Thought Leadership on Lending presented by Gibraltar Business Capital.
Many small business executives have an opinion about the value and significance of a company culture. Culture—establishing a defined and meaningful philosophy and principles that employees can relate to—is vitally important, as it sets the tone for all internal and external engagement, influences decision-making processes, reinforces standards in the workplace, and contributes to perceptions of your organization among stakeholders.
When you can count a company’s employees on two hands, this means there is usually a smaller-scale, simpler dynamic and more direct communication. At this stage, most small companies focus their energies on a core mission or immediate priorities out of necessity – meaning their culture is almost implicit, reflecting the context and personalities of the leadership and staff involved.
But inevitably, when an aspiring company grows in scale, it becomes that much more critical to have an established company culture and internal process. Practically, the right time to begin thinking about your company culture is from the very beginning, as it will shape everything that impacts the business going forward.
A well-planned and vibrant internal process can set forth the framework and parameters so that every employee can function with confidence in his/her individual roles, appreciate the value of the firm and its mission, and ideally, the culture will inspire a higher purpose for the company and its staff, looking beyond the bottom line.
As part of a small business leadership team that has experienced steady growth, certain lessons become self-evident with regard to establishing and fulfilling a defined culture.
A look at past experience: We all have experiences that can inform and influence the business culture of which we are a part. Simply examine the cultures of organizations you worked for and what characteristics and distinct elements proved successful and engaging, then adopt and adjust accordingly.
Structure as foundation: Organizational structure plays a crucial part in driving company culture. Here, management must ask itself how the company is organized starting with day-to-day fundamental activities and processes. They should consider everything from office location and environment, reporting methods, how key departments and teams interact, along with any other major elements that may help to determine and reinforce engagement and team orientation. This, in turn, builds unity and familiarity, which ultimately yields a more robust culture.
Onus on leadership: Culture is shaped primarily by the foundational beliefs and actions of the company’s leadership team, reflecting those key areas that characterize the desired company culture. This may pertain to aspects such as transparency in relationships, teamwork, customer appreciation, accessibility to resources, or any number of related values that you’ve chosen to define for your business culture.
Secure the right talent: Retain talent with varying experiences and personalities that will complement one another and enrich and balance the company culture presently and in the future. To achieve this, make your culture and its importance clear in job postings, interviews and company orientation materials. Consider hiring as a “yin and yang” approach to creating a dynamic workplace that recognizes individual complementary skills and expertise, while encouraging true team building.
Communicate…and then communicate some more: Communicating your values and culture explicitly and continuously cannot be overstated. Employees must appreciate and understand the direction of the company and expectations around culture. Their consistency in supporting and adhering to the company culture is instrumental to ensuring a productive and satisfying work environment. Here, procedures should be in place and regularly communicated (possibly even over-communicated) directly and honestly.
Feedback and assessment: Engage with your teams to understand what they like/dislike about the current company culture. Ascertain if they understand this concept and how it matters. The smallest details or input across a wide range of employees can prove invaluable to inform new initiatives or help to develop methods that may be needed.
Reinforcement: One of the best ways of reinforcing culture is through implementing creative efforts that will appeal to members of your company in a way that underscores your culture and brand. For example, visual reminders that help to communicate key values and concepts, as well as encourage individuals to embrace the culture and also be brand ambassadors. Everything from office materials with an artful approach that people will see on a daily basis, or fun, whimsical branded company products – t-shirts, hats, even reusable grocery bags can all function as canvases to create and promote your company messages, and help shape perspectives.
Conscious capitalism: Working beyond the bottom line
A company culture is not static, but an ever-evolving assignment. Discussion and defining a culture is critical at key phases—once the company is established; in the growth process while building upon its mission and core values; and when it may be poised for expansion. When your business is faced with prospects for growth or change, is when the true value of a company culture will prove to have a powerful influence. Executed effectively, it helps define your ecosystem and approach to work going forward.
A curated approach is required—observation, adjustment, time and effort, flexibility with a growing company, clearly communicated priorities from the leadership team and a genuine understanding of the context of the environment in which you operate. It is something that will and should change due to so many shifting circumstances, but once it’s been defined and implemented (and each business will likely know when it’s been successfully achieved), it becomes the cornerstone of each employee’s role and works to support the principal vision of the company.