The small business owner's five-step guide to nailing company culture

Joel Svensson

“Organisational culture” is a phrase often heard in relation to big business – but it’s arguably even more important for those who are just getting started. Small work groups tend to concentrate the values of the company, and if those values aren’t carefully thought-out, the results can be toxic.

On the other hand, forming a relaxed and friendly environment is typically easier for small businesses than large corporations. Developing a strong culture that promotes both the values and the work ethic of the company is vital, because if you don’t develop it, it will develop itself.

Communicate

Praise employees who correctly propagate the culture, and be straightforward with those who lag behind. Restate your company’s values at meetings, during toasts, and especially after victories. Make it as easy as possible for employees to absorb, understand and contribute to the culture.

Have after hours rituals

Instating fun rituals such as a bar night will give you a chance to reinforce the values of your company in a relaxed setting, with the added bonus of making employees feel valued and included.

Giving employees a chance to interact in a non-work setting can also do wonders for team cohesion. Colleagues will get to know each other better, form their own bonds and hopefully build more trust.

Only hiring people who fit with your company’s values and attitudes may seem extreme, but it can make all the difference.

Hire for fit

Only hiring people who fit with your company’s values and attitudes may seem extreme, but it can make all the difference. Prejudicing experience over cultural fit can have disastrous consequences, while maintaining attitudinal cohesion can increase productivity and morale. Today’s young employees tend to look for companies that reflect their values and confirm their world-view, so hiring for fit will also likely result in more loyal workers.

Maintain a good work space

Your work place should reflect your values. Preaching efficient and transparent practices while forcing employees to work in a dark and cluttered work space won’t help these lessons sink in.

Not only does physical atmosphere affect mood and productivity, but the amount of attention paid to employee comfort reflects how much they are valued by their employer. Not all of us can afford the luxuriant ergonomics of the Google headquarters, but maintaining a clean, comfortable and inspiring work space is a must.

Treat employees the same way you want them to treat each other.

Lead by example

Treat employees the same way you want them to treat each other. Handle decisions with the same level of rigour you expect of them. Successfully cultivating culture has everything to do with living that culture – having confidence in your own ideals will inspire others to follow.

Joel Svensson

Joel Svensson is a Melbourne-based freelance writer specialising in politics and business.

Image: Google conference room, New York, photo by Marcin Wichary, Flickr Creative Commons license

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