5 Ways Small Business Owners Can Promote a Positive Company Culture

Aja McClanahan

Contributor at Fundera
Aja McClanahan is a financial writer who blogs regularly at www.principlesofincrease.com and also writes for other online publications covering personal finance, entrepreneurship, travel and general lifestyle topics.

Having a positive company culture sets the tone for a productive, engaging work environment that ultimately affects your bottom line as a business.

Company culture is the engine that should boost performance while highlighting company values and philosophies. This company modus operandi (MO), good or bad, governs operations and charts the course of an organization’s future.

Culture: It’s More Than a Mission Statement

Company culture, if not intentionally formed, can evolve to make for a confusing, miserable, uninspired workplace. In fact, a survey conducted by talent development consultants Thomas Kell and Gregory Carrott found that employees who work for the same company are “30% more likely to exhibit similar leadership competencies.”

In other words, company culture affects the way an employee learns, executes, and even leads. The article highlighting the survey findings notes that company culture has more influence than job title, industry, and even nationality.

It presents the example of an American engineer employed by Honda, noting, “The fact that she works for Honda tells you more about her leadership competencies than the fact that she is an engineer or that she labors in the auto industry or that she is American.”

Remarkably, it becomes more important than ever to develop and promote a positive company culture at the outset.

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S. Chris Edmonds, author and founder of The Purposeful Culture Group, stresses the importance of being intentional when it comes down to cultivating positivity in a company culture: “A purposeful, positive, productive work culture won’t happen by default. It only happens by intention and with attention from business leaders.”

Edmonds goes on to explain that there are two main components to establishing and then nurturing a positive company culture:

  1. Defining a desired company culture
  2. Aligning all plans, decisions, and actions to match the desired culture

This happens when management, he says, “models those values and behaviors while also coaching team members in the same vein.” Without praising aligned values and behaviors  and redirecting misaligned behaviors, a company will surely struggle to establish the overall culture it aims for.

Whether you have a 50-employee team that may grow to thousands or just a few contractors on a seasonal basis, you can still cultivate a positive company culture just a few steps at a time.

Here are how some small (and some not so small) business owners are committed, proactive, and intentional about promoting a positive company culture.

1. Make Company Culture the Number-One Priority

Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of billion-dollar retail operation Zappos, explains in his book, Delivering Happiness, that once his big realization after the company moved to Las Vegas: “If we got the culture right, then building our brand to be about the very best customer service would happen naturally on its own.”

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To make this happen, Zappos spent a considerable amount of time, energy, money, and other resources into employees’ personal and professional development. In that process, employees were (and are still) inculcated with the 10 core values that represent the underpinnings of the Zappos brand:

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

In essence, the Zappos brand is the Zappos culture, which boasts “the very best brand and very best customer experience,” according to Hsieh.

2. Have a Vision, Recognize the Faithful

Carrie Munson, founder of online “foundation wear” retailer Undersummers by CarrieRae, created a company vision and keeps it at the forefront of every staff meeting. Core tenets of that vision include “Having a sunny, positive attitude and making sure employees maintain a healthy work/life balance.”

It might sound a bit unrealistic or even hokey, but the value is in actually recognizing team members who demonstrate behaviors and accomplishments in line with the company vision. Munson says, “Each staff meeting, an individual team member is recognized for exhibiting our company values.”

This may sound like a time-consuming ordeal but can eventually pay in spades. She happily reports that her company has grown its revenue over 60% in the last year with significant improvements in quality control and order fulfillment accuracy.

3. Preserve Culture at All Costs

Even if it costs the company millions of dollars, culture is key. An initial public offering had been on the table for Nike, according to the recent memoir, Shoe Dog, by Nike’s co-founder and chairman, Phil Knight.

Knight was adamant that the audacious, yet innovative, company culture that spurred innovation and garnered success couldn’t be disturbed in any way. For a long time, the IPO question haunted the company as it suffered from fast growth yet somewhat intermittent periods of severe cash crunches all in the name of preserving a positive, creative company culture.

For a long time, Knight was hesitant to raise money from the public for fear of losing control and disrupting the company culture. This spoke volumes to employees seeing how the company could truly use the money during times of lower cash flow.

Finally, the conundrum was solved when the company decided to issue different classes of stock that ultimately let Knight and his team maintain control of the company and the innovative culture that would make it wildly successful in the long run.

4. Create a Place to Call Home

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Robb Jordan, founder and CEO of cloud database consultancy Idealist Consulting, moved his office to a converted bungalow on a bustling, food cart-laden street in Portland, Oregon. The new location was a major draw to the kind of employees he needed to grow his company: gifted, prone to teamwork, and comfortable enough to operate as a family.

Though this homey office outfit wasn’t Jordan’s first choice, it worked out even better than expected. The carpeted attic, known as the “sales bunker” along with the decked-out basement and breakroom that looks more like your parents’ kitchen are nice touches.

Jordan notices that his younger workforce even enjoys the home-turned office, saying, “Millennials really dig this place and find it easy to work here.”

On any given day you might find employees cooking, chatting over coffee, or even bringing their kids (true story: I almost stumbled over a toddler on my first visit). It’s a place you can think of as a home because it actually looks like a home, yet operates like a fine-tuned business machine.

5. Reward Top Performers

Perhaps one of the most important elements of company culture is consistent rewards connected to desired outcomes. When employees make attempts and actually achieve results directly related to their adherence to core company values, it’s time to celebrate.

It’s also a good idea to not only recognize the results-oriented employee but also to reward them. Lea Thompson, owner of three fitness brands including the popular e-zine Daily Fitness Zone, says that just because her team works remotely doesn’t mean she can’t promote a positive company culture.

One of the ways she does this is with material rewards for team members who help her reach business goals. “To keep up morale,” she says, “I reward them with bonuses on their pay and small gifts of appreciation in addition to verbal praise.”

Starter Tips to Promote a Positive Company Culture

As a small business owner, you wear many hats and it can be difficult to execute everything your business needs at one time.

However, if you want to make strides in laying the foundation that will become your company culture and eventually your brand, here are some starter ideas to get going:

  • Develop a core set of values your organization will abide by (even if you are a one-person business at the moment).
  • Create a long-term plan (even if it seems impossible to reach) to further refine company policies and procedures that support desired company culture.
  • Create a company vision and mission statement.
  • Share your organization vision and mission with new team members.

Establishing your company culture sooner rather than later will help guide your hiring and business decisions as your company grows. A positive company culture helps improve employee morale and performance—and sets you up for success down the line.

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Aja McClanahan

Contributor at Fundera
Aja McClanahan is a financial writer who blogs regularly at www.principlesofincrease.com and also writes for other online publications covering personal finance, entrepreneurship, travel and general lifestyle topics.

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