3 Ways to Build a Positive Culture in Your Small Business

Kathy Miller, PHR CPTD | Business Growth Consultant | Michigan SBDC

I often advise clients that “If you don’t choose a company culture, one will be chosen for you.”  

What does that mean?  What exactly IS company culture and why is it so important? Charles Roger, writing for Talent Management and HR, states:

“An organization’s culture consists of the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that employees share and use on a daily basis in their work. The culture determines how employees describe where they work, how they understand the business, and how they see themselves as part of the organization.”

Take a step back and look at your workplace environment with a critical eye and ask yourself these questions

  1. Do employees enjoy working for the company?
  2. Do employees get along well with each other and with management?
  3. Once hired, do employees tend to stay with the company for a long time?
  4. Are employees eager totake on new challenges, tasks, or learning opportunities?
  5. Do employees see how their work contributes to the company’s overall success? 

Culture has been a business “buzz word” for decades, and for good reason.  Management Guru, Peter Drucker, is attributed with the popular quote, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  In other words, you can have the best strategic plans in place, but without the positive, collective action of your employees, that strategy will go nowhere fast.  Results from numerous studies, depicted in this infographic from BCD, show that having a positive, engaging company culture leads to measurable results in terms of recruitment, retention, productivity, and profit margins.

Culture “happens” whether we like it or not.  Over time, employees will develop ways of interacting with one another and with management, as well as ways of working, thinking, and believing about the business.  As employers, you have the choice to allow your company culture to grow and develop on its own, or you can shape it reflect your company vision, mission, and values. 

Here are three things you can do to build a positive, engaging company culture that drives employee performance to achieve strategic goals:

Define your Core Values

Gather your leadership team together and select 3-5 words that embody the best in your organization.  What values do you hold as a business?  What values are important to your customers and employees?  Once you select your 3-5 values, establish 1-3 related behavior statements for each of these values.  What behaviors demonstrate that a person is modeling each value?

Communicate & Model your Core Values

Company leaders must consistently communicate and exhibit the core values.  Leading by example builds trust and confidence between leaders and employees.  Communicate the core values and related behavioral expectations to your employees frequently, using newsletters, posters, printed cards, and employee review sessions.  Share them with your customers on your web site and other marketing materials.

Hire, Review, Reward, Promote, and Terminate Employees Based on Core Values

Include behavioral questions related to core values in your candidate interviews and in employee review sessions.  Set up a “Caught Being Value-able” bulletin board and let employees leave notes about their co-workers who have demonstrated company values with colleagues or customers. Use gift cards for gas, movies, or restaurants as incentives.  Be willing to let go of employees who don’t adhere to your company values; free them up to find a better cultural “fit” for themselves.  Don’t let one (or several) “bad apples spoil the whole bunch”.

It takes time and energy to develop a strong company culture, but by consistently following these three steps in your small business, you can build a positive, engaging work environment that exemplifies your company values and adds to your bottom line. | kwm


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