I had a chance to chat with business coach and author Howard Partridge about his new book, The Power of Community (McGraw Hill, 2018), which I reviewed for this site. Partridge offers a remarkably straightforward and effective way to solve complex problems in the workforce, such as engagement and alignment: turn your workplace into a community. Whatever the size or nature of the organization, community is vital to its success, Partridge says. We discussed the power of small groups, our desire to be winners and help our teammates be winners, and how community will help us weather the disruptions in business today.
What prompted you to write this book?
Every human being has a longing for belonging. We all want to feel loved, accepted, and validated. We want to feel that our lives matter. Deep down, we want to belong to something bigger than ourselves. We want to make a positive difference. Today, we are more connected digitally than ever before, and yet we often feel more isolated and disconnected personally than ever.
Studies reveal that 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their work, 18 percent of those workers are actively disengaged, meaning they are actually working against the success of the company. This lack of positive purpose bleeds over from employees to customers and has a serious negative impact on our organizations.
I’ve been thinking about this for 25 years since I saw the dramatic difference between large group effectiveness and small group effectiveness. I’ve been studying leadership since then, and became frustrated that leaders and managers don’t communicate well — which frustrates their team members, who have so much potential.
It seems like we’re heading into even more dramatic changes in the world of work, such as AI and remote workforces. How can community help unify these types organizations?
Understanding that people have the need to connect authentically, not just virtually, makes genuine community even more important and urgent as we move toward AI and more people working remotely. People crave affirmation, belonging, and real connections. There is a certain amount of disconnect with remote workers.
By never connecting in person, we often miss out on the sense of belonging. Managers must be even more intentional about supporting, encouraging and helping others become more accountable with remote workers.
Talk about the connection between a great workplace community and employee engagement.
When people feel cared for … when they feel like they belong to a group of people that are making a difference … when they feel supported … when they feel encouraged … when they feel that everyone is being accountable … then their commitment levels, and therefore their engagement levels, increase. They want to win. They want everyone else to win. Creating a sense of community through genuine support, sincere encouragement and true accountability causes people to feel all of those things.
In this super tight job market, where people jump from job to job faster than ever, can loyalty still play a role in the workplace?
The question is, “Why do people jump from job to job?” The answer is, “Because they don’t feel cared for. They don’t feel they belong. Studies over the past forty years have proven that people don’t primarily leave their jobs for more money. They leave because they don’t feel in on things, they don’t have a positive work environment, they don’t have a great relationship with their supervisor, and they don’t have the benefits they would like to have.
Can you give some examples of leaders who have built community among their employees, and seen dramatic improvements in their business?
Cheri Perry, who owns Total Merchant Concepts in Vancouver, Washington, reports that before she discovered the idea of community, her company’s primary focus was on making sales. They had a good company, but not the best culture. By supporting, encouraging and practicing the right kind of accountability, and implementing PODS (small groups) in their team meetings, her culture became exciting, inspirational, and meaningful. And yes: sales continued to climb as well.
Senior Grandmaster Brenda J. Sell, the world’s highest-ranking female in Tae Kwon Do, started a martial arts training business with her late husband. He ran the business with an iron fist. It was a badge of honor when someone quit training. This was detrimental to the business of course. They then created a sense of community by encouraging their trainees. The business began to turn around a sense of belonging was created. They created a legacy by building community.
What is a POD — and why are they such a powerful tool for the workforce?
A Growth POD is a small group that meets on a regular basis that not only helps move individuals toward true accountability, but also helps spread community throughout the organization. PODS™ stands for Power of Discovery Systems™. Typically, these are made of seven to nine individuals.
The purpose of the POD is to foster more effective communication. It’s designed to allow participants to discover what they need to do, or who they need to become, rather than being taught (or worse told). This is particularly important in today’s society, because people tend to bristle when you tell them what to do. PODS enable team members to discover important concepts on their own — and when people discover something themselves, they feel a sense of ownership, which makes it more likely that they will implement it. When they do take action, they do it with a sense of purpose.
Can you talk about the power of being a coach instead of a commander?
Command-and-control managers bark out orders. People may do what you want them to do while you’re watching, but will they have your back when you aren’t looking? When you care about people, they will care about you. As a coach, your job is to train and develop your players. Get them in the right position. Help them thrive. A good coach asks questions, which engages people. In the book, I share a simple way to coach an employee back to success with five simple questions.
How is it possible to care about your employees in a massive organization? Can you give some strategies for larger employers?
In his book Organizational Health, Patrick Lencioni says it starts by building a cohesive leadership team. My prescription is to create a leadership POD first. Then, multiply those groups across the organization.
What are the three keys to a great community?
- Support – helping others reach their personal goals, not just professional goals.
- Encouragement -helping others do the things they are afraid to do, both personally and professionally.
- Accountability – helping others become the person they want to be. Maybe they want to be a better spouse, father, mother, or coworker. In-house mentoring can help them build better habits. The right kind of accountability is built on trust and respect — and it’s built over time.