One of the hardest elements to building out a department in a company will always be the seemingly easiest ask: What are the goals? What are the problems, and how are you going to fix them?
In community, I’m constantly reminded to assess the goals of all projects and to measure the why before I measure the scalability or scope of something. Tactics get placed on the back burner if intention isn’t explicitly clear. Why talk about the execution of a project if you don’t know the point of the project? Seems like a waste of time, right?
As I’m closing in on six months at this role of building out a community department, I have some clear reflection points I’d like to touch on. I knew this role would take a while to get into the grove of, but I had no idea what an uphill battle it would be, nor did I prepare for how isolating it would feel in the beginning months. I haven’t talked much on that, because well, if you haven’t heard, we’re in a pandemic… and just about everyone and their dogs feels more isolated than normal currently.
But in my reflection, I’m lead to believe it’s not isolation in the typical sense of the word. I don’t feel alone – no. I have the people I hold tight to, the friends I see on a constant basis, a partner I discuss the ins and outs of every day with, a family who writes to me, calls me, and stands in my corner like none other. Alone isn’t the right word. I tried to google synonyms for alone, to see if it would trigger other feelings that might align more accurately with the word I’m looking for – but I think setting the scene, rather than pinpointing a word, is a better place to start.
I stepped into this role from a position I absolutely adored and had no intent of leaving with my former employer. Sure, it was corporate, and didn’t allow much room for growth – but it was a job I joyfully, in all senses of the word, showed up for each day. It was a job I constantly engaged people I loved, planned events that thrilled me, and worked with colleagues who embraced yet challenged me fully. Most of all, my skillset seemed to mold so effortlessly into my day-to-day. I would lead meetings with our team and share information and details about members in our space. I would quiz my co-workers on the tenants in each office space on their names, their birth dates, their hometowns. I expected a level of connection between my co-workers and the members in my space that I had with both, because I knew what a powerful force it was for retention and job satisfaction.
When we entered the pandemic back in April, my building engagement overwhelmingly towered over others in the market, and I was recognized in an all hands, West Coast company meeting as the leading community planner because of the turn out we’d get in virtual events. When others were struggling to receive responses from their tenants, I was video calling daily to check in with members. This is all to say, my members were my purpose and my job quickly became my joy.
I left that role when the pandemic hit and our employer made the hard decision to cut the department I was getting promoted into. I stepped into a position at LexBlog hoping, perhaps, I could have the same impact on the lawyers we work with and the people we’d be able to connect them with. I took this job solely because it allowed me to see things horizontally – the same role I was engaged in prior, but at a new company.
Fast forward – here I am six months later (not quite, but close) with a better understanding of what this company does, what my role may look like, and what I might get to accomplish in this role. It took me five months to research the hell out of all things community building, online legal publications (what did that even mean?), and how the heck blogging worked. Not only that – but why it mattered, what it was achieving, and how I fit into it. I kinda missed the whole “get to know your team, get to know how they work, and let them learn the same things about you” part of the role when I joined an all virtual company with no other community members in my direct department.
It took me five months to understand the backend of our systems, what processes we have in place, where things used to be and why they are where they are now. It took me six months to advocate ideas that weren’t always received well and visions that I simply wished to talk through with people for the sake of talking through them (as I would in normal, day to day office work with co-workers). In past jobs, I’ve gotten to know those I work with in casual conversation – conversations that didn’t include a calendar invite. The informal, back and forth, grab lunch on the go type relationships where you can show others who you are without telling them who you are. People learned about me by watching the way I interacted with our members, and that’s how I learned about them, too. Something we fostered at WeWork was a weekly vision planning roadmap. That could look like:
- What was our occupancy in the building – and where did we want to aim to have it by the next quarter?
- What was our weekly event programming and how would we increase engagement in the next quarter?
- How many companies were attending weekly events and who was representing those companies each week? How could we drive events the next quarter that benefited them on a larger scale and drive business growth for those members who loyally showed up and engaged?
- How many cross-campus events were we hosting each month and what percentage of our occupancy was showing up? What number did we want to see that get to in the next quarter?
- How many community-driven events were engaging the local businesses of downtown Seattle, and how many more would we want to see in the next quarter?
You get the point. In these meetings, we would brainstorm, dream, and flush out ideas until we didn’t have any left. It was healthy, because it helped us execute our ability to dream big and execute small, on a person by person basis. As a team of three, we learned to listen to each other, be the voice of reason for one another, and advocate for the success of each other. But the kicker?
