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Company culture – not just a corporate buzz word. A small business guide to getting it right

Company Culture is not new. 

After all, since the evolution of business, every company has had a culture.

But what’s changed in the new millennium is our understanding of how that culture can impact business success. And as the modern workplace continues to evolve, company culture is an increasingly important driver of small business success.

What is Company Culture?

Despite over 40 years of business school and boardroom debate, there still isn’t a definitive definition of company culture. Everybody agrees it’s important, just not what it is exactly.

But we’ll give it a go, anyway.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as – the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.

In other words, small business company culture is all about how you and your employees behave and communicate. It’s about how you all identify with the values, beliefs and purpose of the company.

And the closer the alignment of day to day business behaviours with its values and beliefs, the stronger the company culture. And a strong culture in a small business comes with benefits.


Benefits of finding the right company culture for your small business

  • It clarifies the values of your business to your employees
  • A workforce that identifies with the company culture is a happier and more productive workforce
  • Greater association with the company values increases worker engagement and retention
  • It attracts the best talent to your business. Job seekers are drawn to organisations with values and beliefs aligned with their own. The right culture can differentiate your business from other employers and attract the best candidates to work for you.
  • It filters out candidates not suited to your organisation, saving time and money in the recruitment process
  • A strong culture enhances the brand image of your business

But getting the culture wrong can generate a toxic work environment with high staff turnover and low productivity. Your business will develop a culture. And without encouragement and nurturing, the values you cherish may perish under the insidious rise of an alternative culture. And that will hurt your business’s potential.


Creating a Small Business Company Culture

Creating the right small business company culture isn’t a fanciful add-on, it’s integral to the fulfilment of your organisation’s potential. And as the leader, it starts with you. You have a direct impact on shaping, developing and nurturing the culture. And if you want it to endure and work for your business, you need to ask yourself three questions,

  • What is the culture you want for your business?
  • How can you embed that culture in the organisation?
  • How can you keep that culture as the business grows?


What is your company culture?

First off – there’s no ‘right’ culture.  Businesses are as different as the people that work in them. And the culture develops as people work together in the business. It’s how you all interact and behave. It’s about how you communicate and get things done. You can’t write the culture you want in a policy document and wait for it to develop. It has to be nurtured. As a small business CEO, founder or owner, how your company culture develops depends on your leadership. Your mission, your values and the rewards you offer will help communicate the culture you’re creating.


Your mission

Your mission is the purpose of your company. It expresses what your organisation is trying to achieve. The mission sets the direction of your business and helps your employees focus on a common goal. Keep it simple and clear – and make sure it expresses your passion and belief.

Your values

Your values guide what you do as you pursue your mission. They represent what is important to your organisation. For example, ‘customer focus’ – ‘treat everyone fairly’ – ‘embrace change’.

Defining your core values lets you align how you work towards your overall mission. These values guide how you operate on a day to day basis. They influence your processes and systems, and they reinforce your culture.  



To demonstrate any cultural worth, your mission and values must be underpinned by the rewards you offer your employees. You don’t need a costly benefits package. There are lots of things that you can do to create a positive work culture. Be creative.  Finding rewards that fit your small business’ company culture is more important than their financial value.


Creating a positive culture is a blend of behaviours and rewards:

  • Transparency: clarity and openness foster trust and ensures your employees to understand what’s needed to achieve your common goals.
  • Consistency: The consistent application of the company’s values cultivates a cohesive workforce. A workforce that’s more productive, open and collaborative.
  • Listen: Value your workers’ feedback. What you learn will more than repay your time. And if you can’t act upon their suggestions, it’s not time lost. You’ve encouraged communication and demonstrated their opinions matter.
  • Recognition: Show appreciation. Saying “thank you” matters. It reinforces that you value your employees’ hard work. Find ways to celebrate their achievements. Focusing on their success and reward them for a job well done.
  • Enjoyable work environment: Create an environment that employees want to work in. It doesn’t have to be “nerf guns and ping pong”. Getting the basics right goes a long way. Think about your employees’ needs. Is there a comfortable break area? How good is the coffee?
  • Wellbeing: Support your employees’ wellbeing – physical and mental. It’ll improve productivity and reduce absenteeism. Think of ways to do this. Could you offer work flexibility? Or encourage participation in activities outside work? Or have regular social activities?
  • Learning & Development: Encouraging your employees’ personal and professional learning and development helps them achieve their potential. And that’s good for business.
  • Charity: If your business supports a charity it engenders a sense of giving something back to society. This will increase your employees’ perception of the social value of their work.


How you embed the culture

Small business ompany culture isn’t about catchy slogans on the staff room wall. It’s the everyday interactions in the business.

The company culture starts with you

As a small business owner or manager, you have a more personal connection with your employees. And how you behave communicates the culture of the business to your employees. Your leadership style sets the tone of the company culture. You need to consistently demonstrate the culture you want to encourage. For example, if you’re too busy to interact with your employees and your office door is always closed, it’s pointless to say you encourage open communication. Because that’s not the culture you’re fostering.


The workplace reflects the culture

Structure the working practices in your business to reflect the culture you want to encourage. For example, if you want to encourage collaboration design the company workspace to make that possible. Or if you need serious or formal image insist upon the appropriate dress code. Aim to include cultural queues in all aspects of your business. Embed them into the processes, systems and fabric of your business.

Recruit wisely

But every business is the sum of its people. You have to recruit employees who are aligned with the culture of your organisation. Your recruitment process must evaluate attitudes as well as skills. Because the best skills aren’t enough if the candidate doesn’t share the values of your organisation. Without those shared values the relationship is destined to fail.

How you keep a small business’ culture as it grows

Your small business’ company culture will evolve as the organisation grows. To retain a culture that reflects the original values of the small business, those values must be constantly reinforced. This is especially true as the business grows.

Inevitably, growth will change working practices and methods of communication. And without careful management, the original culture of the business will be lost.

Find alternative ways to preserve the culture

As a small business, you may encourage an environment where everyone can speak to everyone. Your employees are used to talking to you directly. But as the business grows you may not be as accessible. Devoid of the communication they’re used to, employees may become dissatisfied. You’ll need more structured methods of communication to replace the casual access employees used to have. For example, organise regular, informal group sessions to discuss work and social issues.

Choose your managers carefully

A growing company will need new leaders to manage the different aspects of the business. It is essential they share your vision and the cultural values of your business. Though their collective behaviour, a small business leadership team can consistently demonstrate their commitment to the company culture. And ultimately their behaviour will continue to shape that culture as the business grows


Final Thought

Your business has a culture. If you choose to ignore it, it will evolve on its own. Why not nurture and develop it to reflect your values, and encourages your employees to share your goals? Not only will your business be stronger as a result, but your life’s work will hold more personal value


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