Giving Back: How Servant Leadership in Your Community Can Increase Your Talent Pool

As a business leader, advocating for community improvements, such as mixed-use trails, can draw new talent to your town and help strengthen your organization. Image source: Flickr CC user woodleywonderworks

Mike was the third-generation owner of a manufacturing facility located in rural North Carolina. He loved his town and the local culture, and he was proud to maintain a business there. In fact, he even wanted to add a line to his facility, but he had a problem—he’d tapped out the local market for qualified employees. While he offered excellent pay and benefits, he had trouble attracting applicants who didn’t already have roots in the community. His beloved small town was just too far off the beaten path and didn’t offer enough amenities to attract the right candidates for his positions.

Mike could have despaired and given up on his expansion plans. He could have pulled up his roots and moved to a trendier area, like Raleigh. Instead, he took a different tack. He decided to create a community, though servant leadership, that would appeal to eager new employees.

What Makes an Attractive Community?

Mike knew that he had no chance of attracting young singles to his area. It had no nightlife and no dating culture. However, his town was an excellent place to raise children and in a great location for retirees. If he helped his community create more family-friendly programs and amenities for older workers, he would be able to find new employees. Mike just had to determine which specific changes would improve the community for both its current residents and his potential new hires

Mike wanted to attract both families with children and people closer to retirement, and he was in luck. Urban planners have discovered that both of these groups want the same sorts of amenities in an area. The people who Mike hoped to attract tend to value:

  • Parks, so that they can exercise and socialize in attractive outdoor spaces.
  • Walking and bike trails so that they can explore the community safely and have fun while building fitness.
  • Low crime neighborhoods for low-stress living.
  • Mixed use downtowns that are safe for pedestrians, so that they can live, shop, work, and dine close to home.
  • Access to good medical care so that families can take care of childhood illnesses and retirees can age in good health.
  • A good library, with the educational, cultural, and social options it provides.
  • Continuing education opportunities, so that they can expand their knowledge and their job skills.
  • Free cultural opportunities and community gatherings, such as festivals, outdoor concerts, art shows, and recitals.
  • Families also seek access to quality, affordable child care, good schools, and recreational sports leagues for their children.  

Business leaders can influence these programs through cash or in-kind donations, programs through the local Chamber of Commerce, membership in service organizations like Kiwanis, and through political advocacy at the local level. When business leaders take an active interest in improving their communities and promoting the well-being of local residents, they also improve the appeal of that community for job seekers.

How You Can Improve Your Own Community Through Servant Leadership

Changing your community to make it friendlier to families and older workers probably seems like a daunting task. But throughout the country, servant leaders at local businesses are making concrete, positive changes to their towns so they can attract more workers.

  • In Tell City, IN, local manufacturers have funded a 24-hour, non-profit child care facility to provide support to employees who work second and third shifts. They hope that the additional, affordable child care option will help them fill spots on less popular shifts. Employees had told them that a lack of child care in the area was a big factor in refusing these positions.
  • In Hendersonville, NC, local business leaders are leading the way in the creation of the Ecusta Trail, a mixed-use trail that will follow a disused rail line and provide recreational opportunities for local residents and visitors. These rail-to-trail programs are immensely popular and attract new residents interested in good bike and walking paths in their neighborhoods.
  • In Washington State, a local business leader donated $127,000 to improve STEM education in his town. Better educational opportunities make the town a more popular location for families moving to the area.

If you’re ready to take concrete steps to improve your community and attract new employees to the area, begin by listening. Talk to existing residents, employees, and city council members about what your community needs. Be willing to prod, and to ask, “Could we use an ‘x’?” Then, look into barriers to construction and implementation. How can you, in your role as a local business leader, help your community overcome these barriers? Can you provide funding? Help attract grants? Help advocate and publicize? How do your position in the community and access to resources give you the leverage you need to help the community add these new amenities?

Once you’ve assessed needs and roadblocks, get to work. Have a one-year, three-year, and five-year plan in place for how your company can improve the community. Don’t forget to publicize the project.  Once the changes are in place or under construction, use them in your job ads and recruiting literature.

Be Like Mike to Attract the Right Candidates

Mike decided that two amenities that would really help attract people to his company were a farmer’s market and a youth-oriented makerspace. The farmer’s market would demonstrate how progressive and health-conscious the community was, and the new youth space would improve educational and afterschool opportunities for families.  

For the farmer’s market, Mike took an advocacy role. He sketched out a plan for how a farmer’s market could work, gathered support from other community leaders, and approached the city council with his request. He and others spread the word to local farmers, and he had a new farmer’s market up and running in the city park by the start of the next growing season.

For the makerspace, Mike had to do more than simply plan and talk. He also needed to donate funds to find, renovate, and stock the space. He had to volunteer to teach youth how to use some of the machinery, and he even donated some of his employees’ work time to get the space up and running. Unlike the farmer’s market, it took several years to complete the new makerspace and youth center.

Adding these amenities made it easier for Mike to attract new people to the area and lure back one-time residents who’d moved to bigger metro areas. He was able to expand his factory, which, in turn, gave him more resources to contribute to community improvements. As other business leaders have gotten on board, visitors to the small town are often impressed by the amenities available and the quality of community life there.

Making a difference in your community and demonstrating servant leadership takes planning and commitment, but you can make it an integral and vital part of your business model. Applied Vision Works can help you evaluate what you need to make a difference in your company, your community, and the world. Contact us today to learn more.

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