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When discussing business culture, what comes to mind? To different people, it can mean different things. It can be a brand, motto, values, uniforms, or behaviors. It could also be a service level, company policy, or customer relationship management.

Culture can be a set of attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and customs. These cultural cues are ingrained in the members of the business, team, or group, and then accepted as the norm. Beliefs about the role of the business, and how business activities fall into this understanding of culture, is typically dictated by how employees interact within their own cultural boundaries. Small business culture will determine what kind of customers it attracts, the service it delivers, and its growth.

In a small business, the employees tend to be more invested. Small businesses can pride themselves on customer intimacy, less bureaucracy, and flexibility. Employees in small businesses are likely to share the same understanding of goals, processes, and expectations. Considering this, it is very important to build a strong company culture that guides the actions of the employees, to reflect the values of the company.
Company culture should begin in the early stages of training, train to retain employees who align with the culture and believe in it. If employees don’t buy into the company culture, everything else is wasted.

How do you build a strong and unique culture that will inspire and motivate employees to follow? Here are a few pointers:

1.Define and document your ideal company culture – Consider your business’ values, mission, and contribution to customers. Using this as a starting point, think about what kind of culture fits best. Every business is different. Once you have defined the culture you would like your company to have, document it – in the form of a company vision statement or a dream map to show where the company is headed. By creating a set of shared beliefs, everyone has a framework for how to set priorities, make decisions, treat customers, and treat each other. And having it in writing acts as a reinforcement of the common goal everyone is working towards.

2.Hire for Attitude – Employees are the messengers of your culture, and benefit from the culture perks. Hire with an emphasis on attitude (does their attitude fit the company culture, do they exude the vision?) and worry less about their weaknesses. You can manage to fix or minimize weaknesses. Add personality traits that fit best in your culture to your job ads so you get candidates that are suited to your company’s style. One bad hire can have a huge effect on your team’s morale, productivity, and ultimately your bottom line.

3.Create an Enjoyable Atmosphere – You don’t need to be the next Google with slides, sleep pods, free food, and massages. Small gestures can make big differences. Having a neat and clean office with comfortable furniture can make a world of a difference. Healthy snacks, tea, and coffee, can be small, yet effective morale boosters. Create a list of small perks that you can offer your employees and try to incorporate one each month. Perks create happy employees, and happy employees are more productive

Also, sprucing up the workspace to reflect your culture is one way to go – through music, art, sport, games; whatever adds some fun and life to space. Get feedback from employees about the kind of environment they’d prefer. Small changes like this can liven up the workspace, especially one in which you spend so much time.

4.Empower Your Employees – It’s great to have processes and procedures, but sometimes it’s also a good idea to give your employees a chance to use their initiative. Trusting an employee to make decisions can be a big leap of faith, but it can also make that employee feel empowered and own their work. Listening to your employees and taking their views into consideration is a way to make them feel like they belong, and respected. Usually, employees are just as keyed in – if not more keyed in – to the company’s real culture.

5.Team building Out of the Office – Team building is about taking time outside of the business to interact with your co-workers and supervisors on mutual territory. Simple things like arranging a summer picnic, going to a relevant speaking event, or even doing some small-scale volunteering, can help employees feel refreshed and excited to work. They will come back with increased focus and productivity. If a company expects employees to love its customers, the company must love its employees.

6.Opportunities for Continuous Learning – Learning does not need to be in a classroom environment. Think of creative ways for employees to share their knowledge. For example, create a library of books or encourage job shadowing each other. These small things will create conversations and improve awareness of what else is happening in the business.

7.Clear communication – Now that you’ve identified your company culture and hired the right people, communicate it regularly both internally and externally. Also, within the company and with customers, keeping channels of communication open and simple help in creating a more open and transparent culture.

8.Provide feedback – To engage your employees, you have to build a structure that allows for regular and constructive feedback. There should be a way for both the employee and supervisor to offer each other feedback. This holds true for family businesses, too. Have weekly or monthly check-ins before or after shifts where you encourage free-flowing feedback. Consider implementing monthly or quarterly reviews, and ask employees to fill out surveys about their supervisors to gather unfiltered feedback.

9.Be patient – Company culture takes time. While the tips above will get you started, business culture has to evolve naturally. In time, you’ll be able to define your culture to anyone that asks. For now, work on the little things and let the process grow.

Culture acts like a foundation that has the strength to see the business through tough times while keeping it grounded during good times. Creating a sustainable and unique culture doesn’t have to cost thousands, and can really affect how a team interacts with each other, building stronger relationships, and a stronger business.