As a small business owner, one of the things that sets your company apart from a larger, big-box retailer is your unique culture. Many small businesses start with a dream and a passion for delivering better services or niche goods to their customers. Company culture in a small business involves telling your story, from the conception of a new product to the commitment to deliver memorable, outstanding customer service.
Getting the most out of your company culture involves a buy-in from your staff, creating an environment where each person on your team is enthusiastic about your company and an eager brand ambassador. Strong company culture is a business advantage, as every employee is committed to high performance and service. Depending on the industry, a company culture may be more reserved or a little quirky, but the focus is typically on strong teamwork.
You can make the most out of your company culture with 8 simple tricks that help boost your business, no matter what kind of personality your business has.
Actively Listen to Your Staff
Your employees are often on the “front lines” of the day-to-day operations of your business. They’re the ones taking care of your customers or creating your products and probably have expert knowledge of what your clients like – and what they don’t. When you take the time to talk to your employees and listen to their replies, you gain insight into frustrations they may have. This, in turn, can lead to areas where you can streamline your operations to improve.
Active listening begins with an open-door policy from you, as the owner/operator, and carries down to your management team. Employees that feel uncomfortable coming to their managers with concerns about the workplace often leave, resulting in turnover that costs your business money in recruiting, training, and instability with the level of service you desire. Employees who feel they are heard, however, tend to stay and have greater loyalty to their employer. 75% of employees surveyed said that they would stay longer at an organization that listens to and addresses their concerns.
Having managers who listen to employee concerns and suggestions — and address them — is critical to having engaged employees. When your staff feels that their concerns won’t be taken seriously, they tune out, become disengaged, and give lackluster service to your customers. This is fairly common, as 65% of employees who don’t feel they can approach their manager with any type of question are actively disengaged. Promote a strong company culture by hiring managers that feel it’s important to actively listen to their staff.
Varied Scheduling and Generous PTO
Depending on your business model, you may be able to allow your employees to work from home, have irregular shifts (such as early morning to mid-afternoon) or have ample Paid Time Off. Allowing your employees to telecommute or work with their schedules and outside lives is one way to make them feel valued and important. Obviously, some businesses need people physically there, such as a salon or boutique, but some professional services, such as HR consulting or accounting, may allow a more flexible workplace structure.
Opportunities for Learning and Advancement
Many people just starting out in your industry may be looking for a chance to grow in their career, seeking real workplace experience and professional knowledge to help them achieve their goals of being an executive or business owner in your field. Noticing and developing talent is one way that you can not only increase employee engagement but also improve your company culture.
You may choose to book guest speakers or seminars for interested employees to learn more about the details of your industry, from the financial side to the history and development behind some of the products that you sell.
Some larger companies offer partial tuition assistance for workers that are pursuing a degree related to the business. For example, a hotelier may reimburse part of the costs for hospitality-related courses or a CPA may offer a small subsidy for a finance major. While this may be out of reach for some small business owners, it may be a consideration if you have an especially talented manager that you’d like to retain.
Recognize Outstanding Performances
An enjoyable workplace doesn’t just mean one where employees feel comfortable voicing concerns when things aren’t going right. Recognizing excellent performance and customer service is important to make your employees feel valued. There is an old saying to “praise in public and criticize in private,” and employers who live that motto often have a much more positive work environment.
Regular feedback on employee performance helps your staff know when they’re on the right track, especially those who are new or those who have recently taken on a new role. Be sure to actively catch your employees doing something right, noting specific things that they did or feedback you received from your customers. You, as the business owner, should be engaged in regular communication with your customers, and likely have instances where one of your employees was especially memorable.
Create Fun Incentives
Incentivizing certain tasks to get results can make the less-appealing parts of a job more fun for employees. If you’re looking to boost sales, add to your email list, or move a few specific products, then consider running a contest to see who can move the most product. There’s a concept called “gamification” and it’s replacing the tired employee incentive programs of years past.
Leading-edge businesses large and small have employed techniques from gaming into daily tasks, such as having a series of achievements to earn badges, rewards that people actually enjoy (such as extra paid time off or gift certificates) and a short period of time to accomplish the goals, creating a sense of urgency. Even businesses that don’t have sellable goods, such as service providers or consultants, can use gamification to make daily job duties more fun.
