Image courtesy of sippakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net[/caption]
Company culture is one of those unseen-but-powerful factors we know is around but can’t quite touch or define. Most of the time we just don’t have time to deal with it, or even know how to deal with it. But it can sneak up when we least expect it.
A business’s culture is, essentially, what it stands for, or what it’s all about. It’s based on values and ideals, as well as the business’s purpose and goals. And because companies are made up of people, management consultant F. John Reh says company culture boils down to the shared values and practices of the people who work there.
Reh is not the first to say that your culture can make or break your business. In fact, he says, companies with an adaptive culture that aligns with business goals are said to perform better than their competitors—by as much as 200 percent! A company’s culture changes over time as people come and go, and new values and practices are imprinted on the business.
As small businesses grow, there’s no question their cultures will evolve over time. The point is, how—and how much—cultural change do you want? Are these changes a help or a hindrance to your business? And how much can you impact or manage them?
I’m juggling 100 balls in the air every day, you’re saying. Why should I care about my business’s culture?
TaskRabbit (taskrabbit.com) founder Leah Brusque, who’s obviously been through this herself, offers this advice to small business owners and startups:
“Nobody serious about their business should put culture in the corner…think of culture like breathing—pretend your company can’t live without it, and chances are, it can’t.”
Brusque states that culture and brand are linked: The attributes that differentiate you should be the pillars of your internal culture. She says culture can even help drive your product itself by creating conditions for idea generation. In other words, culture is the lifeblood of your company. Brusque says that culture plays a huge role in recruiting and hiring, too, because candidates need to be able to thrive in the environment.
If you leave your business’s culture to its own devices, you’ll probably have something of a culture, but not the cohesive, dynamic one you want and need. It takes thought, effort and foresight, and like your brand, needs to infuse and inform every aspect of your business. Rich, fertile business cultures keep everyone moving in the same direction and promote creativity and independent thinking. Effective cultures are authentic and sustainable over time.
If you don’t know exactly what your culture is, or aren’t sure, take some time to identify it: Who are we as a business? Is this who we want to be? What do we stand for? What’s important to us? How do we relate to our customers and to each other? Last week, we talked here about the importance of employee feedback (click here to see the post). Understanding your business’s culture and establishing a “cultural benchmark” of sorts will depend on hearing what your employees have to say and synthesizing it with your own observations and ideas.
As small businesses grow, many owners want to keep the feel and flavor of their small business culture. After all, it’s what makes your business unique and has kept your employees and customers happy all this time. You definitely don’t want to let things like open communication and a positive work environment fall by the wayside.
Legalzoom.com outlines several steps you can take to make sure that your small-business culture stays intact in a big-business world:
- Promote shared beliefs
- Treat all customers (and employees!) as though you were still a small business
- Make communication a priority
- Keep employees involved
- Recognize and reward your employees
- Enrich your internal culture outside working hours
Business owners sometimes wonder if it’s all worthwhile—the non-stop problem solving, the long hours, the lean times. But when you keep your culture front and center, you’ll always know the answer to the question, why are we doing this? And that will be the thing that helps keep you going.
We want to know your thoughts on company culture, especially why you think it’s important (or not!) for small businesses.
Image courtesy of sippakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net