Why We Run a People First Company

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

June 3, 2021

Illustrated by

 Jeffrey Phillips

There are infinite ways to run a company, just like billions of diverse people with unique opinions. There’s no one-size-fits-all playbook to follow. No recipe for “doing it right”.

But what has become apparent to us is that some widely adopted standard practices conflict with our principles. The world of exploitation of people, poor customer service and the race for growth at all cost is not a vision we share. That world doesn’t care about people: it actively devalues and disrespects them. It’s unsustainable and predatory, where it doesn’t need to be.

Because we think critically about what drives us at Calibre and how we can best serve our peers, customers and the community, we explore a different way of doing business. We run a people-first company. Here’s what it means to us.

What is a people-first company?

People-first organisations are not a new concept. But there are probably as many definitions as companies this term to describe themselves. At Calibre, we interpret being people-first as conscious care for all types of people the company impacts through its existence:

People-first company cares for the people who build it, who use its products and is conscious of its impact on the community.

Being people-first is a holistic approach to running a business in a sustainable way that doesn’t harm people or the environment. It challenges the lack of sustainability and predatory nature of modern business. Being people-first implies the responsibility of the company to shape its impact.

Over the years, we have collectively made decisions that align with being people-first. Some of them surely hindered our growth, revenue and possibilities, but they felt ethically right for how we want to operate. We said no to investment, growth-at-all cost and questionable tactics, and we’d make those choices again.

Opting for a people-first business doesn’t guarantee we make any mistakes but gives us a framework for who we are accountable to. Some could say being people-first is anti-capitalist, and in some ways, in our implementation, it is. But we’d be naive not to recognise that Calibre exists in a capitalist economy. We still work for money, and each company needs finances to continue existing.

Being people-first means we will forego growth for the right reasons, but we can’t deny some choices are financial. Having no regards for economic settings doesn’t help run a sustainable company nor care for its people and customers. You can use capitalism to execute a people-first vision, but you can’t escape its existence.

People-first company cares about its people

There’s no company without people. They make decisions about business goals, culture, policies or product roadmap as the company has no consciousness. Numerous studies prove that people’s happiness directly connects to business success. At Calibre, we don’t optimise employee wellness metrics to create ideal conditions for growth.

We care for our people because there’s more to life than work, not because it will boost productivity or outcomes.

We believe that there’s a sustainable way to work. It brings a financial safety net, allows for personal growth, rest, time with loved ones and can create meaning for those seeking it.

The implementation of those principles ranges from small things, such as daily teammate interactions to specific, high-level strategies, like a generous leave policy or recently implemented four day work week. Here are a few examples of choices we’ve made to how we hire and work to foster a people-first approach:

Non-people-first companyOur people-first approach
No or limited paid annual and sick leave.Paid 4 weeks annual and 2 weeks sick leave.
5 day work week, often with overtime.4 day work week with no overtime.
Unpaid parental leave.Paid parental leave, including adoption and foster care.
On-site work, fixed hours work.Remote-friendly, flexible work.
No health insurance.Health insurance and wellbeing stipend.
No personal development.Personal development stipends and coaching.

We believe that a working relationship should never be exploitative and unsupporting. We strive for transparency in our approach and treat everyone the way we’d want to be treated (even if it means doing it the hard, long way).

Some organisations call themselves “a family” in an effort to call on people-first principles. We see this as an exploitative strategy to push people in working more hours and tolerating behaviours and systems that aren’t tolerable.

We’re a group of people with shared goals, serving our customers and community within a sustainable working framework we constantly re-evaluate. The old world companies focus on optimising employees, so they bring most business value. We optimise the business, so it gives back to its builders.

People-first company serves its customers

There’s no company without customers. The goal of the business (and everyone working within) is to help the customer fulfil a need. When we forget this critical distinction, we make decisions based on what’s best for “the business” (read: the founders and stakeholders). And that’s often at an impasse with customer goals.

At Calibre, everyone regularly talks to customers to understand their pain points and needs. We use whole company support to create a shared understanding of where our product has to be to meet its mission. We know we’re doing well when we have a constant, honest dialogue with people using our platform and confirmation that it’s helping them achieve their goals.

We see the old world companies claim humanity but be unwilling to talk to their customers and offer help. We observe the rise of automation to replace human-to-human contact for time-saving and optimisation. When it’s becoming progressively hard to protect your privacy online, we actively implement measures to collect the bare minimum and respect boundaries.

We serve our customers by building the best product and treating them with respect and kindness.

The old world companies see customers as data points on revenue growth charts. We see them as people with needs and boundaries that we have to fulfil and respect.

People-first company is intentional about its community impact

Companies don’t exist in a vacuum. They always impacts their environment. An organisation has the power to influence people and other companies’ direction. It can bring positive (and negative) change.

We are intentional about our community impact. We spread awareness and provide tools to create a better web.

At Calibre, we recognise our reach and responsibility within the space. We make it our objective to help, even if someone isn’t our customer. We create free tools and materials to educate and spread awareness instead of using them as bait for personal data collection. We see it as a critical part of our mission to build awareness about the importance of a good user experience and how to achieve it. When the community succeeds, we succeed.

The old world companies see the community as potential leads to convert. We see them as partners in making the web an equally accessible platform.

We constantly re-evaluate how Calibre operates and what principles guide us. We will continue our commitment to the people to the best of our ability and scale. We are people-first.

Karolina Szczur

Karolina Szczur

Karolina is a Co-founder and Product Design Lead at Calibre. With years of design experience under her belt, she’s responsible for the comprehensive user experience spanning over product, visuals and content. Find her on Mastodon or LinkedIn.

Become a site speed expert

Join thousands of subscribers keeping up-to-date with web performance news and advice.

The best performance newsletter I’ve come across. Highly recommended.

Addy Osmani

Addy Osmani

Engineering Manager at Google Chrome