Personalizing incentive programs is another way to get buy-in from your staff. If you have someone who is especially good in a certain area, create a custom award to hang in your shop or a small badge or button that recognizes an individual’s success with satisfying a customer complaint or one who is excellent at training.
Open the Door for Collaboration
When you’re working in a new project or concept for your business, your employees may be a strong asset to developing a new service or better product that your customers want. You can encourage your staff to work with one another on projects with the result being greater than the sum of its parts.
When creating a group collaborative project, it’s important to ensure that everyone has access to all the information needed to perform their roles. Using technology specifically designed to encourage information sharing, you can assemble a team of those who work remotely and those with unusual schedules. These types of collaborations work well for consultants or start-up technology companies that are developing new apps or other developments.
Keeping the lines of communication open is vital for successful collaboration. This starts at the top, with you as the business owner clearly stating your goals and objectives, as well as different markers to hit and the timetable in which to do so. Many times, employees get frustrated when instructions and objectives aren’t made clear when working in a group, so as a leader, it’s your job to ensure that your team can offer support to one another and overcome challenges together.
When you’re leading a team to collaborate on a project, it’s critical that you remain engaged, giving feedback at every major milestone and phase of your project. In fact, 50% of employees say bosses sharing information and data has a significantly positive impact on productivity and motivation. Working blind, without having clear expectations, can quickly lead to employee burnout. However, metrics that are defined and clear communication can make the development process more enjoyable for your staff and create a more positive company culture.
Transparency seems to be a buzzword in just about every industry, from politics to business and even between individuals. Transparency in building your company culture means that you’re open about the goals for your business and, as much as possible, that you share the successes and challenges of the business with your staff. Most employees have a keen sense of when a business is doing well and where there are issues. Sharing when the company is performing well and congratulating your team on a job well-done help create a company culture where everyone is invested in team success.
Transparency for your business may look different, depending on your industry. Some businesses must keep client information private, such as legal, accounting, or healthcare. In other fields, as far as the actual “what’s going on” day to day operations, it’s better to give your employees more information, not less. To put this into practice, consider shifting your mindset to one focused on sharing information.
Becoming more transparent is primarily a mental, rather than a logistical shift. Instead of asking “Is it absolutely necessary to share this?” ask, “Is it absolutely necessary to conceal this?” When your team feels in-the-loop of what’s going on, then they’re more invested in the company, feeling as though they are a part of the success. When you choose to make your team truly teammates, your employees can sense it, and that leads to them believing in you, your business, and their ability to have a positive impact on it.
Empower Your Employees
Empowerment is a concept that’s been around the business world for many years. At its core, it means that line-level employees are trusted to make decisions to satisfy a customer or meet their needs without calling for a manager and making the disgruntled customer wait longer for resolution. Empowering your employees to go the extra mile for your clients or make a decision that might be “managerial level” can have a tremendous effect on your company culture.
Empowerment starts with the hiring process. Look for those applicants who have independent thoughts and a genuine passion for making a customer happy. From there, teach and train them how your business operates so that they understand when they have a little wiggle room to please a client.
Empowerment in the business world can be as simple as waiving a standard fee or giving a bit of a discount to a recognized regular customer, or you can think outside of the box when it comes to customer satisfaction. For instance, if you’re in the rental business, special ordering an item that’s a perfect fit for a customer may be an option, one that a line-level employee could easily do. For those in a business that provides services, giving some extra advice that is applicable to a customer’s situation or making recommendations for complementing services can go a long way towards keeping your customers happy.
Putting it Into Practice
Trusting your staff to make the on-the-spot decisions to please your customers is important, but that kind of business environment doesn’t come naturally. Involving your team, from transparent business practices to engaging in professional development and training, creates a company culture where your employees feel secure in bending the rules in a pinch or thinking outside of the box to land a new customer or make that big sale.
Empowerment is the key to positive company culture, but you can’t implement a carte blanche policy of empowerment. Without a solid, customer-focused company culture and the teaching, training, and advanced knowledge about your industry, your employees aren’t comfortable or knowledgeable enough to make managerial decisions. Creating a positive workplace culture, where all the staff has the same goals as you, the business owner, will make employee empowerment a logical result. That, in turn, results in a more positive customer experience, and a thriving small business.
A strong, positive company culture encourages your team to perform better and treat their job as more than just a paycheck. When you involve your team in the success of your business, they become invested in making your company the best that it can be. Furthermore, engaged employees provide better customer service and may have valuable insight into how you can improve your goods or services.