Often the difference between those ecosystems is this: In the first, the original founders are still active, while in the second, the founders left the scene three to four mergers ago. Larger companies are working hard to find ways to create great cultures and you can take some cues from their strategies.
The big lesson here is that as the founder of a small business you virtually are the company culture. Unfortunately, as small business owners wrestle with staying afloat they can easily forget this fact and inadvertently create a bad company culture.
So if you’re in a hurry and can’t read any more, just remember that your business will be a reflection of who you are, or at least who your employees perceive you to be. And now that we have the “big idea” out of the way, let’s break it down a little bit and examine three essential qualities.
Openness and transparency
The term “transparency” gets bantered about a lot today, especially as it applies to our political leadership. Being open and transparent with your team is critically important. You want to instill in them the same passion you have for your business. If you build a wall around yourself, that passion will never be transferred.
I’ve often heard the saying, “More gets caught than taught.” You can have employee meetings every week stressing what you think is important, but if you actively model what is important, the information is transferred much more efficiently and internalized much more deeply.
The prefix “com” in communication means “with” or “together.” While it takes one person to be transparent – you – it takes two or more people to communicate, one of which must be you.
You need to consistently communicate your values and priorities while at the same time listening to your employees. Make sure they understand your message and also be certain that you hear – and take to heart – their observations, suggestions, feelings and concerns.
Remember: It’s just possible that you may occasionally be wrong!
I mentioned priorities above. Your small business needs to have a focus and everyone needs to know it, understand it and share it.
A friend once worked in a struggling division of a large corporation. One day he and his coworkers found themselves under the thumb of the company’s “fix it” guy. To some, this manager was an ogre; to others, he was focused and intense. If an employee strayed from his priorities, it was bad news. However, even when employees screwed up big time there was no problem as long as their focus was the same as his.
That was liberating for the employees who got on-board. They had the freedom to be innovative and creative without the fear of failure as long as they were aligned with leadership. That is a productive environment.
I can’t tell you exactly what “flavor” your company culture should be. It’s different with every small business and its owner. However, I want you to understand how wise it is to invest your time in creating a strong company culture. If you can achieve that, it will serve like the keel of a sail boat and keep your business headed in the right direction without requiring you to lay a heavy hand on the helm.
Image: By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Justin P. Nesbitt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.