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By: Liz Beggs, People Development Specialist
Small Business Culture: Ideas and Ways to Establish a Culture that Works

There’s a lot of talk about company culture lately. Whether you are a small business of 3 or a large company of 3,000, culture is effectively how you and your people work together, what you collectively believe in, and the thread that weaves its way through every aspect of your business. It includes your people, your processes, and ultimately, your customers and your external brand.  

There are many proactive ways and ideas to make a positive and strong culture. But unfortunately, many small business owners and entrepreneurs, as they scale their business, don’t consider culture. They later find themselves reactively trying to “fix it”, in the case that a negative or counter-productive culture has taken hold. Often it is due to lack of attention to an internal company vision or employee attitude and satisfaction.

The good news is - this cultural thread can be woven with intention and purpose, so your employees gain an understanding of the behavioral values that are critical for business success at your company. Also, as your team grows, you are able to effectively identify talent who will align to your cultural goals - goals which should be tailored to align with your business strategy.  

As a business owner, how do you know if you’re doing it right? The first step to doing company culture right is doing it at all.

     1. Define the kind of company you want to be and how people should work together.

First, be genuine. The culture should be representative of the entrepreneur. The same way you develop a corporate strategy or business goals, start thinking about people-focused behavioral goals. What are the things your people are really good at today that you want to see more of, and on the contrary, where are the areas everyone could improve? Do you want to encourage people to work more collaboratively together? To hold each other accountable? To embrace diversity of thought?

In most cases, you want to build a culture that is results-oriented. What do those results look like, and what behaviors or actions will ultimately fuel that performance and quality of delivery?

     2. Walk the talk.

Whatever behaviors or cultural values you ultimately decide are most important to fuel your company's success and growth, you (and your leadership team) need to then immerse yourselves in these behaviors, and lead by example. Keep them top of mind. Demonstrate these behaviors in all that you do. Every day.

If you or they find that they have “dropped the ball” and behaved in a way that is counter to your defined values, then they should call this out to the team. Personal growth is universal. No one is perfect - we all make mistakes, let's keep our eye on the ball and continue move it forward - together.

     3. Recruit talent to meet the company’s cultural expectations.

Culture can and should be leveraged as a differentiator for attracting talent (we are actively in a war for talent) as well as customers. The interview process is the perfect opportunity to inform candidates about your cultural values, and the behavioral expectations that are in place for the people you want on your team. Make sure you consider this as early as when you are putting a job description together. There's no rule that says you can’t add a bullet under “responsibilities” that outlines this person will be expected to demonstrate behaviors and practices that are aligned with your work culture.

To this point, when you are developing interview questions for candidates, build in a few that speak to situational cases where they can share experiences specific to your values. For example, one of your cultural values might simply be, BE AWESOME AT TEAMWORK. A question to ask might be, “Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team and disagreed with a team member, or realized a team member wasn't contributing to the project. How did you handle the situation?” You can learn a lot about the candidate’s view on teamwork as well as how they work with others with this type of question. 

     4. Empower your team to OWN it.

The same way you lead by example every day, it’s expected that your team follow suit. One way to empower your team to do this, is to let them own the process, and recognize one another for demonstrating these behaviors. Maybe someone’s ability to BE AWESOME AT TEAMWORK helped to move a project forward, or ensured the delivery of a quality product. Ask people to give each other public recognition and to be specific about the impact that person made to the business by demonstrating this behavior. Encourage your team to hold each other accountable, at every level of the organization. Accountability is everything.

     5. Consider the impact of your team’s reach.

The same way your salespeople directly influence the way your customer's view your company, there are many indirect touchpoints that will resonate through as well when customers start to notice how your people view your company, how they work together on a project, or how they talk about the company values.

That reach is exponential. When people believe in the vision and values of the company they work for, it becomes more fulfilling. They talk about it - online, in meetings, at lunch, at networking events, everywhere. And on the flip side, consider the risk your company’s brand takes if your people are instead talking about how dissatisfied they are or how disjointed the company is.

Cultural alignment is critical as you build your company, your team, and your brand. Ensure healthy scalability and positive brand recognition by setting the bar high, clearly defining and communicating what's expected, and then managing to those expectations. And remember, your culture is never done being built! Like any individual or business, it is a living, growing “thing” that will evolve as you and your business evolves. You need feedback loops to ensure your culture evolves and continues to support your people and your customers.

Liz Angelucci Beggs, a 2018 Best 50 Women in Business award recipient (NJBiz) and SHRM-SCP, is a consultative talent acquisition, people development, and brand development professional with Internet Creations, a leading Salesforce CRM consulting firm and NJBiz Best Place to Work, based in Central NJ. Beggs has 20 years of cross-functional experience delivering HR, Marketing, and Communications programs within entrepreneurial, high-growth, B2B technology (SaaS) companies. Follow Liz: @lizziebeggs  linkedin.com/in/lizbeggs/