Creating a sense of belonging in the business building workplace

Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, The NIIC

Photo by Amer Mughawish on Unsplash

It is no accident that The NIIC tag line is “an entrepreneurial community”. But what is community? Peter Block wrote a book that has profoundly influenced and provoked my thinking about community. In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, he opined, “The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole.” This is the foundation of why The NIIC’s entrepreneurial community addresses the loneliness and isolation, experienced by business builders, that often accompanies starting or growing a business.

Today, the conversation around talent attraction and retention has been, for some time, concerned with “perks.” All things being equal, a prospect might find an organization with an in-house café, gym or even beer Fridays as more attractive than one not invested in such intangibles. However, in the quest to recruit the best and brightest, we can quickly gloss over another essential factor: a sense of belonging and connectedness. Business builders who feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves might be more motivated, committed, engaged and inspired in their business ventures.

Author and Consultant Charles Vogl wrote, “the best community building is an art. There’s no single formula.” In an increasing lazy world, where people are seeking a one size fits all answer, or want to check a box, or think they can import some other community’s program because they believe it was validated somewhere else and therefore, that means it will just work here. This is an absurdity!

While “belonging” can mean different things to different people, business builders can look to doing the following:

1. Be intentional in encouraging meaningful conversations. 

Lee Cockerell once said, “you don’t know what problems someone brings to work each day” so you have to meet people where you find them. Likewise, Jack Patton shared with me earlier today about a notion called the proximity principle – the desire to be around people and to be located in places where people are doing what you do, and the social psychology theory posits that there is a “tendency for individuals to form interpersonal relations with those who are close by”.

2. Establish and maintain shared purpose.

Our collective purpose, as Block reminds us, “exists for the sake of belonging and takes its identity from the gifts, generosity and accountability of its citizens” and to be concerned about each other’s welfare.

3. Be present.

We live in a world of distraction and brokenness, so finding opportunities to relate to each other matters. Intentional and active listening combined with meaningful social interaction is critical to engaging in supportive relationships. Block’s reflections challenge us by reminding us that isolation can only be addressed by building the social fabric which happens “one room at a time.”

4. Celebrate wins (often).

A culture of recognition can do wonders for morale. Publicize the accomplishments of your business venture and make a note of the people who have gone above and beyond in helping you achieve the milestones you set out. Remember, less than 11% of adults over 25 think about or start a business. So, you are rare and unique when you start your entrepreneurial journey.

What are you doing to intentionally build community into your business venture?


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