Telling the truth about SME life today

The DIY manual to nailing company culture

A guide to creating a positive workplace culture

This demands due thought and alignment with the company’s vision. It demands knowledge of the people, what makes them tick, and what inspires them. And no one knows a business, its people, and where it’s heading better than the person or people who started it.

Company culture is the invisible maker or breaker for businesses. If done right, it can hugely impact a business’s success. But it can seem to some as intangible, fluffy and potentially daunting. This isn’t the case. From our in-depth Culture Economy report where we surveyed SME leaders and employees, and spoke to successful businesses we ve created the below manual that entrepreneurs can follow to help create a positive company culture.

Step 1: Get out the tape measure

Firstly, you need to collate all the data you have to measure the ?pulse of your workforce. This will include basic metrics such as employee absences, retention, and turnover. If you have this data, it will be valuable for spotting patterns that you can analyse later.

Another good way of collecting data is through exit interviews, as employees tend to be honest about why they are leaving and what the company could do to improve at this point. If this information isn’t something you have been collating so far, there’s no time like the present.

Step 2: Identify the gaps

You may have run employee surveys, but how satisfied are you with them and what have you learnt from the outputs” Have you got an engagement metric What sort of response rate, or quality of response have you seen” What gaps can you see in your understanding of your business culture You should plan how you will fill these gaps.

Also think about diversity are you capturing the experience of different employee segments such as age, disability, ethnicity and gender?

Step 3: Define your role

Now take a step back and consider your role as a business leader. Map out the time you spend on certain activities such as HR admin or face-to-face meetings with employees, as our recent research revealed that CEOs of SMEs are losing a fifth of their working week to HR admin tasks.

Also consider the time spent talking to the business as a whole and your day-to-day visibility. Can you see patterns in who you speak to and spend time with and who you don’t” And how often do you talk about behaviour, standards and values (and to who)?

Step 4: Drill down on your culture

Using the tools provided in the previous steps, try to define your company culture and what you want it to be. Does this fit in with the wider vision for the business” And can you identify a purpose, beyond profit, for your business” Think about what different internal groups would say about the company culture and what emotional hooks can you identify that differentiate your business.

Step 5: Understand your market

Are there any relationships between culture and business performance This information can be gathered from employee engagement surveys or satisfaction scores, along with customer loyalty or retention data. In essence, this is where you spot any potential patterns between employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

Step 6: Take a plier to your productivity

At this stage, it will be important to drill into productivity. There are many different ways this can be done, for example, measuring money in versus money out, via headcount and revenue or even through an app or technology tool. Understand which process works best for your business and understand if certain areas of the business are being more productive than others.

Interestingly, in our Culture Economy report we found 22% of SME leaders admitted to not measuring productivity at all.

Step 7: Move onto some technical tools

You now know what sort of culture you want to instil, you’ve analysed the employee data and considered how it compares with others in the market. Now it’s time to calculate where and how you could save time by automating administrative processes.

There is a huge choice of tools on the market that can capture employee or market feedback and analyse it, to help you understand these gaps and which parts of your culture may need addressing. By letting technology do the heavy lifting, you can free time for strategic thinking and more one-to-ones with your people.

Also, think about whether there are any gaps in employee’s use of digital channels” Are there skills or confidence gaps to be addressed Are you engaging effectively with your customers and prospects through digital channels?

Step 8: Polish up the learning culture

Next step is picking apart your personal development process and if your learning culture needs a polish. Ultimately, this is one of the key motivators for people staying at a company and whether or not they are engaged. Your people are the glue keeping your business thriving. It’s not pointless perks like beanbags and ping-pong tables that make people stick around, it’s if they feel they are valued, being invested in, have responsibility and have a clear career path ahead.

Do you set aside budget for training and education and how effective are the outcomes” Do you operate a mentor system within the organisation” Do you bring in external speakers to educate and inspire And how is learning positioned in the organisation” These are all important questions to consider.

Step 9: Are you providing the full toolkit?

Once you have finished with the WD-40, you will need to map out all aspects of your employee’s package. This is to pre-empt any negatives around the business and lead to a bad company culture. Make sure you’re constantly benchmarking pay to ensure you’re staying competitive and fair.

Next, consider benefit packages including health and wellbeing components, annual leave, discretionary bonuses and rewards, flexible and home working opportunities, onsite facilities including food, drink, communal dining and flexible working spaces.

Working in a smaller business, you might not be able to offer the biggest pay cheques that bigger businesses can, but other incentives like a working from home policy can go a long way in keeping your people happy.

Step 10: Put it into practice

So, you have prepared the evidence, identified gaps, have a clear idea of objectives and have developed your awareness of the company culture. You?re now ready to move things forward. To do so, you?ll need to build a cross-functional team to drive it forward.

Following this DIY culture toolkit will enable you to create a roadmap with clear landmarks and timelines to share with your people. After all, your people are your driving force to success, so treat them well.

Jonathan Richards is CEO of specialist HR software company Breathe.


In association with Breathe, Real Business is running the SME Culture Leaders List 2019, the only league table of its kind catering to the UK’s thriving small and medium businesses that put company culture first.


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