As a small business owner, your focus is on bringing in new clients, getting the work done, growing your profits and keeping your investors happy.
While you’re busy with all of that, culture can seem like a nice-to-have. But the reality is that strong company culture goes beyond a foosball table and Friday drinks – and it should be a priority for any business leader.
Building the right culture will attract the right people to your business, keep them there, and help you achieve your long-term goals.
The problem with overlooking culture
Every company has a culture – and while we’re at it, so does pretty much any group of people who spend time together for an extended period of time.
The question is simply whether that culture has emerged organically, or whether it’s been designed and shaped deliberately.
It’s absolutely possible that a positive, productive culture could form by itself without you sitting down to think about it.
Let’s say you started your business with one or two trusted friends, with a shared goal in mind that you’re all enthusiastic about achieving.
You might bring someone else on board and inspire them to take the same approach just by working closely with them. A culture of commitment to the job, openness and respect for each other could form naturally out of that setup, and if there was someone in the group who didn’t share those values, you’d know about it right away.
The problem is the more people you add to the mix, the harder it becomes to maintain and monitor your culture. And while the signs of a poor culture might not be obvious at first, they can grow into big problems if left unchecked.
Poor company cultures often lead to high levels of absenteeism (calling in sick to avoid the stress of work), presenteeism (turning up to work without actually being productive), and staff turnover.
What’s more, those employers are likely to stagnate as their employees are too stressed, unhappy or scared to put forward new ideas and make improvements.
How to develop a strong company culture
To take control of your company culture and prevent toxic or damaging behaviours, you need to lead from the top.
Define the values you want your business to follow, and make sure these are communicated within the workplace. You might explain them in meetings, build them into your onboarding process, or even print them out and put them on the wall.
However you explain them, everyone in your business should become responsible for upholding your values and encouraging others to do the same.
Some key areas to look at include:
- Work/life balance and flexibility. If your culture rewards long hours and heavy workloads, for example, it’s only a matter of time before your team becomes exhausted, frustrated and burned out. That’s not to mention the exclusion and alienation this causes for people with families to look after and other commitments outside of work.
- Innovation and embracing failure. Mistakes are how we learn – but if your team finds it difficult to admit to failure, or say they don’t know the answer to a question, you’ll be stifling any creativity and fresh thinking before it has a chance to show itself.
- Clear roles and expectations. In a small business, people often end up performing several roles at once. This can easily become overwhelming, so for every person in the company, make sure you define the role they need to perform, what’s expected of them, and what success looks like for them.
- Rewarding success. To establish a sense of purpose among everyone on the team, you need to look at your goals at a business level, and how those connect to departments, teams and individual performance.
- Genuine care and respect for staff. Don’t fall into the trap of making tokenistic or performative gestures instead of really supporting your team. Speak to your employees, take an interest in their wellbeing, and ask for their thoughts on the kind of changes they might like to see.
The benefits of culture-building
Business owners who put time into their company culture aren’t just rewarded with a warm and fuzzy feeling because their team loves working there.
They’ll see tangible benefits in the form of higher staff retention and productivity. They’ll inspire fresh thinking and creativity, which in turn leads to growth.
And they’ll be able to show potential employees and prospective customers alike that the brand values they portray are reflected inside the business, too.