Great Company Culture Essential to Small Business Success

This post brought to you by MetLife Small Business. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Susan Solovic.

company culture harmonyThe Internet has had two very interesting, and important, impacts on small businesses. First, it has lowered the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs and second it has raised the bar for customer service.

If you aren’t among the businesses offering the top customer experience today, your bottom line suffers and your long-term viability is doubtful. And while this may seem counterintuitive at first, the single greatest strategy for creating happy customers is to create happy employees – and that starts with the culture you create in your small business.

In a moment, I’m going to pull a snippet from a white paper MetLife has written on this topic and when I originally read through the white paper, one example they use jumped out at me, and I think it illustrates this point very well. The MetLife folks “name names” and one of the companies they mention is Southwest Airlines; it’s well known as one of the top places to work.

southwest-730505_640But this great work environment didn’t happen by accident at Southwest. Its employee-centered culture stretches back to company founder Herb Kelleher. Here’s how Kelleher explained it in an article he wrote back in 1998 for the Journal of Leadership Studies:

“Years ago, business gurus used to apply the business school conundrum to me: ‘Who comes first? Your shareholders, your employees, or your customers?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s easy,’ but my response was heresy at that time. I said employees come first and if employees are treated right, they treat the outside world right, the outside world uses the company’s product again, and that makes the shareholders happy. That really is the way that it works, and it’s not a conundrum at all.”

So then the question becomes, how do you “treat employees right”? There are a number of dimensions to be considered when answering this question, all of which deserve a lot of space. However, for now let’s touch on some general principles.

Hire right. Honestly, not every individual is suited to work in every position in every business. Recruiting the right people for your team is the critical first step. If they don’t align to your mission and management style, making them happy will be a supremely difficult hurdle to overcome.

You need to look beyond the resume and discover the environments in which prospective employees are happiest and most productive. If your style is to give employees a lot of freedom, don’t bring someone on board who needs more structure to flourish.

Take responsibility. Your small business culture starts at the top. For better or worse, your organization will reflect your approach to business and your personality. The only way to avoid this is to be a “hands-off” absentee owner and if you do that, you’re gambling with your company culture and its future.

This means you have to be conscious of how you treat people and the approach you take to projects and problem solving. They say that “more is caught than taught.” You can’t tell people to be kind and courteous and expect them to fall in line if you aren’t modeling those qualities yourself.

Communication. The need to be heard and understood is in our DNA. It’s a need your employees have and it’s a need your customers have. Further, when people are listening to each other, fewer problems occur and the problems that do pop up get resolved more quickly.

Value your team. If you’re truly listening to your employees, it will be easier to understand their needs and meet those needs. This proves that you value them. The degree to which they feel valued by you, their employer, is the degree to which they will value your company. Simply put, we care about those who care about us.

As I said above, this is a big topic and I’ve only touched the basics. Let me end this by sharing this snippet from the MetLife white paper on the importance of your small business culture:

Culture Happens: How to Ensure It’s What You Want

Create a culture that benefits your employees, customers and small business

When you think about great company culture, you may think of giants such as Google, Starbucks or Southwest Airlines. These industry heavyweights are regularly included on lists of best places to work, lauded for their happy workers and healthy work environments. But many small business owners are also succeeding at making the workplace enjoyable, building cultures that will help them grow well into the future.

In fact, culture and employee engagement have become increasingly relevant to businesses of all sizes as their leaders recognize the direct impact on company performance. Companies with highly engaged employees have an easier time finding new hires, better customer service, less turnover and are more profitable in the long run, according to a recent study published by Deloitte University Press. The same study revealed that 87 percent of organizations cited culture as one of their main challenges, and 50 percent called the topic “very important.”

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