How would you define company culture?I see culture as the living expression of shared convictions. It manifests the company’s stated values, mission, and vision through choices in language, decision-making, and operational procedures. Culture is a reciprocal system that both drives behaviour and is shaped by behaviour.
Why is getting culture right important for businesses, particularly SMEs?Great culture attracts great people. By “great,” I mean that, yes, they are outstanding at performing their jobs, but beyond that, they should also serve the culture. The reciprocal nature of culture, while complex, is actually a bonus that helps companies perpetuate a positive workplace atmosphere. People who believe in the organisation’s mission, vision, and values work in concert with them. This is the essence of dynamic culture, which is of special interest to SMEs. Recruiting and onboarding new staff is one of the largest operational expenditures. If smaller companies can leverage this investment, they both save capital and boost performance. Teams that pull together simply do better work.
How can SMEs avoid box-ticking?Let your values do the culture-building work for you. Keep tabs on your value statement, and update it, if necessary. Make sure you articulate those values in a way that people can understand and keep them front and centre. Mention them at every meeting. Include them in every written exchange. Let your staff know that you expect them to be able to repeat those values and use them to guide their choices at work. This keeps culture alive—not just a series of boxes to ticked.
What is your experience around culture? What makes you a voice of authority in this space?I came to the culture solution when my own company, PeopleG2, needed a course correction. I founded PeopleG2, a background check company, in 2001. When a U.S. economic downturn forced me to make changes in 2009, I researched how top businesses weathered the good and bad times and found that strong culture was a key factor that propelled them to market dominance. I recount the seven commonalities that the best companies share in my 2017 book, The Power of Company Culture, along with my company’s experience in strengthening our own culture. Having a practical operating system in place helps, so I trained and became a certified SCRUM Master. Today, PeopleG2 is recognised as one of Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Companies. I continue to consult with leading executives on my radio podcast, “TalentTalk,” and I help other companies implement what I’ve learned in my role as consultant and speaker.
How can micro businesses (employing less than 10 people) set the right tone for company culture from the start?The good news is, the smallest companies have the shortest line between two points: the owner/CEO, and the rest of the staff. Culture flows from the values demonstrated by the business leader. Once these are spelled out, the person at the top should request and receive buy-in from all employees, so that everyone is on board and moving in the same direction.
What would make a strong entry for next year’s entrants? What would impress you?Indicating how culture ties in with achievement is crucial. I’d like to see a clear expression of company values and real examples of viable outcomes they hope to achieve through that framework. Above and beyond that, those who make this effort a vehicle to try new initiatives and work toward innovation would display a solid grasp of cultural power. 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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