SMB Workforce Part 3: Values and Culture in the Workplace


Organizational culture determines the tone of every business process, from policies and staffing structure to customer interaction and facility design. Your business’s culture defines the standards and unique environment your customers crave while creating value by setting you apart from the competition.

How can entrepreneurs and small business owners cash in on culturally-driven positive outcomes? It starts, like most business endeavors, with a dream.

Define Your End Goal

Picture the perfect working scenario. How do coworkers treat each other? What does conflict resolution look like? If your customers had to describe their experience with your business in one word, what word would you want them to use?

Now refocus on reality. How does your business rank against the dream? What areas need attention to reach the dream? Don’t forget to highlight your competitive edge.

Each business is born knowing it does something better than the competition, something profitable. These natural advantages can strengthen your culture passively, meaning your business model alone will separate you from the herd.

Blend your best-case scenario with your actual conditions and you’ve got a workable culture goal. Reaching it requires a good strategy. Consider these universal truths when developing your culture and executing your cultural goals.

Embrace Transparency

One of the greatest inhibitors to cultural development is poor communication. Nip gossip in the bud by maintaining a transparent set of expectations. Good staffing structure and policies help with this tremendously.

Ask for feedback and implement employee suggestions. Create a culture of willing compliance versus fear-based execution. Celebrate those who exemplify business values and cite specific reasons why they are being celebrated.

Be honest with initiatives and changes to the business structure. Cloak and dagger behavior in the workplace is rarely necessary and often mimicked by subordinates. Unless a secretive culture is what you’re going for, stay away from hidden agendas.

Create a Lasting Impression

Repeat business is the gold standard in today’s retail market. Create a place people want to visit and refer to their friends. Cultural focal points differ from business to business, but a few common themes include clean surroundings, knowledgeable staff, and fair treatment.

Customer satisfaction is obviously an important driver of cultural change, but don’t forget to consider internal opinions. Would your employees want their family members working there? Do they consider it a good place to work or are they just there for the paycheck? Employee satisfaction is a good indicator of whether or not you’ve achieved cultural buy-in. Try administering anonymous surveys to see where you stand.

Your B2B reputation is important, too. Do neighboring businesses like you? Do your vendors and business clients have good things to say about you? Ask for feedback frequently. The goal is to create a culture that inspires everyone to want to come back.

Perfect Perception

The biggest, best companies in the world still need to deal with customer complaints and staff turnover rates. Creating, executing, and maintaining a perfect culture is impossible…but your customers don’t need to know that. Recovering from mistakes and addressing problems with professional, friendly resolutions is an inherent aspect of organizational quality.

It’s the perception of perfection you need to attain, not perfection itself. You may have a storeroom full of the same, unsellable item, but choose to display just one of them in a glass box labeled “special,” and people are going to perceive it as such. A culture centered on doing the absolute best job possible, especially from a problem resolution standpoint, is all you need. Create an environment that makes your customers think you have it all together, even if you don’t.

Connect the Cycle

Recognizing the interconnectedness of organizational culture to all other areas in your business is key. Staffing structure and policy enforcement helps create culture. By that same token, culture-driven initiatives inspire structure adjustments and policy development.

This cyclic relationship is an important readiness tool that almost forces moments of organizational reflection. Staying current is a powerful tool, especially as consumer demands continue to change on a daily, if not hourly basis. Revisiting policies, structure, and culture frequently ensures your business is ready to handle whatever changes come your way. Flexibility is a small business cultural strength most large businesses don’t have.

Creating an ideal organizational culture requires clear goals, execution, and flexibility. The all-encompassing power of workplace value systems is an untapped resource all business owners can benefit from. Carve out your business’ identity by developing a culture, and subsequent profit, to be proud of.

Image: iStockphoto

About The Author

Jennifer Ludwigsen is a freelance writer with a colorful variety of skills gained from her time as a U.S. Army medic, mother of two, and ingenious life-lesson learner. She currently works for the largest medical group in Illinois in multiple administrative capacities, serving both the executive team and the vast practitioner and patient population. Jennifer has leveraged technology in multiple facets of her life to enhance her corporate day job, evening parenting job, and late-evening freelancing job. Connect with Jennifer on TwitterLinkedIn, and her website, Concentrated Creativity.