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A 6 Step ‘Recipe’ to Cultivate Growth and Build a Better Business



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We both lead organizations that are committed to making meaningful differences in people’s lives—Cigna, a global health service company dedicated to improving the health, well-being and sense of security of the people it serves, and Achilles International, a nonprofit that enables people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events. As such, we’ve witnessed the power of our employees when they band together to work toward common goals. There are passionate, close-knit groups of like-minded people within our organizations that have a tremendous impact.

We call these groups micro-communities. They can be organized and planned to help individuals over the long term, or they can be spontaneous gatherings responding to a moment in time. They can help people achieve physical goals, career quests, overcome obstacles, execute a strategic plan or any number of other accomplishments. Just like a business, each micro-community is unique because the people and the goals involved are unique.

For business-savvy individuals looking to accelerate the growth of their organizations, providing employees with opportunities to form micro-communities, both inside and outside of the workplace, may help improve performance, cultivate growth and create a distinct advantage in their market. We’ve been lucky to have done this ourselves, contributing to a variety of these groups as individuals, as well as through several private-non-profit partnerships, including our longstanding relationship between Cigna and Achilles. We’ve seen the positive impact of micro-communities within an organization first hand and their ability to empower employees to confront their fears, set new goals and forge paths they may not have pursued alone. They can be an important conduit in cultivating business growth and building a strong business model. We’re so passionate about the power of micro-communities that we recently co-authored a book on the topic called The Courage to Go Forward.

The book profiles stories of micro-communities formed by Cigna, Achilles, and other groups to help a wide range of people, most of whom have overcome devastating physical and mental trauma by not going at it alone. For example, we profile Cedric King, who experienced major internal injuries, permanent loss to part of his right arm and hand, and the amputation of both legs in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device explosion tore through his body in 2012. Less than two years later, with the support of his micro-communities, he competed in a grueling half-Ironman competition and has since completed two Walt Disney World Marathons, the Boston Marathon and a number of physically daunting events using prosthetic blades. Today, Cedric is also a motivational speaker, sharing his story with organizations around the country about the power of close-knit communities in helping him achieve what he never thought possible.

To inspire others to find the path to micro-communities as Cedric did, we devised a step-by-step “recipe” featured in The Courage to Go Forward. Anyone from startup founders to veteran entrepreneurs and thought leaders can form, implement, and sustain micro-communities within their own organization and help cultivate a strong business with successful employee talent.

To start:

  1. Define the Vision. The process for setting clear objectives and taking the steps to achieve them begins with establishing the vision: a true north point of direction that guides everyone on the journey.
  2. Create a Strategy. Having a clear strategy defines how we are going to achieve our vision. Built into the strategy is a plan of action—the hard work and sense of purpose to get there.
  3. Attract the Right Resources. We rely on our people, research and development teams, and other resources to help us build an infrastructure to get programs off the ground and sustain them over the long term.
  4. Execute to Achieve the Plan. Once we define our aspirations and create a strategy, the ultimate difference between success and failure is our ability to execute and achieve the plan.
  5. Overcome Obstacles. No matter how foolproof our recipe may be, we should always anticipate obstacles, setbacks, and a few stumbles along the way. Be prepared to adjust accordingly.
  6. Expand and Grow. Just as recipes evolve when they are passed down through generations or modified with healthier ingredients, our basic recipe allows us to make improvements and expand the vision with new opportunities across more micro-communities.

The six steps we’ve outlined here are a simple way to bring people together to set and achieve goals they once saw as out of reach—an opportunity that can have a lasting positive impact on the whole team. Individuals who experience micro-communities become more aware of their surroundings and their place within them, creating a sense of purpose and satisfaction.

Employers who give their employees the chance to be a part of micro-communities – especially ones beyond the office walls – are better off too. These opportunities speak to an organization’s values, which can help them remain employers of choice, and can deepen ties with their employees, customers, and the surrounding communities.

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Dick Traum was the first runner to complete a marathon with a prosthetic leg when he crossed the finish line at the 1976 New York City Marathon. In 1983, he founded Achilles International, whose mission is to enable people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream running events. Today, Achilles has more than 110 chapters in 41 countries.