As a small business owner, you could use 48 hours in each day to get everything done. You don’t really have time to develop a touchy-feely company culture, right?
Regardless of your company’s size, everything that you do in your company represents the culture that you transmit to your customers and anyone who works for you (even contractors). So, take a step back and put your core values in writing to make sure that everyone on your team knows, lives by and transmits your core values to the outside world.
Definition of Company Culture
The word, culture, gets bandied about quite a bit these days, so let’s start with how it relates to businesses. At the highest level, it’s the core values that your company lives by. If that’s too high-level for you, here are some common components:
At the top level of a company culture is a well-defined (but short) mission statement. In one or two paragraphs, you should communicate what your company does, its value, how you do it, and the intended recipients of your products or services. You should be able to say a lot without writing a novel. Here’s an example of ChooseWhat’s overall mission.
ChooseWhat is the entrepreneur’s startup guide. Entrepreneurs can follow the steps in our guide to build a strong foundation for their business. Each step includes an actionable “How To” that provides a simple overview, detailed steps, tips and warnings. Many of the steps also include relevant product comparison and STARTicles to help entrepreneurs select the right tools and design the best processes for their businesses. Finally, ChooseWhat offers a forum where entrepreneurs can post questions or comments and receive feedback from the ChooseWhat staff and the entrepreneurial community.
As long as your mission is reasonably-achievable, it’s fair to put it in writing. But, don’t forget that you will be publishing that mission on your website or anywhere that puts it in front of your customers.
Respectful Treatment of People
Make sure that you specify the company’s values when it comes to dealing with people within your business and outside of it. This includes language control, honoring cultural differences, and general civil behavior. Don’t forget to spell out the proper way to handle disputes between employees — and with customers.
Goals Governing Company Offerings
Spell out your product and service goals, and be specific so that your employees know your expectations. What does high-quality mean? Do your standards include a development process that includes strict error-checking, or are you satisfied as long as customer complaints or returns are relatively low? Don’t forget to include specifics about how your employees sell your products (answer all questions honestly) and support them (handle all issues quickly, efficiently, and with good spirits).
This part of your culture statement might begin with expectations of employee attitudes toward your products and services. A great way to start might be: We take pride in everything we do.
How the Company Culture Affects Employees
Recent statistics indicate that 47 percent of job-seekers want employers with cultures that are compatible with their own. Of course, employee preferences vary. Where some prefer an all-business atmosphere, others want to follow the work hard, play hard mantra. Some (like millennials) look for employers that encourage participation in community give-back programs; others prefer to keep their altruism private. Your company culture can’t meet everyone’s needs, but it can play an important role in attracting and retaining employees whose needs are compatible with your goals.
Salaries and benefits are still important. But, during a time when the U.S. unemployment level is at levels not seen since the turn of the millennium, employees want more, and they’ll start looking elsewhere if your company’s overall atmosphere and spirit does not match their needs.
A well-defined company culture specifically shows how you value employees and illustrates what daily life will be. Just as important, it tends to attract employees with compatible mindsets. They naturally have individual differences, but they may interact more effectively and have more team spirit when they share similar core beliefs. That spirit is naturally transmitted to customers, too.
How the Company Culture Affects Customers
Admittedly, most customers don’t visit your website to view your company culture; but, if they spot a culture that they like, they will take notice.. Still, they typically visit to find certain products or services, or to obtain useful information. If your business consistently performs based on a great culture, however, customers don’t have to read the words to get the message.
The bottom line is that customers may not directly participate in your company culture, but they regularly feel its effects. So, when they have haphazard ordering experiences, call with questions, or work on custom projects with your team, those experiences get translated as sub-optimal culture.
The right company culture can also lead to significantly more business. One survey showed that customers who receive good customer service experiences typically refer about nine more customers to the business. A positive culture can lead to similar results. But, watch out: they typically share bad experiences at almost twice that rate. This can happen when no well-defined culture is there to drive employees toward a consistent customer experience.
How You Can Improve Your Company’s Culture
Happy, engaged employees are the foundation for any good company culture. So, don’t just write edicts from your throne; try to find ways to get your team involved. Here are a few ideas:
- Get social: I’m not talking about social media here; I’m talking about building a close-knit team by promoting old-fashioned social activities. Have a picnic. Take them out somewhere fun where they can interact with all levels of employees personally. The easy atmosphere of social activities tears down walls in the workplace. They feel freer to open up with thoughts and ideas while recognizing that your company culture isn’t all about hard work.
- Solicit suggestions: Form a dedicated committee of employees who use their own experiences to spot areas in need of improvement — and those that need more promoting. Even a suggestion box can help you identify where your culture needs tweaks. Anonymous online suggestion boxes are available for free.
- Show that you care about their wellbeing: You may not be able to afford to pay for health club memberships for everyone, but you might allow an extra hour off several times per week for exercise. Encourage them to go home when they’re sick. Set up a walking challenge. You get the idea; healthy employees are happy, and they work more effectively, too.
- Create a happy environment: Any workplace can benefit from a fresh coat of paint, a few plants, and attractive decor. Even better (if you have the space and can control the noise), bring in foosball or ping-pong tables. Corn hole games or even a few bats and balls get them outside.
Culture Time is Productive Time
Recent statistics show that businesses reported a four-fold revenue growth increase when they had strong cultures. If you have any concerns about taking valuable time to define your company culture, can you think of other time expenditures that can deliver such returns? Clearly, the time spent to develop a company culture is an investment in your company’s future.