Community & Opportunity: Why Great Businesses Are Like Great Cities
What is a business? According to the dictionary, it is ‘a commercial operation or organization.’ Very well, but that fails to adequately describe the living, breathing, evolving nature of a business, and the people at the heart of it.
Perhaps we can get closer to the truth with an analogy. I’ve heard businesses described as machines (rather old-fashioned) and living organisms (more modern) before, but here’s a new one: businesses are like cities.
If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Businesses are bustling, people-focused ecosystems – just like cities. There are numerous factors that combine to make a business a happy, interesting and successful place to be, or not – just like cities.
By studying the similarities between businesses and cities, you can look at your own organization in a new light and find better ways to improve the ecosystem and measure success.
What makes a city great?
Think of a city you know that is thriving. What makes it a great place to live? Chances are, the city you are thinking of provides its inhabitants with the facilities and opportunities they need to lead interesting and fulfilling lives, allowing them to contribute in their own way to make that city a better place.
A good city needs places for education, where its inhabitants can learn new skills. It needs social spaces, where they can relax, unwind, and meet people. It needs an effective infrastructure that allows its people to move around and share information. It must provide opportunities for leisure so that its people can look after their health and wellbeing, as well as opportunities for professional growth. And underlying all these things, a good city needs a strong culture and sense of identity – something that bonds its inhabitants together and makes them proud to live there.
These factors combine to create an environment where people can thrive. The inhabitants are then able to contribute to making the city a better place, which in turn gives them more opportunities for growth and self-realization. This creates a perfect feedback loop, where the inhabitants simultaneously benefit from and contribute to the city’s growth and improvement.
Good businesses are no different. Like cities, a business is essentially a community of people. Whether or not those people are happy and united depends on the quality of their experiences as employees – the opportunities they have for learning and development, the way the business is organized, and the underlying culture that drives attitudes and decisions.
People are drawn to great cities
Cities that offer the chance of a better life through growth and opportunity are like magnets – people are drawn to them. On the flip side, cities that are unable to provide their inhabitants with the right opportunities and experiences tend to see their best and brightest leave.
Again, the same is true of businesses. People want to work for employers that are forward-thinking, in environments where their ambitions will be realized, and their skills maximized. But for every forward-thinking organization, there are countless that are stuck in the past, unwilling to adapt and change with the times, and unable to give their employees what they need. These are businesses that people leave.
Maintaining a healthy ecosystem
If you want your business to thrive, now and in the future, you need to understand what it’s like to be an ‘inhabitant’ of that ecosystem. You can start by asking the following questions:
- Do our people enjoy being part of this community?
- Do our people see their future here?
- Do we provide our people with the opportunities and experiences they crave?
- Do we empower our people to learn and grow, so that they can contribute to making the business better?
- Do we have a culture that attracts and unites people, or one that repels them?
- What makes our business unique – what does it have that other businesses don’t have?
- Why do our ‘inhabitants’ leave – what can they get elsewhere that they cannot get here?
By answering these questions, you’ll get a better picture of what your business ecosystem is really like, and what you can do to improve it. This will help make your business a healthy, thriving place, full of optimism and opportunity – the type of place people want to work.