In the Industrial Age, many entrepreneurs and corporate leaders focused on building companies that provided a good return for investors and shareholders. In the Social Age, however, it seems the focus of many great companies has changed. They now emphasize development of a community – and ultimately, a culture– that inspires employees to achieve a common goal. Sure those leaders still care about traditional business metrics. But to them, building community is a critical step toward building a great company.
For many, especially veteran CXOs, the idea of building community (instead of a company) runs counter to everything they know. For other non-believers the word “community” has become a fluffy buzzword used to describe a unmeasurable utopian scenario. And yet for many – like start-up SquareSpace, media darling Warby Parker, and industry icon Chevron – building community around caring, inspired employees is the only way to build a company.
[ctt template=”4″ link=”PvLoj” via=”no” ]Building community around caring, inspired employees is the only way to build a company.[/ctt]
So should your company remain focused on metrics commonly associated with old-school organizations? Or should you first look at what it takes to create a community that rallies employees around a common mission?
Here’s why you should focus on building community as you build your company.
People Want to Feel Like They Belong
In today’s competitive marketplace, the fight for the best talent has moved from friendly rivalry to all-out battle. To win the war, we must retain our top talent while providing a culture that attracts new talent. Yet for many companies, the exact opposite happens; even those employees thought to be the most loyal are parting ways with their long-time employers. In fact, in late 2016 the US Department of Labor reported employees were leaving their current companies faster now than at any time since 2007.
So what have the best companies learned during this head-to-head combat? How do they keep their best people?
They’ve learned that providing a steady job isn’t enough anymore. People want a voice within the company; they want to be part of the solution. They want to feel like a member of an exclusive club; perhaps even a VIP. A paycheck, nap pod and ping pong table are no longer enough.
So they reward their best employees for what they are: industry innovators, champions of their brands and evangelists for their customers. They know: a high level of commitment doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a community of people who feel like they belong.
Sharing of Knowledge and Experience
Once this sense of community starts to form – and people are driven by values and purpose instead of a paycheck – sustainable business results start to follow. As Chris Edmonds from the Purposeful Culture Group states so well:
- Engagement goes up by 40 percent
- Customer service levels rise by 40 percent
- Results and profits increase by 35 percent
Of course, building community doesn’t happen in a day. This level of change – where colleagues gladly share knowledge and experience – doesn’t happen overnight. However, leaders often see real results of a community-based workforce in a short time – weeks instead of months or years.
For example, organic mentorship models begin, which shorten learning curves and help prevent major mistakes from happening. Where self-contained silos once existed, communication and collaboration become the norm. And soon, leaders start to see pockets of excellence so revered that it isn’t uncommon to field a question like “We’d been working on that for months and months… How did you do that in a few weeks???”
Yes, some elements of change can take quite some time. But the sharing of knowledge and experience, sparked by innovative leadership, often happens quite suddenly.
Social Proof: You Really DO Listen!
In the Social Age, there is nothing more powerful than a leader who is also an active listener.
[ctt template=”4″ link=”3Cz07″ via=”no” ]In the Social Age, there is nothing more powerful than a leader who is also an active listener.[/ctt]
And yet, the need for this soft skill – especially among the “old white guys” who have been entrenched in C-suites and boardrooms for so long – falls on deaf ears. After all, they were trained to be independent, decisive and commanding; listening was not a required character trait. So they became used to talking at people instead of with them. That’s what we expected of them, and all they expected from themselves.
Social listening has changed all that. Rather than be insulated by several levels of management, leaders are now expected to open a channel straight to their employees and customers. Those who do – Richard Branson and Maureen Chiquet, for example – are awarded rock star status previously reserved for movie stars and elite athletes.
Of course, the best listeners don’t just smile and nod. They absorb and reflect. Then they take action. That’s when people feel they’ve been heard – and that they are appreciated. Trust grows. And when you establish trust, a sense of community often results.
An Invitation to Start the Tough Conversations
Of course, building community isn’t all puppies, rainbows and Disney-style fairy-tale endings. As happens when any group of people gather, you expect some conflict.
Within a community, however, these momentary tensions are seen as an opportunity for open dialogue. They oppose groupthink. Most important, they are an invitation to start the tough conversations and to promote radical candor.
Yes, the communication that occurs among community members can sometimes be challenging. And yet it often opens the door to innovation – even reinvention. All we have to do is listen.
So Why Don’t All Organizations Focus on Community?
A valid question – and one where if you ask one hundred CEOs you’ll get one hundred different answers.
Yes, this concept runs counter to the command-and-control thinking of our Industrial Age leaders. And it represents another challenge to receiving top-down acceptance of building community within a company.
But in the Social Age: if you don’t listen your employees – if you don’t build a trustworthy community – they’ll find someone else to listen. A little (seemingly harmless) venting on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, perhaps. Or maybe placing a negative comment about their experience of working at your company on a site like Glassdoor.
Maybe they could take more impactful action, like treating an influential customer in a less-than-stellar manner. Or, because they don’t feel as connected to the organization as they once did, they may decide not to refer a friend or colleague for a critical job opening at your company. And if the situation can’t be remedied, maybe they find another employer – perhaps one that features a stronger sense of community.
Want to build an organization full of inspired, purpose-driven employees? A group of innovative, brand champions committed long-term to your company’s success?
Start building a strong community. A strong company will follow.