It's Monday morning, and you find your highest-performing employee waiting for you in the conference room, ready to quit. After stomaching that conversation, you notice junior-level employees sneaking in late and complaining about their tasks for the day.
Sound familiar? If so, you have a bad company culture.
This scenario is unfortunately common in small-business workplaces where employees wear multiple hats and business owners are pulled in countless directions. Here’s the good news: Company cultures are much easier to change than you may think. Take note of the following tips and watch your work environment transform for the better.
Establish core values. Over at TaskRabbit’s San Francisco offices, founder Leah Busque believes strongly in the company’s four core values: quirky, collaborative, energetic and efficient. She tries to weave them into every aspect of the company’s culture. “Our office is casual, puppy-crazed and food-centric,” she says. “We also function as a mission-driven company that is rooted in collaboration and community building.”
Busque recommends that small-business owners identify the core values of their companies as the first step in changing culture. She says this type of identification can take “deep thought, openness and guts to commit to a set of principles, but once you define these elements, you can use them to inform every step of growing your business.”
However, don't expect things to change overnight. If one of your core values is fun, for example, don’t expect your culture to transform the minute you bring in a ping-pong table. Values need to be woven into every aspect of your business, says Busque, from hiring to how you deal with investors.
“The single most important thing new entrepreneurs can do is continually prioritize culture during every struggle, success and stage of building a business,” she says.
Communicate openly and honestly. Employees of Columbus, Ohio-based Jeni’s Ice Cream, start each shift by checking the company’s internal Facebook page. “We require everyone to log onto our intranet and see what updates we’ve posted about new flavors, new hires and just general information, good or bad, about the company,” says founder Jeni Britton Bauer.
In addition, Britton Bauer believes in pulling employees aside, in person, if she seems room for improvement or if a word of praise is in order. She recommends other small-business owners do the same, with a strict focus on transparency. “If you tell your employees what is going on with your company, it will increase their levels of satisfaction and engagement in the future of your business,” she says. “We have regular meetings where everyone is invited to talk finances and other sticky subjects.”
Allow failure. Manage with an iron fist and prepare yourself for high turnover. Employees need room to make mistakes because, according to Britton Bauer, innovation only comes after several attempts. “It kills creativity when you are buried under the pressure to never fail,” she says. “There has to be breathing room in the creative process.”
Invest in your employees. Professional development opportunities, from recent hire training to continuing education conferences, are key in developing a positive company culture. According to Britton Bauer, coaching shows your employees that you care about their personal and professional development. The more you care, the more they will work hard at keeping an inspiring culture alive.
Commit to change. According to Busque, a company’s culture does not develop organically over time (at least not a positive one). “It takes hard work and foresight to nourish a culture,” she says. “It isn’t an isolated project; you need to really commit to see change.”
Have you tried to change your company culture? What were the results?
Learn more in OPEN Forum's Company Culture 2012 series.