Changing Corporate Culture to Community

For years, many businesses have followed their CEOs into a strategy of short-term management. While the pros and cons of this approach may be debated, it is certain that the individual employee can often feel left out of the equation and more like a cog in the machine with a decreasing sense of personal involvement. Unsurprisingly this can negatively affect their motivation and productivity – and the company’s success.

But it is never too late. Research conducted by companies such as Microsoft, Boston Consulting Group, SAP, BAE Systems and countless others have shown that creating a sense of community can enhance motivation and productivity. But is it demonstrably true? Do companies really benefit from creating such a sense of community? The answer turns out to be a resounding yes.

CEOs Now See Community as Transformative

Researchers now widely accept that companies who provide an energizing and communal environment achieve higher productivity and innovation. Indeed, many CEO’s now view the ability to foster an engaging corporate community as one of their primary challenges. Why? Because they know that an atmosphere in which staff actually care about the work they do – and value colleagues as key members of the same community – can have transformative effects on a company’s progress. Think Toyota. Think Pixar and Whole Foods, and a myriad of Silicon Valley start-ups whose success is based on a shared sense of ‘we’re all in this together’.

I once worked for a large global company – let’s call it Awesome Co. The company held regular events that included my children (Santa Claus, unexpected gifts, squeals of delight). They took us all on vacations with our spouses and partners, and they strictly enforced time off work between Christmas and New Year.

Some of their events were truly imaginative and extraordinary – such as a treasure hunt through the markets of Marrakech. They connected all of us, including our spouses and children, at a deep level and provided us with shared experiences. This energized and motivated us upon our return to the office.

Now, let’s take a look at Not-So-Awesome Co., where a friend of mine worked. They held one office party each year. No kids. No partners. And then they ‘asked’ her to come into the office over the Christmas holiday to fix somebody else’s problem, tearing her away from her family and leaving her resentful towards the colleague who had messed things up in the first place.

I happily stayed with my company for years. She left hers within the first year.

Connecting People, Not Just Ideas

Psychological researchers have long understood that community means people who feel connected to each other, understand other people’s point of view and share common values. They are happier, they are healthier and they are certainly more responsive and productive. It’s not enough for top managers to simply announce their mission, vision, goals and key performance indicators. The strength of motivation will be greatest when employees understand the context of the need, have the freedom to explore their ideas and are given feedback in a specific, positive and constructive way. The best work can then be accomplished by understanding the perspectives of colleagues and proposing helpful and reasoned solutions.

To build a productive and motivated community, it must therefore connect to individuals.

Moving from ‘Culture’ to ‘Community’

Companies who have been successful in this area have stopped focusing on ‘corporate culture’ and started focusing on ‘community-building’. Why? Because culture is usually driven from the top down. It may even be ‘written in stone’ in a company’s mission or corporate handbook. But a sense of community must evolve from the people involved and is built on consent. That involvement leads to more authenticity. It builds a new sense of purpose among employees, who feel that they are contributing to a group objective that is larger than themselves. This in turn can inject more meaning into their work – and into their lives.

A company can’t somehow find this sense of community through blind luck. Like any meaningful change, a sense of community must be nurtured and sustained through active engagement. But companies needn’t fear that the development of a community is intangible. There are established ways to quantitatively measure and improve their approach, such as the Community Maturity Model™ that defines the competencies and stages involved in the creation of best-in-class organizational communities.

Start from the Inside

The idea of creating a corporate community at your company can be exciting. But many people seem overwhelmed when it comes to a plan for implementation. To start, why not identify small groups of committed and popular managers, asking them to think about positive and successful team efforts they have experienced within the organization? You can then use these insights to start small, team-based activities that emulate this sense of shared cooperation and success. As these first teams start to build a sense of community – and to tell others about it – they will effectively be setting real-life examples for others. This will start to promote a shared sense of community throughout your company. Ultimately, it will help you achieve your goal; employees who are energized, motivated and more productive than ever.

Remember: people contribute to community in different ways

Engage in company-wide initiatives to promote and encourage community. While you’re doing this, keep in mind that people derive their sense of community in different ways… an extrovert may achieve it through active social interaction, vigorous debate, dramatic change or public acclaim, while an introvert may achieve it through quiet involvement, reflection, compromise and incremental change. This means that you need to create an environment that encourages a variety of approaches with common objectives.

A light-hearted approach with serious underlying meaning is perfect for reinforcing the idea that strengthening communal ties can be fun and even effortless. Examples include presenting news about everyday office happenings in a humorous way, organizing company-wide charity events, finding unique ways to celebrate milestones, sharing employee stories or inviting them to job-swap for a day in a different department and report on their experiences.

Research strongly suggests that this type of organizational community is especially important in times of crisis and rapid change – such as our current Covid-19 situation. When employees feel seen and heard; when they feel part of something larger, when they share common goals and feel their contributions are recognized, they will work harder to overcome the toughest of challenges.

Picture of Stephen Johnston

Stephen Johnston

Stephen Johnston is a professional business writer who has decades of experience working with a variety of international clients across Europe and the Middle East. His expertise ranges through virtually all business areas, including consulting, banking, logistics and corporate journalism. He holds an MA in Psychology from Carleton and McGill University.

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