In small businesses, particularly those in their infancy, people often take on multiple roles with little room for manoeuvre. With one eye always on the bottom line, it’s understandable that owners are loathe to introduce policies and procedures that will eat into time which is already very tight. But when it comes to creating a positive environment, it’s essential to have a clear idea of the culture you want to create.
As an SME owner, if you fail to take a proactive approach to company culture, you are making a false economy. And it’s a wrong move that will result in high staff turnover and the associated recruitments costs. These costs will quickly exceed any investment you make into developing a cultural strategy.
It is just as important to take steps to instil a positive culture in a small business or even a microbusiness as a larger one, as you are much more likely to be working in close proximity with a small group of people. Whether the team works all under one roof or remotely, a smaller group of colleagues relies more heavily on their co-workers than a larger business with higher staffing levels.
Ignoring the impact of personality clashes and differences in cultural style will result in unhealthy conflict and a toxic work environment, which will have an impact on productivity as well as recruitment costs.
Any successful business needs strong leadership, whether the leader has a team of one or 1,000. And the essential traits of a successful leader are to encourage people to work together collaboratively and creatively by using positive reinforcement and ensuring the strengths of each individual are utilised and celebrated.
This doesn’t have to mean a complicated and costly system of performance reviews, appraisals and staff engagement surveys. It simply means that the business owner recognises that employees should be listened to and valued in order to perform at their best.
First and foremost, all employees must be aligned with the vision of the business and know what is expected of them in order to achieve that vision. This could be as simple as a verbal induction or a poster on the wall reminding people of the business’s goals; it doesn’t need to be laid out in a lengthy handbook or strategy document.
The business leader should be clear that they are open to suggestions and feedback, good or bad. In order to allow each employee to feel valued and to develop personally, they need to know their opinions matter and that they are free to air them without fear of recrimination. In small teams, people often take on multiple roles and have a more varied view of how the business operates, and those views can provide a wider picture and better, more creative, solutions. Giving people opportunities to diversify that they wouldn’t get in a larger organisation with more clearly defined roles will stretch them and keep them focused.
Recognising that there are different styles and approaches within a team allows small businesses to use each team member to their full advantage. Overlooking the views of one person simply because they are not as extrovert as their colleague can stifle the growth of the individual and the business. The business owner can easily achieve this by observing working styles and adapting to them; agility is essential in any leader.
Team events such as social evenings once every three months – perhaps inviting employees in turn to suggest the next activity – can build a sense of camaraderie and ensure everyone feels included. Be clear that written feedback and suggestions are welcomed to give individuals who are not naturally outgoing the opportunity to be heard.
People need to feel they are able to bring their own personality to work and that they are given the flexibility to make decisions on how to approach tasks. They should be held accountable, but given the right support and feedback to be able to do so. In a small business, mistakes can have an impact on the whole team as well as on profits, but when people are given the opportunity to learn from them instead of being reprimanded they will develop personally to the benefit of the business.
More importantly, the ability of a business owner to show genuine appreciation when people are doing a really good job is key to driving a positive culture. In a small team, when that appreciation is visible to all, this will have a much more positive effect than singling people out for recrimination and blame. Negative attention breeds toxicity and conflict, which results in poor performance and higher staff turnover.
Developing a positive culture in an SME doesn’t meant it should be driven by policies and procedures. It simply means that the owner should have a clear vision for the business and be clear and open about progress. Transparency, honesty, positive reinforcement and the ability to listen and act on feedback are all essential elements in a positive company culture – and they don’t cost a thing.