People First

People Always

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

People First

Mission First:

But people always. Here’s my takeaway from the mantra: “Mission first, people ALWAYS.” It is true that we are always dealing with people. Ourselves, our leadership team, our employees, our customers and our vendors — all are people. At least for now!

I’ve long said that we need to put our employees first. I know from experience that more often than not, the way I treat employees is the way employees will treat our customers and our other stakeholders.

So the “mission first” part of this statement brought me up short and I’ve been thinking about it for some time now.

Nope! People First:

One of my other sayings is, “No margin, no mission.” According to Mike Myatt, “Values should underpin Vision, which dictates Mission . . . ” Now I don’t want to get too deeply into semantics, but it all starts with values. Values are meaningless except as they are embraced by and lived out by people. Therefore, we are right back to people being first. At the same time, we have to be cognizant of business and make sure we earn a margin to support the mission. Which, of course, funds the people in our organization. And hopefully the vision and mission will foster employee engagement.

For more than eight years I worked for a company that had the slogan, “People First, Products and Profits Will Follow,” [AMD, under Jerry Sanders]. The leadership in that company pretty much lived up to that statement. I was allowed to lead my region in exactly that manner. The people — employees, customers, manufacturer’s representatives and distributors — came first. In other words, we did what was right for these stakeholders as a first consideration. We knew that sooner or later, by having the stakeholder’s best interest at heart, we would be able to provide products and earn a profit.


My sense of things is that the author of the original mantra was trying to emphasize how important it is to drive the organization to achieve the mission. I get that and support that drive to execute. However, the emphasis has to be on a safe environment where employees believe that the organization has their best interest at heart. In return for that safety, they will, given a proper vision and mission, drive as a “championship team” to execute the plan and achieve the mission.

If employees sense that the only thing that matters is hitting KPIs and achieving the mission, regardless of the toll on them or their teammates, they will conclude it is not a safe environment. The response to that is to take care of themselves first. The mission will suffer.


I have a suspicion that the author of “Mission First. People Always” would not disagree with my statements. S/He might not agree with me that the way the “Mission First” mantra is written puts the emphasis on the wrong thing. Simply because it comes first in the statement, most people will see the mission as being the most important part. When, to my way of thinking, the people have to always be the most important part. Achieving the mission is a requirement for the organization to have the resources to support the people as well as the mission.

I much prefer the AMD motto. It fits well with the Intent Based Leadership business model that is a requirement for our fast changing world.