Smart leaders are developing a competitive advantage by creating a sense of connection and community among employees and customers. In the fitness world, SoulCycle and Tough Mudder are two organizations that have successfully tapped into the power of community. Each has developed a vocal and rapidly expanding following.
With a belief that fitness can be joyful, SoulCycle founders Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice developed an experience for the body and the social mind. SoulCycle hires friendly, enthusiastic, high-energy employees who reach out and connect with people attending their 45-minute stationary bike workout classes.
With 25 studios nationwide at present, SoulCycle plans to triple that number by next year. Envious of SoulCycle’s growth and avid customer loyalty, jealous competitors describe it as a cult. Cutler and Rice are quick to respond that it’s a fitness community.
Started in 2010, Tough Mudder creates events where over one million participants have completed 10- to 12-mile physically challenging obstacle courses. Founder Will Dean designed Tough Mudder to be team-oriented rather than competitive. It’s all about encouraging and helping your teammates so you all finish.
Human Connection Is a Superpower
Matthew Lieberman, the prominent social neuroscientist, describes human connection as a superpower that makes individuals and organizations perform better. Research from Gallup supports that view. Consider the following:
- Individuals who have the highest wellbeing get on average six hours of social time (i.e. connection) each day. (The six hours includes time spent connecting face-to-face, on the phone, over email and via the Internet.);
- Participation in a 10-month intensive weight-loss program is maintained 24 percent of the time when undertaken alone, 50 percent of the time when undertaken with a group of three strangers, and 66 percent of the time when undertaken with three friends or colleagues; and
- The single best predictor of employee engagement is “who people are with” (connection) rather than “what they are doing” (tasks).
3 Ways to Tap the Power of Community
Here are three ways your business can tap into the competitive advantage of connection and community.
- Build connection and community with employees first
Engaged employees create engaged customers. Engagement = connection. Make sure you connect with your employees via vision, value and voice. Communicate a shared vision that inspires them. Value employees by knowing their names and stories and getting them into roles where they will thrive. Give them a voice in decision-making by keeping them in the loop, and seeking and considering their ideas and opinions before making decisions.
- Encourage frontline employees to connect
Educate your frontline employees about the benefits of connecting with one another and with customers. For example, your frontline employees should know that genuine connection helps them become healthier and happier, and extends the length of their lives (it’s true!). Make them aware of tangible ways to connect and promote a culture of sharing best practices around connection.
- Make it easy for customers to connect with one another
Hold events to bring your customers together such as user conferences and customer appreciation events. Learning each other’s names makes a difference in establishing connection so don’t shy away from using name tags with first names in large print to make it easier for customers to connect with one another. Give them the option to make their contact information available to other customers attending the event. Reiterate to employees that this is an ideal opportunity to connect with customers and to help in making introductions between customers.
By building connection and community with employees first, encouraging frontline employees to connect, and making it easy for customers to connect with one another, you will reap the competitive advantage of community in your business.
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity (Thomas Nelson).
Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, speaks, teaches workshops and coaches leaders. He is the author of the upcoming book Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy, and Understanding at Work (Association for Talent Development).