I find that people are using the word community more often and I hear it in multiple contexts: business, neighborhoods, sports, and government among others.

People usually use the word to describe the act of bringing people together. Businesses and organizations often talk about building or establishing community with the intent to make stakeholders, employees, or even customers feel that they have a connection with the brand or organization. If the community is strong, then people should be supporting the organization. 

If a business is treated as a community, then the very nature of authority within a company changes.

As Russell Ackoff noted in this 2003 interview with Robert J. Allio, “authority flows from the bottom up, and so do the resources.” In this model, the welfare of the leader is tied directly to the welfare of the people that work for the company. If a leader looks after his employees and customers, then in return, they will be more supportive.

The idea of a business behaving like community could be taken one step further and be applied to the customers the organization serves, or all of the people the company impacts through its actions. This is a broad interpretation, but is certainly relevant in a highly connected and networked world.

This is a major change from how companies operated during most of the 20th century.

Simply put, companies existed to produce something and employees made that happen. As an employee, you committed to providing service to the company, and you were rewarded with a wage or salary, basic benefits, and perhaps a pension after a specific amount of service. Authority flowed from the top down and there was minimal interaction with company leadership.

Can a business operate effectively as a community?

It can as long as it rethinks it relationship with its employees and customers. This may be an especially hard to task to accomplish for an existing organization. Newer organizations are not necessarily bound to the limitations of an entrenched culture of linear or one-way thinking. 

The role of the leader in this kind of organization is to effectively balance the needs of the employees with what is required in order to make the company profitable. Here are a few steps that an organization can take to start bringing people into alignment with your vision for the company.

  • A clear mission and vision for the organization
  • Leadership is visible and accessible
  • Transparency at all levels of the company
  • Space is given for people to create and explore their ideas to better the company
  • Opportunity is given for people speak up and voice their opinions and suggestions
  • Consideration is given to the social impact of the company
  • Investment in the future of employees, such as educational and training options

Creating a business that functions as a community has the benefit of having a positive culture where people will actually want to spend time at work. The return on this investment is that you will potentially gain loyal and motivated employees that want to grow with you.

For the leader of a business, the conversation is about the service that the company provides as much as the amount that the company invests in its people. If you can effectively balance the two then you have set up a situation where long-term organizational growth can be achieved.

How much are you investing in your people and what is your expectation of the return on that investment?

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