Unit4: putting your people at the heart of your business

People make the place, they say; and at no other time has applying a people-centric approach to process and products been paramount.

In this guest feature, Mike Ettling, CEO of Unit4, looks at fostering a workplace culture where its people feel valued.

The COVID-19 crisis has cast a tsunami of change over the workplace. From the widespread implementation of remote working, to complete reliance on technology for communication, places of work are in flux. And the collegiate nature of the typical office has turned into four walls of your home that are no longer occupied by small talk, laughter and the odd reprieve with your colleagues.

Yet, the need to empower, engage and value the workforce has never been greater. Despite not being in the office, employees are still working behind the scenes to help keep businesses afloat. All while they’re juggling their own concerns; whether it’s home-schooling, the safety of their family or their ability to support the household.

When we talk about business success, agility and innovation are synonymous with success. Yet the driving force that eclipses all others is people, and it’s time for leaders to take note.

Let’s take a look at how businesses can achieve a focus on people centricity.

Shifting the sense of purpose

First, leaders must ask how they can create a sense of purpose in a way that’s meaningful for the individual and the team. This starts with understanding your own sense of purpose. Think about those defining moments that made you who you are. Think about what you want to do in life. How does that translate to your business goals and leading people towards a collective goal?

In a New York Times interview back in 2017, I mentioned corporations where CEOs are conducting big town halls and talking about earnings per share. What’s wrong with this approach? These points aren’t top priorities to dedicated employees. MetLife’s annual study about employee benefit trends shows happiness at work and a sense of purpose are most important to employees. Therefore life is not just about money; it is about making a difference.

Being people-centric has to come from the top to the bottom. Understanding that your people strive for real purpose in their work will help you adapt and attract new talent with the same vision and values. And such an organisation, where everyone has the same sense of direction, can achieve amazing things.


Changing mindset

The most important thing leaders can do is be themselves. When you’re authentic, people believe you and trust you. Don’t be afraid to fail. We’re all human, and nobody is perfect. Building this rapport relies on being visible via regular communication. This might sound obvious, but the central part of leadership. In fact, our recent research found that a third of UK employees have had no contact with their CEO. In the current climate, not communicating just isn’t an option.

Being present and showing your true self means your people will feel able to be themselves, and that’s when they deliver their best. At the moment, that means embracing the fact that they are a parent, or a wife or a boyfriend. We’re accepting that everyone is at home with their families. We’re making them a part of the fabric of Unit4 as a result. Whether it’s in our video calls or our online fitness sessions. Recently, I ran a Fit4U session for Unit4 employees, offering them a workout with my personal trainer, showing people my true human self – not just me as a CEO. This wellness initiative offered a sense of support and helped to keep staff positive and engaged.

Creating value

Company culture is unique to each organisation, but making staff feel valued goes beyond ticking the box of a tightknit culture. Let your people know you value them. Value everyone, not just in terms of demographics. Embrace cognitive, opinion and work style diversity. A quarter of non-managerial staff in the UK feel their voice is not heard within their organisation. Listen to them, involve them in decision making, and help them grow by guiding them to achieve their full potential. People who know they’re valued give more of themselves to their work, and it shows in the outcomes.

Making technology work for people

Finally, help make work, work for your people. With technology at the forefront of modern business thinking, organisations can often make the mistake of prioritising technological advances over their people. The technology people use at work should be easy and intuitive to use. It should help people work the way they want to, not the way the system makes them.

People Experience is the discipline we apply to software development at Unit4, that prioritises human experience. It focuses on what people need when they need it, and it results in solutions that are intuitive, adaptive, and self-driving. It automates the tasks no one looks forward to, freeing people from drudgery so they can focus on the high-value work (and purpose) they live for.

Putting people at the centre of your business isn’t just about beanbags and beers on a Friday afternoon. Instead, a true people-centric mindset is one that organisations adopt from the top to the bottom of their workforce to encourage purposeful working and happy people.


Mike Ettling, CEO of Unit4, leaders in people-centred ERP solutions.

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