It’s time we broaden and appreciate our concept of community since it surrounds us in nearly every aspect of our lives. Community begins with our families and friends and extends outward to our memberships in churches, clubs, groups that share our passion for everything from hobbies to golf, the towns or cities we live in and the organizations where we work. If you’re a business leader, recognize that you’re not building a company; you’re building a community.
There are two simple but critical pillars that support every meaningful community: communicating and listening. That bears repeating—communicate, communicate, communicate; listen, listen, listen—consistently and transparently. When these two pillars serve as your foundation, you’re facilitating the kind of human connection that top talent looks for when choosing where they want to work. As leaders, we have not paid enough attention to connection in our businesses. Let’s refocus.
Leaders need to stop thinking about culture and engagement and switch to a focus on community and employee experience. Does anyone understand what “culture” and “engagement” really mean anyway? Everyone knows what a community is and how it feels to be in one. In the past, we haven’t thought of work as being personal, but it is, as is everything about our lives. The best leaders realize they need to think about their employees holistically, recognizing the reality that people bring their whole selves to work every day. They arrive with their needs, tragedies, health issues, family problems, lengthy commutes, and other stresses on their minds—as well as the desire to share their achievements and good news in their hearts. What’s going on inside isn’t always evident on the outside and that’s why leaders need to create environments where everyone feels safe and comfortable being themselves.
Many leaders wonder whether it’s still possible to build community in our new world of remote and hybrid environments. It is. Flexibility is the key, and technology tools are your friends in accomplishing a positive experience in every circumstance. Let employees discover for themselves how they work best. Listen to what they need and what they want, communicate clear expectations and guidelines, and then trust them to be productive in the way they are most comfortable working. Working remotely can eliminate many of the personal issues employees have to deal with when being onsite, for example the high cost of childcare and caring for elderly or disabled relatives. Without those stresses, people are free to focus on getting the job done. When you add fairness and a sense of inclusiveness to flexibility, you’re building a close community that all employees experience from wherever they’re working.
It helps to think of employees as your internal customers. Employees are unique individuals, just like customers are. Each experiences your community differently, and both want you to listen and communicate that you’ve heard them and understand. You need your employees to come to work day after day and you want customers to return again and again to buy your products or services. When you treat your people with the same attention you treat your customers, they will consistently, and eagerly, show up to work.
When you listen to employees, listen to understand. When you’re communicating, be open and honest. You’ll avoid comments like these, which I’ve often heard from employees looking to take their talents to a more humane workplace:
- We’ll see if they actually are what they say they are.
- I don’t trust what they say.
- They pulled all kinds of things and played games.
- They changed my schedule without asking me.
- They created a toxic work environment.
- They pit people against each other.
- They pick favorites, making it impossible to get promotions
- I saw hardworking people let go without warning.
- I do not feel safe saying anything.
After dealing with extreme challenges for far too long, people are exhausted and waiting for the next shoe to drop. By listening to what your people need and communicating that you care personally, you create a community where people feel they belong. And, honestly, isn’t that the kind of community that makes a leader feel good too?