10 tips for maintaining your company culture

Your business’ purpose and values ultimately determine how work gets done, affects your ability to retain and motivate staff and, most importantly, helps your business achieve its growth plans. 

If your values are not an integral part of what you are about they can disappear over time, putting the long-term success of your business at risk.

The following top tips are designed to help you retain your culture, values and purpose over time, and are drawn from the experiences of the small businesses I spoke to as part of my latest research, keeping culture, purpose and values at the heart of your SME.

1. Look out for subtle signs that your employees are losing touch with your business as you grow. Employees might be less willing to go the extra mile – or you might simply sense that people “just aren’t getting it” the way they used to. This is your cue to reinforce and communicate your purpose and values.

2. Make sure your employees understand what your values mean in practice. Use focus groups to agree on the words that reflect the attitudes and behaviours you want to see so that people clearly understand how things are done ‘around here’.

3. Keep your story alive. Tell your employees how you got your business to where it is today and ensure they understand their role in building its future. This will help increase their engagement and make them feel part of the journey ahead. You may want to think about an induction for new staff so that they understand your story from day one – or devise a special training module for existing staff.

4. Find ways to keep reinforcing your organisation’s values and purpose. For example, newsletters and off-site meetings provide great opportunities to remind employees what you’re about as a business.

5. Identify managers and employees who are genuinely living and breathing your values and can become ambassadors for your business. Ambassadors act as positive role models for staff, setting the tone and demonstrating the attitudes and behaviours that are expected.

6. Make your values part of your appraisal system. Clearly one of the main aims of an appraisal is to assess work done and tasks completed, but also think about measuring people’s performance based on how they work and their general behaviour in the workplace; to what extent are they living your company values?

7. Reward employee performance in a way that reinforces the culture of your organisation. For example, if teamwork is important to your business, consider awarding a team bonus for achievement of team goals, that can be used to fund a night out or a group activity.

8. Ensure that any new processes are aligned with your business’ values. For instance, if your focus is on delivering great, responsive customer service, introducing cumbersome forms or lengthy sign-off processes will undermine this.

9. Look beyond a candidate’s technical abilities and actively recruit people whose attitudes, behaviours and ways of working match the values of your organisation. After all, it is much easier to train people in new technical skills than to change attitudes and behaviours.

10. Make your values part of your succession planning approach. It is important to consider the personalities and values of potential successors as well as their technical skills. You might have a selection of brilliant candidates but if they do not reflect your company’s culture they won’t shine in your business.

Dr Jill Miller is a research adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

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