Friday Jun 02, 2023

What Does It Mean to Be a ‘People-First Company?’ – Built In Chicago


Innovative and cutting-edge are classic tech clichés. If companies aren’t careful, “people first” will soon be added to that list, given how overused it has become during the pandemic. In the battle to retain talent and recruit top candidates for open roles, companies have been working overtime to advertise how they put their people first. For candidates, the natural question has become: “What does that even mean?”

That’s the question we posed to eight Chicago tech companies. We heard back that a people-first culture involves asking employees for their feedback and making tangible changes based on what is learned. Being people first also means measuring your efforts to ensure employees are actually happy and not just not complaining.

That’s the high-level summary, anyway. Continue reading to learn in detail how these companies, all of which are hiring, orient their cultures and benefits around their people.


Katie Froelich

Human Resources Business Partner

What steps has Green Thumb taken to foster a people-first culture?

We’re a fast-growing startup and previously had a strong in-office culture at our Chicago HQ, and it was difficult to anticipate the varying needs of employees transitioning to a remote workspace. We didn’t pretend to have the answers. Instead, we encouraged leaders to work with employees, accommodate and lean into the human behind the job. Employees were thrust into the unpredictability of being at home with any number of unplanned “guests,” including kids, significant others, pets and beyond. Instead of trying to block that out or ignore it, we encourage teams to keep their videos on, find out the cat’s name and who the little guy making all that noise was. 

We encourage creative solutions that keep our team productive while accommodating what’s happening in real life. Prior to the pandemic, we had a comprehensive, three-day in-person onboarding experience. Amid a flurry of challenges, we were able to adapt the program and virtualize it as we didn’t want to sacrifice what we felt was a critical piece of the new hire experience. We’ve continued to have new hire classes every four to six weeks. The positive feedback we’ve received has been incredible, and I’m proud of the team’s ability to not just maintain but increase engagement over the past two years.


What perks, benefits or other offerings help support a people-first company culture?

We are constantly assessing our total rewards packages and looking for opportunities to expand and diversify our offerings. We recently had a lot of interest in increased mental health resources. So, this year for the first time we’re offering TalkSpace — an online resource for teletherapy — at no extra cost. As our company matures and evolves, we regularly evaluate if our total rewards offerings reflect the priority and values of the people in our organization. And, oh, the 40 percent discount on Green Thumb products doesn’t hurt either.


How do you gauge the effectiveness of these efforts and ensure employees feel valued and supported? And what are some ways you’ve adapted your strategy in response?

We have a strong culture of feedback among employees. Our workforce is vocal and we’re proud of that. We ask for feedback both formally and informally many times throughout the year. Sometimes it’s via survey, debrief sessions following a company event or by simply encouraging employees …….


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