Project Passion Leads to Progress and Success

Published on October 31, 2023

Business leaders doing any project that involves multiple stakeholders in the community outside of their own organization should consider three things.

Landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport last year felt familiar, yet this trip was different (if not a bit scary). While I had previously visited North Carolina for various business meetings, those trips seemed comparatively less important.

As I left the airport and drove toward a rural part of the state, the reason for my visit materialized right before my eyes. North Carolina’s population had been increasing for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that growth. Each mile on the interstate revealed more construction, leading to more houses and more people, resulting in even more demand on the health care system.

While the pressure on the health care system was evident, the need for veteran disability services was increasingly acute. Congress recently passed laws expanding veteran disability qualifications, but the number of skilled resources in the area specializing in disability services remained steady. Simultaneously, the boom in local construction resulted in limited space for any type of business to move to or build on, including ours. My job was to create a new clinic to expand veteran services in the area, but I faced an uphill battle.

As I approached the city of New Bern, construction was even more obvious. The highway expansion required pushing businesses back to make room for the wider road. I met my realtor in a parking lot outside the first potential clinic location. “I want to help make this happen,” she said on a phone call before we even met. When I saw her car, a Purple Heart on the license plate made the reason clear: It was her father’s car, and he had just passed away; she was driving it because it reminded her of him. Given her personal commitment to her father, she wanted to make sure the clinic was successful for other veterans.

The city of New Bern and the state of North Carolina’s commitment did not end there. The North Carolina State Licensing Board fast-tracked business approvals for the clinic. The local city zoning and planning lead worked quickly to approve a location for the clinic and get it on the roadmap for utilities. City lawyers provided guidance on the required paperwork. Additional realtors pitched in to find a temporary location for the clinic while the permanent clinic was being built. Office equipment manufacturers stepped forward with materials discounts. Our provider network manager committed resources to schedule patients at the new location. Everyone graciously came together for a great cause, and I knew the hard work was going to pay off for all who deserved it.

Why Am I Telling This Story in Newsweek Today?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the growth trajectory of New Bern; however, it did not change its residents’ commitment to doing the right thing for veterans — that was always there. I have had the joy of starting similar clinics in approximately a dozen states. In each one, someone with a commitment to veterans usually steps forward to help. Today’s political news often makes it difficult to know whether the American spirit is still alive but, given our experience, the answer is a resounding yes.

More globally, the alignment of our company’s mission to give back to the communities we serve makes it easier for us to recruit good, smart, kind employees. Given the opportunity to choose between jobs of equal pay, benefits, and career growth, applicants will often select a path that also gives them personal satisfaction by having a positive impact on the community. It makes sense, but seeing it in action is validating.

Those individuals create momentum that others are drawn to. For example, engaging with those who were interested in contributing to the standup of a mission-focused clinic resulted in opening the New Bern clinic faster than without community engagement. Reaching out to local political figures and others in positions of power who align with our mission was especially helpful.

Business leaders doing any project that involves multiple stakeholders in the community outside of their own organization should:

• Remember we are stronger together. Utilize an engagement methodology that allows others outside of your organization to step forward and become part of the team. We often say internally, “We are stronger working together than we are working separately.”

• Say “Thank you.” If it is true that we are stronger together, then the contribution of others should be recognized. In a world where virtual engagement is common and a ‘pat on the back’ for doing a good job is now less possible, personalized recognition is even more powerful to members of your team.

• Incorporate giving back into your company strategy. While we cannot all change the entire world, we can impact the part of it we see every day. Human beings make up companies. Business leaders must realize that those human beings generally want to leave the world in a better place as a result of them being on the planet. So they will endeavor to have an impact with or without you. Alignment with community give-back initiatives can amplify the impact of your company and create more committed employees and customers.

The Proof Is in the Bottom Line: Doing Good Is Good for Business

By focusing on being mission-driven and expanding services to a community in need, you can experience the benefits of connecting with vendors and partners who are responsive to your company’s mission. For us, not only did our corporate impact grow, but the community became stronger and more engaged. New connections transcended the implementation of our clinic. Like-minded people rallied around a common goal, strengthening the personal brand of individuals within those businesses as well.

In no way did I feel like people were stepping forward for personal gain, although the selfless characteristics they exhibited did result in both personal and professional benefits. And in the end, they once again proved something we have seen over and again: We are stronger together than we could ever be individually.

10/31/23 AT 9:30 AM EDT