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  • Writer's pictureGreg Bennick

Making Connections and Listening to Employees - The Power of Community

Listening to Employees, Listening to Community: Lessons Learned as an Emcee

Last night was my second time back to emcee for my good friends at Tri-County Welding in Arthur Illinois and it was an absolute blast.  What makes this community event so incredible is not only the performance elements of their event (which once again brought big impact and a lot of laughter to the audience) but also offstage in terms of the connection they put forth. There are powerful lessons here.

How to Treat Employees like Family 

Tri-County is a phenomenon. What started twenty years ago as a one-man welding business is now a massively successful company. Every year, they hold a world class theatrical event in this tiny town to honor their employees. What this looks like is a theatre space, three or four variety acts including a professional emcee, and full production in terms of lights and sound. But even that just begins to scratch the surface. It is so much more than a typical company holiday party. This is an EVENT inclusive of community building.

It's all About Community

Most companies wish they could be as supportive and connected to their employees as Tri-County is every year. The knowledge, person by person, of each employee’s history and present is astounding. People actually know one another. They have taken the time to get to know their neighbors. It really is a community, a family, and this offers the rest of us a chance to consider how we are connecting to the people with whom we work.

We can easily pay lip service to the idea that we are connected to others. Afterall, if I like a post, doesn’t that mean a connection on the level of the soul? Of course, I am being ridiculous as social media takes away as much as it gives, but the idea we all know is that the “like” and genuine like are very different. At this event the true and host liking triumphs over the superficial. Treating employees matters. Studies show the impact that actual care brings to company culture and how morale, and more important actual quality of life, are improved dramatically by treating people they way they deserve because they domatter.

Connection and Communication is a Priority

Emceeing company events rarely looks like this one. Tri-County exists in a largely Amish community, essentially another world co-existing with the one I inhabit. People show up to the event by vehicle…or at times by horse and buggy. People connect, they talk, they share and then everyone spends the night laughing and having a good time during the show. All the while the community is entirely welcoming, especially to people like me – obvious outsiders and strangers. Then afterwards, we talk and connected more for an hour about life and the world.

It's all highly unusual, and it doesn’t need to be. As the emcee, my job is to read the room and feel out the night moment to moment. That’s an onstage tactic and technique which keeps the event flowing well.  But offstage, the brilliance demonstrated by the people at Tri-County far supersedes what the performers offer (and the performers were great!). The brilliance of these local people is in how they pay attention, how they listen to one another, and how they care.

Each person is a name, not a number. Each person has a story to be heard and appreciated. And each person has a sense that they matter. This is actively cultivated in their company culture.  Individuals, each being heard and paid attention to, and with a sense of mattering being upheld and supported.

How We Can All Do Better

We’ve been living in a world in which listening has dropped to zero as attention spans have faltered as well. If we want to build a better future, the better now we have to cultivate starts with the people close by to us. That’s certainly been a lesson I have focused upon ion the last two and a half years, as I’ve crafted the keynote speech I now offer around the world.

But beyond speeches and emceeing and all the rest are the day to day lives we lead. Are we listening enough? Are we offering enough support around a sense of meaning to the people nearby us? And if not, how can we improve? I’d suggest taking lessons from my friends in Illinois. Take moments of calm and connection with those nearby and make them – both the moments and those people - priorities rather than exceptions.

PS: I wrote a bit about community here  in terms of listening to neighbors in an entirely different, non-corporate, but entirely neighborly context.

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