In every small business, establishing a healthy culture is extremely important for a variety of reasons. Foremost is how heavily small businesses rely on each employee as an essential team member. In a small organization, anyone’s contribution can make or break the enterprise.
With that in mind, it’s valuable to consider how building a healthy business culture can improve the future of your small business. Some of the reasons why taking the time to create a strong culture for your business matters include its role in improving recruitment; strengthening employee loyalty; enhancing employee satisfaction; and ensuring successful collaboration and long-term job performance.
That said, these are the five steps every small business owner can take to create and strengthen their business culture today:
Step 1: Define Your Culture Strategy
To begin, let’s think about how to define your culture as a strategy. The first question is, what kind of culture do you want to create? Is this a culture that focuses on customer satisfaction, first and foremost? Is this a culture that zeroes in on recruiting and supporting long-term career pathways? What are the key goals and objectives you want for your culture?
In addition, what are the values of your culture, and what kinds of employees will be a part of it? For example, if your team is likely to consist of more senior, long-term professionals with a college education, they may desire stability and loyalty as core cultural values. By contrast, if your workforce is likely to be dominated by millennials in short-term or rapidly changing roles, it might be better to focus on a more social and mentorship-oriented cultural model.
Regardless of your workforce makeup, having a clear picture of your ideal culture and the strategy around it are necessary to create a healthy, balanced culture in your small business.
Step 2: Prioritize New-Hire Onboarding
First impressions are everything — for the new employee you’re bringing in and for your business itself. Having a thoughtfully planned process for new hires sets you up with a greater chance of employee retention and loyalty.
Your company culture extends through the entire employee lifecycle. From the moment an individual applies for a position, you are sharing a glimpse into your company culture and core values. After what can be an arduous and complicated hiring process, the best thing you can do as a small business owner is welcome new hires warmly, train them well, and leave them feeling fully equipped to do their jobs and confident that their work is important to the firm.
Ask your team for their honest feedback on the onboarding experience they had when they joined your business. Even if it’s hard to hear, it gives you the perfect outline for a new onboarding process and strategy. Hiring is intimate in a small business, so make sure onboarding involves connecting the new hire(s) with their colleagues in a low-key environment.
Always put your best foot forward. The best way to create a healthy company culture is to devise a seamless onboarding process and build a strategy to ensure that carries through an employee’s entire career.
Step 3: Stay on Top of Benefits
Benefits are the true foundation of a company’s culture and in the age of transparency, it’s more important than ever to be competitive in the benefits you offer to employees. Medical, dental, and vision at the very least should be in your scope. Nothing defines company culture more than any given employee’s reaction to falling ill. If your team members feel supported in these moments, they’re definitely more productive than they would be otherwise.
Taking care of your employees motivates them to pass that care on to their coworkers, customers, clients, etc, allowing your company culture to shine through at all angles. Remember that benefit strategy involves both standard benefits that all employees access, and voluntary benefits that employees can opt into. This is important because you can add benefits that may not cost your business much financially but which can add significant value to your employees’ work-life experience.
Don’t navigate benefits all on your own, though; a broker can help you out with the process and give the clearest picture of your options. They can also help you develop a benefit strategy that is comprehensive while also being cost-effective.
Step 4: Commit To Real Workplace Diversity
There is more to a diverse workforce than an abundance of cultural backgrounds. If you are committed to recruiting in underserved populations, think about what that really looks like. Associate’s degrees, online colleges, trade schools, and high school diplomas or GEDs will certainly offer you more diversity in the backgrounds and life experiences of job candidates.
Don’t be too quick to disregard candidates who may not write, speak or express themselves exactly as you would. Yes, communication skills are essential but communication itself is a diverse activity reflecting the cultures and backgrounds of different communities.
In addition, consider recruiting with institutions and groups that can help you access underserved or underrepresented populations. For example, if your region is home to a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), work to partner with them in talent recruiting. Or if your community has job training programs for new first-generation Americans, work with them to access candidates who are eager to work hard and prove themselves as they pursue the American dream.
Step 5: Focus on Work-Life Balance Where Possible
Small business owners often struggle to discuss work-life balance for their employees because they themselves often lack it. If the boss is working 18-hour days 7 days per week, it’s unlikely that they will feel much sympathy for employees working slightly less than that.
However, you have to keep in mind that your commitment to the business is different. You own the business, it’s an asset you’re building. Your investment of time and effort can lead to a significant future payoff, whereas for your employees their time and effort leads specifically and only to the compensation they receive for the hours worked or the job salary they are assigned. It’s understandable, but ultimately unfair, to compare your effort to theirs in this manner.
Furthermore, you don’t want fatigued, frustrated and burned-out employees driving your company vehicles, serving your customers, operating your equipment and coordinating your inventory or operations. You want balanced, informed and generally motivated employees doing that. This means recognizing that your employees need and deserve reasonable work-life balance protections.
If you stay until 8:00 PM regularly, make sure your office staff know that they are not expected to do so (in fact, consider kindly but firmly sending them home at 6:00 PM if not earlier). If you send emails during the weekend, ensure that employees know they’re not expected to respond to them until Monday morning. And when employees confront complex life situations such as an accident, death, extended family illness or other real-life challenge, try and find reasonable ways to help them do what is needed for work while also being present for what they need to do at home.
In summary, a healthy culture is essential for the long-term health of any business, and certainly for small businesses with limited resources it’s truly critical to invest in a strong foundation and build your culture carefully over time. By taking the time now to plan and develop effective strategies, you’ll position your small business for success, both today and in the future.