Interestingly, as I have taught this model, I originally thought I was just going to be talking about how to build external community. How do you build a community like Apple or Harley Davidson? But as I started teaching, one of my clients said, “If you don’t have community internally, it’s really hard create it externally.”
Building a Community Internally
So I shifted to how to build community internally. If you want your employees to stay with you and be invested in the success of your business, it is essential to create an internal community for them. So first: look at how to have an internal community. And then because those team members are so invested, it will be easier for them to do things to create an external community.
Ask yourself why you want to do this. Why do you want to build this internal community? If it’s just to make more money, that will not work. Building community is like raising children. You need a compelling reason to get you through the difficulties.
What Do Your Employees Want in a Community?
If you already have employees, chances are you have some people who are more invested than others. Those are the people to tap first. Talk to them about what they want in a community. People want a sense of belonging, of being valuable, and of being safe. That’s the initial piece. Figure out what belonging looks like for your organization.
Then as the boss, you need to figure out some “pillars.” What your team wants is a point of contact, not just to the boss, but to each other. What makes us feel happy and fulfilled is meaningful, connected relationships. This is super important to millennials and upcoming generations. People also want support points; they want to be able to get and give support.
The last pillar is predictability. People need to know when things are going to happen, what the rules are, how things work. Employees can handle anything if they have predictability within the community.
Pride, Trust, and Passion
You will know you have a loyal community when the majority feels pride, trust, and passion.
Here’s how it benefits you. On an internal side, if you need new candidates, rather than running an ad, you can ask your team members. They will know people and want to bring those people to work for you. You also save money in that people will do a better job. They’re already invested, so they want to do a good job for you. Also, it will reduce your turnover, which can be catastrophic in small businesses.
You have to treat your business community like family. It’s a constant practice, and the only way to do that is to set up time to meet. And it needs to be an open forum where people feel safe in expressing their thoughts.
As the boss, you have to take all of this on as your job. The difference between a great community and one that won’t make it is the attitude of the boss. If you’re hands-off, your community won’t make it. You have to consider yourself the heart of that community.
Employees who have that pride, trust, and passion sell more. They sell more and create returning customers. And loyal customers do a lot for your business. Fix the customer service complaints; go above and beyond in the sales. Empower your people to be able to do that. That’s what generates loyalty.
Overcoming The Barrier of Technology
In some ways, technology makes community a bit easier as we do work all over the country. However, we also hide behind technology instead of showing up and being genuine. You have to set up no-tech zones otherwise, people are not going to stop hiding behind their technology; instead, you have to create a void. It sounds juvenile, but if you don’t force people to give up their technology, they just won’t.
My clients teach me so much about technology. They use Hangouts extensively, not just for traditional meetings, but also for “watercooler events.” They’ll do things like mail each other things, and the watercooler event will deal with doing something specific with that mail. It may sound silly, but that’s what build the fiber of community.
Something Bigger Than Ourselves
It boils down to why you want to build your internal or external community. What difference does it make? People often want to jump to tactics, but if you don’t do this foundational work, it’s useless. At the end of the day, all tactics are designed to feed pride, trust, and passion. If you can give someone that sense of community of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, they will stay with you forever.
About Sarah Robinson
Sarah Robinson, CEO of Sarah Robinson Co., advises her international clients on building thriving, successful brand communities and set their companies apart from the pack. She also works with organizations to create and foster Fiercely Loyal internal communities, increasing employee satisfaction, reducing attrition and increasing productivity.
She is a regular guest expert at MSNBC and is ranked by both Forbes and Dun & Bradstreet as a top Twitter expert on entrepreneurship and small business. Sarah has been a featured business expert at Inc.com, Entrepreneur.com, AOL.com, The DEX Entrepreneur’s Summit, LOHAS and Social Media Marketing World.
Sarah is the author of the Amazon bestselling business book Fierce Loyalty: Unlocking the DNA of Wildly Successful Communities.