We were a community first company. Every decision we made had our members at the forefront of our minds.
So how did that carry over with me? Take something as small as the newsletter… “why have one?” I was asked. Well for starters, here we are, with a simple way to highlight the work and publications of our members and clients, showcasing the level of expertise within our community. If we want to be the best of the best, we have to act like — and be vocal about, being filled to the brim with the best of the best. Working with the top lawyers, helping the leading firms, being the support team for the most successful legal bloggers out there. To be featured on a LexBlog newsletter would be an honor – an elite achievement you’d work really hard to receive. Once you do, however, you’ll know you got featured because the content you’re creating is solid – and it’s going to help the people reading it.
Or look at the Resource Center, for a better example. I didn’t create that because I wanted to spend weeks in our support queue studying the technicalities of blogging. I wanted to create it to empower our people and to equip our leading bloggers to have standards for which to measure their content by. I didn’t ask for the teams feedback because I was lacking ideas of my own – I asked for the teams input because I believed there were employees in our company who had a voice to use and experiences that I didn’t have yet. To hear those people out meant to learn new perspectives I’ve missed out on over the last few years – perspectives that LexBlog employees would be able to speak into. Why? Because they know our clientele in a way I didn’t (and still don’t). I drove the resource center, first and foremost, with our community in mind – though that may not be obvious at first glance.
I wanted to incorporate a “Straight from the Community” advice section to our resource center, where we could (very delicately) select certain pieces from marketing blogs in our network to be spotlighted, shared, and read by other lawyers. Giving ownership to legal bloggers in our community, giving them a chance to share their expertise in one centralized location, meant showcasing the belief that other lawyers could get there, too. A community of lawyers inspiring and helping other lawyers, to eventually help the greater good of people. I wanted to incorporate an “top contributor spotlight” where – like on Airbnb’s community host page,
we give shoutouts and recognition to those actively engaging in the conversations (via slack channels, LinkedIn groups, and other various mediums of social media… but that will come later). I saw things on a scalable level – if we can start with the 17,000 publishers already contributing and adding to the conversation within our network, we can create something big – and not big in a numbers sense, but big in the way we sink our roots deep into relationship. What I didn’t think we needed, to start, was an outreach for more. I thought we needed, to start, was an outreach for deeper. “So they’re syndicated. That makes them a community member?” No way, I thought.
Community stems from connection, and conversation, and a sense of ‘I look after you, you look after me, we know each other.’ What I saw a need for, honestly, was an outpour of effort into creating more tables rather than more seats – more space for dialogue with those already bought in rather than more voices added to the clutter.
People come for content, but they stay for community. I truly believe that. Sure, they’ll come to LexBlog to get more recognition of their blog and their firm, but they’ll stay if they feel a sense of belonging and ownership to contribute to the people sitting at the table with them. We stick around for the stuff that gives us purpose. If the pandemic has solidified teaching us any one thing, it’s that we’re all on a really long, really confusing journey to seeking purpose – and more often than not, a sense of belonging is that purpose.
It’s why so much of my time these first five months has been dedicated to sitting back, listening, and learning from the best. Joining community groups and asking for mentorship from community leaders crushing the game. It’s why I would hop on calls with our sales team, and our support team, and our publishing team – often. The more I can learn how our people are currently being taken care of, the more clearly I could see the gaps where they weren’t being taken care of. The more I could learn about what systems and processes are currently in place, the more I could envision and learn about the gaps I’d want to step into and try my damndest to fill for the people looking to us as leaders in the industry.
I joined this team because I knew it was going to be worth it. Because at the end of the day, helping people will always be worth it.
But back to the isolation piece – if I could change one part of my job, it would be to not feel so dang isolated. It would be to not feel as though silence is the only way to go about my job, but having people that would enter the room, tell me to breath, and ask me to start with today. “What does your big plan look like today? What gets done today? What gets done tomorrow?” Because little by little, day by day, those small, minute 1% changes end up scaling into the big, wild dreams I envision seeing in this community.
Where I envision this community going will not be measured in numbers – not yet anyways. Where I envision this community going is deeper in relationships, more fluid in conversation, and more intentional in connecting people with lawyers, for good. It’s my job to create space for that to take place.
The numbers will come.