Continuous Improvement, Core Values, Culture, Keyan Zandy, Labor Shortage, Mental Health

Crushing the Profit First Mentality: How to Cultivate People-centric Leadership

January 4, 2024

By Keyan Zandy

In the dog-eat-dog world of the construction industry, the prevailing culture often echoes the sentiment that more is better. Bid more projects, acquire more work, and generate more revenue at all costs—a formula that has long been considered the pathway to success. However, I’d like to challenge this conventional wisdom and debunk the myth that “more” translates to the “best” way to grow your firm.

The reality is that an incessant pursuit of growth often brings unintended consequences, creating a cascade of challenges for construction owners. More work means more headaches:

  • There is an urgent need to hire more people.
  • A weakening of company culture.
  • Increased employee exhaustion.
  • Added opportunities to make critical mistakes.

The Mantra for 2024: Do less, better.

Rather than focus on pursuing higher revenues, we can redefine success by prioritizing quality over quantity: delivering exceptional service, mastering core competencies, and cultivating lasting client relationships that lead to sustained profitability and business growth. The best way to do this is by focusing on people-centric leadership: putting people over profit.

Here are three ways we are doing it at my company.

Resolution No. 1: Invest in Employee Well-Being

There are countless ways to achieve this, but one important example is prioritizing mental health and acknowledging the mental health challenges the construction industry faces. Beyond this, we can work to destigmatize this topic in our firms by normalizing language around mental health, routinely bringing these topics to the forefront, participating in honest discussions about how we truly feel, and making relevant resources available. Prioritizing the well-being of employees contributes to a positive work environment and enhances your organization’s overall resilience.

Another example is going the extra mile to capture the “work-life balance” unicorn by replacing limited vacation days with a more progressive approach: trusting employees with unlimited PTO. This benefit fosters trust and autonomy in our culture and fully supports everything we say about the importance of taking time off from work. All of this helps us better maintain a healthy and productive workforce.

Resolution No 2: Fire the Wrong Clients

It’s tempting to think that no client is the “wrong” client, but we all know this isn’t true—and that the wrong clients come with a cost. In a shift away from the profit-centric mindset, we instead emphasize the importance of aligning with clients who share our values. By strategically choosing projects and partnerships that mesh with our purpose and ethos, we are facilitating more meaningful collaborations and sustainable success, which has helped with burnout and low morale.

Resolution No. 3: Be More Transparent

Creating a people-first culture requires transparency and active engagement. Each quarter, we offer open communication through an established 1-2-1 process (where all employees get 60 minutes of face-to-face time with their manager) and a company meeting where we discuss all aspects of the business. Also, twice a year, we solicit feedback through employee engagement surveys and then incorporate that feedback into decisions and practices that will enhance employee satisfaction and, ultimately, the company’s bottom line.

Embracing a people-centric leadership approach, grounded in core beliefs like those outlined above, is not just a departure from the norm; it’s a strategic evolution towards a more sustainable and prosperous future.

As leaders, it’s time to crush the profit-first mentality and usher in an era where success is measured not just in revenue but in the satisfaction, well-being, and success of the people who make it all possible.


This article was written for D Magazine; you can read it here: