Standing the test of time

Power to Change recently published a new research report entitled Exploring the Durability of Community Businesses in England: a comparative analysis – authored by Steve Clare (Cyta Consulting Ltd), Dr Reinout Kleinhans (Delft University of Technology), Dr Ingmar van Meerkerk and Rianne Warsen (both Erasmus University Rotterdam).

Through desk research, we initially identified five conditions which are important to realise durability in community businesses.

These are:

  • Collective leadership (i.e. ‘distributed’ leadership)
  • Community engagement and accountability
  • Strong business model
  • Aligned entrepreneurial culture
  • Strong networks and partnerships.

 

The study found two combinations of conditions which lead to durability in community businesses:

  • Aligned entrepreneurial culture, collective leadership, and strong networks
  • Aligned entrepreneurial culture, high levels of community engagement and accountability, a strong business model and strong networks

 

These two combinations show that there is more than one way to achieve durability for community businesses. However, only one condition, an aligned entrepreneurial culture, was found to be a ‘necessary’ condition, i.e. the analysis suggests that community businesses that lacks this condition are unlikely to survive in the longer term. Even if all the other conditions are present, they cannot compensate for the absence of an aligned entrepreneurial culture – something that ripples through every act of policy, business strategy and operational delivery. It shapes attitudes and behaviours, defining what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within the business. When properly aligned with personal values, drives and needs, such an organisational culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster a business’s capacity to thrive.

But if an aligned entrepreneurial culture is so important, what are the implications for community businesses in the current and even post-Covid-19 working environment? Organisational culture is a complex interaction of patterns of values, beliefs, behavioural norms and practices that evolve based on the actions and behaviours of the people who work for a business. In practice, much of this informal and is built on office interactions around the ‘water cooler’ – but what happens when you don’t have a water cooler anymore because many people are working remotely? For one, it can be difficult to know what’s happening with your colleagues when you don’t get to interact with them face-to-face. Virtual water cooler chat in a social community is the logical and most effective short-term solution to this problem.

We do not know how long it will take for a post-Covid-19 environment to appear. The use of online meetings and virtual platforms can facilitate reaching out to partners and stakeholders in a new way that can help to build new relationships or strengthen existing ties (linking capital). However, in the long term, businesses (and communities) that thrive on mutual trust, co-operation, sharing of values, ideas and practices will become exhausted by exclusively virtual communication. Popular discourse has already coined the term ‘zoombies’ which refers to the draining effect of online virtual communication alone because it emphasises the perceived lack of warmth and humanity in group meetings.

We know from our research that informal networks, meetings, and face-to-face communication are really important. People who seeking to build or maintain an aligned entrepreneurial culture in community businesses will need to find ways to interact beyond the online, to maintain the bonds and relationships that come with face-to-face communication. For this purpose, they will need to look for strategies that resonate with their established routines and daily practices whilst taking account of social distancing. What we do know is that we’ll have to experiment and approach organisational alignment differently – balancing the online and the offline – and this is the ideal time to see what is possible.

Steve and Reinout gave a webinar focusing on this report which can be watched here.

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