ICS Magazine

How Building Community Changes Everything

October 14, 2010
Across America, businesses large and small struggle with the same issues: cutthroat competition that is selling “below invoice”; customers that don’t want to pay the advertised price; insolent employees and more.



Across America, businesses large and small struggle with the same issues: cutthroat competition that is selling “below invoice”; customers that don’t want to pay the advertised price; insolent employees; non-existent customer service, and frustrated management with little or no resources to perform their duties.

Employees don’t care about the company or the customer, because they don’t feel anyone cares about them. Companies don’t feel they can afford the “luxury” of recruiting and training the right people, so mediocrity reigns. Many companies that fit this profile struggle to make a profit. The result is a frustrated management team, resentful workers, and disappointed customers.

The vicious cycle continues.

Meanwhile, as the typical business is warring over price, cutting budgets and desperately trying to find “good” people, Starbucks has loyal customers standing in line happily paying $4 for a cup of coffee. Employees over at Southwest Airlines love the company so much they seem like multi-level evangelists. And Nordstrom continues to build upon its legendary customer service.

How have companies like this managed to rise above the mediocrity that rules in the typical company? Why is it that both employees and their customers love the company? What do these companies have in common (other than being extremely profitable)? Do they have something unique? Great marketing? Great management? Is there one simple concept that can bring all of the proven strategies of building a phenomenally successful business together?

Community.

What truly sets these companies apart is they have created “community” in their businesses. Community is a word that has many meanings for many people. We often refer to community in the context of our neighborhoods or our local area. We talk about the “global community” and even a “virtual community” as it relates to the Internet.

My definition of community goes much deeper than just a group of people or a neighborhood. Community is the sense of belonging that all humans hunger for.

A Longing for Belonging

Every human being has a “longing for belonging.” We are created that way. We have a need to connect with other people. We have a deep desire to be a part of something meaningful – something that makes a difference. The longing for community is the reason people join clubs; it’s also why they join gangs. Humans have the need to identify with a group of people that accept and love them, a group of people that belong to each other and walk through life with one another through victory and defeat.

Even as we pursue our rugged independence and our individual rights, deep down we all long to experience community.

How Building Community Impacts Your Business

If you understand and implement the principles of building community in your business, you will be able to do something for others that you may have never done before: help them experience the very thing they’re searching for.

Your business can be the first place your employees have ever truly felt connected and needed. You have the unique opportunity to help them feel part of something bigger than themselves. Your reward for that is your employees will begin to love your company for it. They will become your biggest champions, which leads to loyal, high-paying clients, which makes you bigger profits.

Keep in mind that your employees may not even know what they are looking for, but rest assured, they will know it when they feel it. When they experience the community that you foster in your company, they will respond. There will be a few that won’t, but if you do it right, it will be only a few, and that handful will quickly move on.

If you do not understand and operate in community, I can promise you that your people won’t either. If you are not open and honest, they won’t be either. If you don’t commit to the vision and mission, why should they? If you talk badly about customers, they will too. As the owner or manager, you will have to participate in community just as you expect your employees to.

Living in community and doing what is required won’t be easy. If it were, everyone would do it. The very reason that most companies are ordinary – just mediocre, just getting by and complaining the whole way – is because they don’t understand what community is and they won’t commit to community values even when they think they understand them. Too hard. Too difficult. Too much work for an intangible result.

But you, on the other hand, can rise above the mediocrity. You can experience the exhilarating feeling of not only belonging to an extraordinary movement, but of being at the helm. You will be recognized as the one who leads the charge, the one who changes the business, the industry, and who has a profound and positive impact on many, many lives.

How to Do It

It’s simple: the only way you can begin to create a positive community in your business – one that will give you what your clients and employees want – is to become transparent with one another as you begin to develop “the way we do things here” so that everyone is operating from the same sense of purpose. The community system you establish includes your mission, your values, your goals, your purpose, and the policies and procedures of your culture.

Different groups develop their own sense of community; there is no one-size-fits all. For example, think about the Amish. There is a certain way they do things in their community, certain values they hold. You may or may not agree with it, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in creating your community, you put forth a compelling mission, vision and purpose for your company, and begin to craft the values you want to live out. Each step made in the marketing, sales, and operations of your business must be carefully shaped from the ideals from which your company was born.

Is it easy? No. But if you don’t do it, someone else will define your community experience for you, and that usually doesn’t work out so well.

Have you created a sense of community in your business, in your life? Perhaps it’s a work in progress? I know this is a big, deep subject, but it’s one of tremendous importance, and I would love to hear your thoughts.