Small business owner tips to build a positive company culture

Published on Jun 16, 2022

Small business owner tips to build a positive company culture

According to new survey data of small business owners from Goldman Sachs, the most significant problem facing their business is hiring and retaining qualified employees. While generous compensation is certainly a crucial factor in employee satisfaction, you might be surprised to find that an elevated company culture can play an integral role in your success.

As management guru Peter Drucker allegedly said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Could your small business company culture use a polish? Here are six elements to consider including or upgrading.

1. Prioritize respect

A study published in MIT’s Sloan Management Review analyzed feedback on company review site Glassdoor to determine the factors that positively influenced a company’s culture. It found the top predictor of a positive review score was that employees felt respected. In fact, the study found this quality was nearly 18 times as important as the typical feature in the model it developed to predict a company’s overall culture rating.

The great news is that it’s easy to show respect every day. Ask employees for feedback and use it to improve conditions or processes whenever possible. Acknowledge everyday efforts, as well as times they go above and beyond, both privately and publicly. And never underestimate the value of simply thanking them for showing up.

2. Offer alternative perks

Naturally, wages are one of the top reasons talent will gravitate to your workplace. But with inflationary pressures squeezing small businesses, you might not be able to dole out raises that are as high as you (and your team) would prefer. Now’s the time to get creative with innovative ways to sweeten their compensation.

For example, you could present team members with a one-time bonus after a lucrative project is complete or offer front-line staff gas or grocery cards to help alleviate the pain they are feeling in funding everyday staples. Find ways to encourage work/life balance, such as allowing employees to choose a schedule that works for them (assuming it’s feasible in your line of work), or designating a “meeting-free” day so they can focus without interruption. Finally don’t overlook benefits that address mental health and financial wellness, programs that have become progressively relevant given the realities of today’s often-stressful world.

3. Use flexible work strategically

Whether your model lends itself to flexible, remote or hybrid work, there’s no question that talent is gravitating toward positions that offer these options. In fact, a Gartner report found 39% of knowledge workers are at risk of leaving their current position if their employer insists on a return to fully on-site work.

Of course, this approach isn’t practical for every workplace, but if parts of your process can be performed flexibly or remotely, it’s wise to consider how to design a schedule that will meet this preference.

Whether you allow teams to decide their own schedules or create concrete rules about the days and hours you intend them to be on-site, be sure to provide clarity about the policy; a Microsoft survey found that 38% of hybrid employees said their biggest challenge was knowing when and why to come to the office. The “why” is vital here: If you do require their presence, communicate why they need to be in person for certain activities. For example, don’t bring people back to the office to sit in their office alone on a video call – something they easily could have done at home and skipped a commute.

Moving to a flexible or hybrid workplace will take some trial and error. Be open with your team, listen to their preferences and adjust as possible to prove you’re committed to meeting their needs.

4. Support your staff

It can appear that customers have become increasingly short-tempered these days, and you may be presented with scenarios that should spur you to rethink the adage of “the customer is always right.” Sometimes they are very much in the wrong, and your front-line employees can bear the brunt of their outsized expectations. Don’t allow patrons to intimidate your staff. Instead of acquiescing to rudeness or unrealistic demands, step in to support your employees publicly.

5. Invest in causes they care about

Corporate responsibility is top-of-mind for consumers, both in the companies they support with their business and the places they choose to work. The Edelman 2022 Trust Barometer found 60% of employees work for companies based on their values and beliefs.

Basic ethics should be at the core of your culture, but there are other ways to show your commitment to causes. Philanthropy can take different forms, such as designating a percentage of your profits to a cause that aligns with your mission or donating goods and services to a local nonprofit. You can foster volunteerism by offering a certain amount of time off for employees to volunteer on their own or build camaraderie through a team activity like working together at a food bank or cleaning up a park. Cultivate engagement by asking your team about causes and projects that resonate with them and encourage them to take leadership positions in planning and executing projects.

6. Start off on the right foot

One recent byproduct of the current labor shortage is a new trend of employees “ghosting” companies, often before they show up for the first day of work. Help engender loyalty by creating a respectful interview process – streamline it as much as you can while still being thorough and take the time to follow up throughout.

Once someone is hired, use the onboarding process to introduce your culture and validate their decision by making them feel involved and appreciated from the start. Many companies have room for improvement, according to a study which found that 62% of new workers said the onboarding process didn’t offer a clear idea of the organization’s culture. By building affinity early, you’re more apt to help both new and recurring employees believe in your mission and feel supported.

A positive culture yields multiple benefits

Your employees are your most valued resource and in today’s tight hiring environment, it’s more important than ever to show them that. Improving your workplace culture not only can help you attract and retain staff, but you’ll likely find that satisfied employees are more productive and committed.

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