The 7 Commandments of Small Business Culture
Have you ever worked for a company with a culture that’s, well… subpar? I have. And let me tell you, the effects manifested in ways I never thought a crappy culture could. For me, I walked away from the experience with a new appreciation for those that have managed to figure things out— the leaders that choose to make culture a priority.
What I’ve come to learn is that the businesses that have nailed this live by certain cultural rules to make their employee’s work lives better. These are kind of like the company’s 10 commandments, but you know, with less stone chiseling. The cool thing is, when these rules are lived and culture is solid, workers are typically happy and involved. This means that projects, deadlines and processes are often accomplished more easily. But when culture goes awry, the ripple effect can be palpable throughout the business. Employees can become less invested, morale can take a nosedive, and a general sense of dissatisfaction can begin weaving itself throughout morale.
So, with culture having the capability to either bolster or break a business’s success, what rules should you follow? Especially as a small business, how can you keep your culture happy and healthy?
I give you… the 7 Commandments of Small Business Culture.
I: Thou shalt know who you are.
Culture isn’t something that can be prescribed and then automatically lived from the get-go. It’s important that you decide who you want to be as a company, how you want your work life to be shaped, and gain buy-in from everyone in your business. This all starts with values that make up the heart of you and your team. With this documented as the foundation for your company personality, decide on the other things you want to focus on. Do you want to help animal charities, with the ability for employees to bring in their pets once a month? How about more of a flat culture, where autonomy rules?
Decide who you want to be, shape it with your colleagues, and live your culture every day.
II: Thou shalt not erect proverbial walls.
Even though there are a number of different responsibilities and tasks across a small business, the most successful teams are collaborative and aimed towards a common goal. The thing is, although job function and departments may be somewhat siloed, communication shouldn’t be. If a colleague from another department has an idea, or even some thoughts on how something in your department could be done better, hear them out. Need to get an outside point-of-view from someone that hasn’t been steeped in things? Ask away. This will help you to build an open culture that values the opinions of all employees, regardless of their position or job function. Even better, it will help to ensure that you’re utilizing employee skillsets to their fullest.
III: Thou shalt celebrate.
For many startups and small businesses, the goal is nothing short of changing the world— and changing the world is hard work! With that in mind, remember that it’s important to celebrate the small wins right along with the big ones. Especially in a business that’s still in its infancy, small wins can be indicative of huge progress. Of course you have some major milestones that you’re itching to hit, but be sure to recognize the hard work and sweat that goes into making those small achievements happen as well. After all, it’s the small wins that become the building blocks of your huge accomplishments.
IV: Thou shalt not be a jerk.
There’s nothing worse than working in an environment full of negative nay-sayers. Oh, and it’s even worse when your workspace happens to include a small team that is housed in tight quarters. It might sound simple, but when it comes down to it, just try to be nice to your coworkers. Even better, be encouraging, collaborative and (gasp) even supportive. While it should go without saying, this also means not to harass, belittle or be disrespectful to those around you.
Uplifting each other, helping each other to overcome obstacles, and just being a pleasant human can all make a huge difference in your culture and morale.
V: Thou shalt think in terms of “team.”
Especially when your team is small or new, it can be hard to think of the collective. This can be even harder when you’re in a startup or early-stage company where things may be less than guaranteed. But when you think of your team’s success versus just your own, the chances of everyone’s success goes up exponentially.
I’m not saying to forget your own personal goals, but make an effort to do things that will bring you and your work squad closer. Whether it’s team building events, random lunches or the occasional happy hour, take the time to create an environment where employees get along, enjoy their work environment, and care about each other’s success.
VI: Thou shalt not ignore ideas or constructive criticism.
This is a big one. When employees don’t feel heard, or at least considered, culture can take a massive nosedive. It’s important that coworkers make an effort to listen to each other’s ideas and are open to hearing thoughts and feedback. Even if some things are difficult to listen to, by allowing everyone to feel like they have a voice, you’ll help to weave a team oriented, open culture. Remember, this becomes even more important when it comes to management setting an example. Which brings me to the final commandment…
VII: Thine executives shall do their part.
When it comes to culture, it all starts at the top. If you have a begrudging CEO and a band of snarky, unsupportive managers, chances are your culture is going to tank. Management should be cognizant of this, living your company’s values every single day. This can help to set up bumpers for your culture, ensuring that a solid company standard is being exemplified daily. In other words, it’s imperative that management lives by a sort of executive golden rule: act and react in the same way you’d want your employees to act and react. The bottom line? Listen, participate, encourage and mentor. Don’t be a dark company cloud or a mega-jerk.
At the end of the day, culture isn’t something that can be built overnight. It takes time, participation, and the support of all employees to really make things happen for the long haul. If you’re getting ready to tackle your own company culture, just remember not to take everything so seriously. Have fun, keep it interesting and do what you can to build a team that respects and supports each other. With the right culture, you can help to change the trajectory of a company and even better, nurture employees that can affect the world.