Operations Team

Is your company culture by design – or default? Here’s why that matters

A strong culture within a small business doesn’t come naturally.

Disney, a company often lauded for its company culture, says culture needs to be by design and not by default. In a recent GrowBiz post, we talked to small business owners about how they built a strong culture in their companies.

As a business owner, it starts with you. You are challenged with creating a culture that inspires your employees to be the best they can be. You are challenged with creating a culture of trust, openness, authenticity and boldness.

“As the business owner, you set the tone, you set the guidelines on how your business operates and how you want your employees to behave and what is acceptable and what is not,” said Kiomara Hidalgo, a consultant with Florida SBDC at FIU who specializing in staffing and talent.  “It is very important that you keep everybody equally engaged.”

But what happens if you have a culture by default? It could be toxic or resistant to change, for starters, which likely will be reflected in your business results. You may lose revenues if your team isn’t performing well together and may lose valuable employees, too.

“The challenge I see is that some of the business owners struggle to break emotional ties with employees who are not performing. That has a chilling and demoralizing effect on the other employees who are performing,” said Hidalgo. “It’s almost a nepotism-like bond that they struggle to break.”

The struggle may come from a good place, she said. Small business owners often care deeply about their employees who feel like family. Maybe the under-performing employee has been with the company a long time and the business owner wants to reward that loyalty with a second, third or fourth chance. Be careful.

“The sense of favoritism, because you are not holding people accountable, is something you need to keep in mind because it may be subtle and you may not be doing it intentionally,” she said. “If your people are happy and you are doing things right and the business is growing, try not to lose your objectivity in terms of your people.”

On the flip side, a strong culture can be a very good recruiting tool for small businesses, which often can’t compete with higher salaries and rich benefit packages.

“Especially with the new generation, the company culture is critical for a lot of people. Having a good work environment and a place where you go to work and you’re happy is sometimes more rewarding than the money itself,” Hidalgo said.

Jacqueline Sousa, regional director of Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business, offered a few tips on building a strong culture:

  • Define and understand the existing culture – what parts of it are desirable and which parts need to change?
  • Determine if the culture is matching the organization’s mission and vision. Does everyone know the mission and vision? If not, one solution may be to write your mission and vision at the top of all meeting agendas – it will be a constant reminder of why you exist as an organization. Showing how the culture can be hurting the effort to achieve the mission and vision may help team members realize that the culture needs to change.
  • Align the cultural behaviors with your organization’s strategy, processes and policies. This can help the team see how the culture may be impeding the success of a strategy.
  • Reward the desired cultural behavior – and do it openly.  For example, if part of the needed change is that employees are taking too long to respond to clients or customers, then consistently highlight employees who quickly respond to and resolve client’s needs. This can be in the form of a story in the company newsletter or a simple email to the entire team that tells the story and thanks that particular employee.

Is your small business culture by  design or by default? If it’s the latter – and most are, according to experts – you can change that, starting with the tips above and remembering that actions speak louder than words and to be objective about employee performance.

It starts with you.

LEARN MORE: How to nurture a winning small business culture

RECOMMENDED READING:   Good to Great and Built to Last, both books are by Jim Collins

Please send GrowBiz topic suggestions and feedback to GrowBiz@FIU.EDU

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