Human pyramids: Why your firm needs a community (Part 1)

We’ve already discussed how the human concerns of social enterprises can help organisations to meet the demands of the public.

But what about the needs of those working within those organisations?

One area in which many formal companies struggle is the issue of balancing the very real human desire to be part of a community, with the tangible day-to-day goals and demands of this or that project.

Large firms in particular are guilty of this. When an organisation is made up of many different, semi-autonomous components with disparate objectives, and the focus is on day-to-day tasks, it’s easy for a workplace to feel fractured — much less a community.

This is a problem not just for the productivity and wellbeing of those involved in the organisation, but also for the brand itself. Without a clear ethos and set of values defining your brand, it’s unlikely that you’re going to stand out from the crowd.

It’s not enough for your brand to be relatable with the outlook of your consumers - it also needs to have a human face, look, and feel. Put simply, your brand needs to represent the people who put the work into, well, making it work. Brands need to have a community behind them.

In this first post of two, we’re going to discuss the importance of community-building for your workplace as a whole.

The importance of dialogue

If organisational fracturing is a problem, then excluding those at the bottom (your employees) from a wider group dialogue is not going to help anybody.

The strongest communities rely upon inclusion and diversity. Building up a dialogue that transcends the usual workplace hierarchies and division of labour therefore allows each member of your workplace community feel included — their voice is being heard.

What this means in concrete terms is giving employees the chance to not only openly participate in the direction of the company or the brand, but in defining the values of the workplace community itself.

This can mean management taking the lead in actually ensuring that employees’ suggestions are considered as equally as that of the higher-ups. It can even be something as simple as bringing in the whole team or division to talk through the suggestions and ideas of management.

That’s exactly what Keith Moor, Santander chief marketing officer, did when he embarked on his quest to build a workplace guided by common values. Starting with regular ‘working sessions’, management sought to brainstorm different ways of bringing the disparate threads within the company together. These sessions focused on establishing shared characteristics, goals, values and attitudes — what Santander UK should aspire to be not just as a brand, but a community.

Things get more interesting once Keith explains how they took the products of these sessions to the rest of the company, in the form of ‘TeamTalk’ sessions. They presented entire divisions with the ideas of community, fairness and simplicity that had been established in the original management sessions. The whole team were asked for their direct, free and open input in shaping the ethos of their workplace community — and to great success.

This process of understanding our common goals, recognising the issues we all have, and tackling solutions together has genuinely helped unite those who have marketing responsibility across the globe for Santander,” he says. “By doing this work we have given ourselves a greater sense of shared purpose and understanding.”

People first

As he goes on to explain, the ripples of his efforts in the UK division have become waves, as he has sought to bring this transformation to the global Santander brand. In our next post, we will discuss the ways this has impacted the Santander brand as a whole, and how a strong community can ultimately lead to a stronger brand.

However, what’s important to take away from this right now is the value of community for those working alongside you. While many businesses utilise formal organisational hierarchies, which exist for a good reason, building a workplace community allows you to establish a more rounded equilibrium between those formal demands and the human, social and collective needs of the people in your company itself.

As Keith quickly learned, it’s vital to start with people first. When people feel included, that their voice is heard, and that they have a real impact upon the image and ethos of what they produce, the benefits are very real and tangible.