment that provides them with the resources to do their best work, that surrounds them with team members and leaders who see them as whole people, and that supports them in pursuing their passions. We try to model this in our organization, and to help our clients bring a people-first mindset to the large-scale transformations they’re driving. It takes genuine concern for the people on a team to gain their commitment to the extraordinary and worthwhile visions our clients are striving to achieve.
How do you advise other companies to center employee well-being? Why?
SA: Success in every company is dependent on the people doing the work. So we start by recommending our clients work to understand their employees. Know what matters to them and design with these concerns in mind. This does not mean sacrificing or subjugating the well-being of the business to the needs of the team members — we can’t sustain our teams if we can’t sustain our business. But we try to find the path that serves the needs of the most stakeholders, and if we cannot address those needs and concerns, then we’re transparent and honest about that. Let people know what’s happening so they can choose what’s best for them. Treat them like adults, and give them the opportunity to speak, be heard and choose for themselves.
If you could offer 3 steps to companies driving a people-first model, what would they be?
SA: Get creative. You have more levers than the profit/loss (P&L) statement reveals. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) sacrifice business performance to also be socially responsible, environmentally responsible, and to prioritize your workers. We can help you figure some of this out, and gain buy-in from your stakeholders, including the board and investors
Know your stakeholders — community, investors, shareholders, employees, planet, customers. What do they care about? What are their concerns? What do they need? This is detailed, and ongoing, not something you do once. It is ongoing as it evolves.
Be transparent. Tell your people everything, and encourage the managers and leaders on your team to do the same. The goal is to be clear, not gossip! Share facts about the business, the decision-making process, about things you know and things you don’t know. Share the questions you’re asking, the uncertainties you’re facing. In the two years that I’ve been in the role, there have only been two questions I’ve had to hold off on answering, and that was only due to contractual agreements or timing issues. Our team members deserve to have all of the facts so that they can make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families.
Each year B Lab, the independent nonprofit that certifies B Corporations — businesses who strive to benefit people and the planet alongside profits — names a set of companies deemed Best for the World. These pioneering companies score in the top 10 percent on the B Impact Assessment, meaning they are among the best companies in the world at creating positive outcomes for life on Earth. Future State is proud and humbled to have been named a Best for the World (BFTW) honoree in the category of “Workers” for the past two yeas.
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