How to Create a Strong Company Culture for Your Small Business

By Jackie Kohlhepp, BECO Ambassador + Founder of JTK Consulting & RezRev

Published May 12, 2023

Does building a strong company culture at your small business feel as difficult as sitting through a vacation timeshare pitch? Building a great culture can feel like an impossible task, but there’s good news. It involves less flash and less cash than you might realize. It’s about creating an experience that keeps employees engaged and excited to come to work each day.
What is company culture and why does it matter?

It’s the experience that your employees have when working for you. It’s leadership-driven yet responsive to your employees, shaped by your company’s core values, mission, and management style.

A healthy company culture leads to a more positive work environment, increased employee engagement, and attracts prospective employees to come work for you. On top of that, it’s good for your bottom line.

How can you build a strong company culture?

When you don’t have the resources, or let’s face it, the time to invest in many of the same employee incentives that larger corporations can, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

To develop a strong company culture, focus on strengthening these CORE practices. These key factors are all within a small business owner's control, giving you the advantage without breaking the bank.

    1. Conduct conversations that count
    2. Offer employee choice
    3. Recognize work well done
    4. Establish trust


Let’s dive into how to incorporate the CORE framework into your culture building process.

C- Conduct Conversations that Count

Begin conducting conversations to learn why employees stay and what will keep them there. Successful businesses of all sizes make this a regular practice, and it’s one of the first steps to cultivating a company culture that keeps employees engaged. Here’s how to get started:

        1. Avoid assumptions. A mistake that many employers make when it comes to building a strong culture is assuming they know what’s important to each employee. The truth is that you don’t know what matters to employees until you ask. Organizations of all sizes have spent tons of money on initiatives designed to foster a more positive and productive company culture only to miss the mark, because they didn’t get feedback from their team members first. To build a great organizational culture, start by simply talking to your people.
        2. Schedule conversations. Start adding conversations with employees to your calendars today. Come up with four to five open-ended questions to discover what will keep your employees engaged. These intentional conversations help mitigate preventable turnover and give you the intel you need to create a better experience for your employees. A good question to begin with is “What keeps you working here?
        3. Make the time. These conversations are not one-and-done. Follow up on the feedback your employees share in a timely manner. Do your best to honor the requests that you can. For the requests that you cannot fulfill, be transparent, letting them know why it might not be possible. Most employees will appreciate the honesty. They will also appreciate your efforts to advocate on their behalf in any way you can. Whether you can honor their request or not, always end the conversation with, “What else can I do for you?”.
O- Offer Employee Choice

Flexible work continues to encourage loyalty and make a significant contribution to workplace performance. More and more, workers want the flexibility to choose when and how they work. It’s not just about how much you make, it’s the ownership you have over your own time. A strong company culture provides employees with more choice. What does this look like?

      1. Find more ways to say “yes”. Employees have different ideas about what “choice” means to them. Think beyond schedules. What opportunities are available for you to say “yes” to employee requests? For example, you might have an employee who wishes to attend a weekly networking meeting, relevant to their industry and career growth. Could you sponsor that employee’s attendance?
      2. Consider well-being. Are your employees feeling the burn–the burnout that is? In the aftermath of the Pandemic, placing a focus on employee wellness has become increasingly important. Well-being is a new requirement of the modern workforce. It’s about work-life integration with a distinct focus on mental health. For example, encourage employees to take more breaks during the work day. Or evaluate employee performance based on project progress rather than on hours spent in the office.
      3. Promote autonomy. Create a culture where employees feel empowered to make decisions that contribute to the company’s success. This leads to renewed commitment and increased meaning in their work.

R- Recognize Work Well-Done

Your employees want you to acknowledge their work, especially when they put in sincere time and effort. The manner in which they wish to be recognized might not match your preference. Consider the following:

      1. Recognition and reward are different. Recognition is acknowledging great work and showing appreciation to boost employee morale. When it comes to recognition, remember the intangibles–Do you highlight the amazing work that your individual employees do, reminding them about the impact that they make? When thinking about reward, consider the tangibles–What are the benefits that you offer? Is your health insurance plan one of the best in your area? What about work-from-home Fridays or flexible work schedules? Offering a balance of both recognition and reward contributes to a positive corporate culture.
      2. Champion champions. Encourage your team members to champion their colleagues’ success. Creating a strong culture means creating a space where team members can celebrate the accomplishments of their peers without introducing unhealthy competition. Lead by example, inspiring your employees to support each other’s efforts in the workplace.
      3. Personalize recognition. Explore what recognition means to each employee. Some employees want a parade when they accomplish something great. That said, an actual applause at a team meeting might go a long way. Another employee might prefer a hand-written note, acknowledging their contribution and thanking them for their effort. Make the time to ask each employee how they like to be recognized and follow through with demonstrating your appreciation.
E- Establish Trust

An employee’s decision to stay with your company often depends on their trust in leadership. In fact, research shows that compared with people at companies where trust is low, people at companies where trust is high report 106% more energy at work, 40% less burnout, and experience 50% higher productivity. How can you establish trust?

      1. Think safety first. Want your people to trust you? They need to feel psychological safety. Studies show that establishing psychological safety in the workplace is critical to cultivating trust and a healthy workplace culture. Do your employees believe they can propose new ideas, ask questions, make mistakes, or even respectfully disagree with you and their teammates without retaliation?
      2. Listen and ask thoughtful questions. If an employee voices a concern, choose humility, hear them out, and be quick to admit when you made an error. If an employee comes to you with an issue about another employee, avoid “taking sides”. Validate each employee’s concerns, asking questions to get to the root of the problem so that both employees feel seen, heard, and supported.
      3. Remain consistent. If you say you’re going to do something, do your employees believe you? This applies to your workplace practices and policies from the way you implement them to the way you enforce them. Be clear on what you expect from employees regarding communication norms and desired work outcomes. Employees respond to fairness and predictability.

A strong company culture is within reach! Just like sticking with a workout routine, it takes consistency, commitment, and care to see the long-term results of your efforts. Set your company up for greater success and continued growth by strengthening your CORE, cultivating a positive and powerful company culture.

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