Recently, I was speaking with a client at a large tech firm about her business and she was explaining to me that she was very busy because they had recently bought a smaller business and she was part of the team that was working to integrate the two companies. The companies faced all sorts of challenges combining their two distinct forces – work overlap, communication, and geography – but guess what the biggest issue was?
The smaller business was still in startup mode and did things much more informally than its new big brother. That difference in styles was glaring to both businesses. The new owner wanted things done in a certain, professional way and the startup liked the laissez-faire attitude they were all used to. It was a culture clash.
While culture is one of those things that can seem important – but not that important – the truth may actually be the opposite. Why? Because culture is what happens when you, the small business owner, are not around. It is the air your employees breathe and the values you instill.
Now maybe you think that you don’t really have a culture in your small business, but you would be wrong – all businesses have a culture. Some cultures are by design, but most are by default, and that is too bad. If you are a grumpy, tough and a demanding boss, that is likely going to be the culture of your business. If you are friendly and foster teamwork, then that is likely your culture.
But beyond being the vibe and direction of your business, your culture is also how your employees will treat one another when you are not there. As such, creating a good culture is maybe the single most important thing you can do, so your small business can thrive without you needing to be involved in every detail. After all, if yours is a great place to work, it will still be so without your supervision. And if people don’t like working there, then when you are gone they will either goof off or worse, sabotage your business. Either way, your culture sets the tone.
The value of creating a positive business culture is that it allows employees to act appropriately, to understand what it is you are trying to accomplish and to implement that vision in their own unique way. It gives employees direction. In the end, it should also boost profits.
Here are six things you can do to create that valuable business culture:
1. Have clear goals and values and live by them: Successful small businesses usually have a plan of action that they get the entire team to buy into. Think about what your business values and goals are and then enlist your people into living them on a daily basis.
2. Communicate and listen: If you communicate what you want and expect, if you listen to what employees want and expect, and if you involve employees in the decision-making process, people will begin to own the results. Communication could be a quarterly “state of the business” report, or it could be a one-on-one meeting devoted to career goals. The important thing is that employees hear what is going on, know where things are headed, and feel free to offer feedback and suggestions.
3. Make sure employees feel that they are part of a team: A sense of teamwork creates a superior business culture. Go to a game together. Help a charity together. At McKormick & Company in Baltimore, employees are encouraged to work one extra day a year in honor of the charity of their choice, they then donate their pay for the day to that charity and the company matches their pay dollar for dollar. Ninety percent of employees participate.
4. Reward your staff: Whether they are big rewards (profit sharing) or small ones (a gift certificate,) rewarding employees creates a positive culture.
5. Expect excellence: Demand excellence and reward it. Do your best, help employees to do their best, and work together to create results of which you can all be proud.
6. Have fun: The whole point of venturing out on your own is to create a business that you love. Sure it can be serious and stressful at times, but don’t lose the forest for the trees. Workplaces where employees are encouraged to do their work and have a good time have been shown to be more productive than places where work is everything.
Implementing even a few of these ideas can go a long way towards building a small business that will not only be a great place to work, but will prosper in the process. What type of culture do you currently have at your small business? Is it what you imagined? Share your thoughts with the SBOC community below.
About Steve Strauss
Steve Strauss is one of the world’s leading small business experts. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. Steve is also the author of the Small Business Bible and his latest book is Get Your Business Funded: Creative Methods for Getting the Money You Need. A popular media guest, Steve is a regular contributor to ABC News Now and frequently appears on television and radio. His business, The Strauss Group, creates unique, actionable, entertaining, and informative multi-media small business content.