Corporate culture: 7 steps for every small business

At present, candidates have more job opportunities than ever before. In other words, it is the world of a candidate and we live there. And for small businesses, this means that you have to excel at fulfilling your open roles and that you need a remarkable corporate culture.

Now, we’ve heard a lot of praise for corporate tech giants cultures like Google and Netflix or for retail monoliths like Zappos (to name a few). But let’s be real: small businesses can not do anything with these examples. They do not have large HR teams with extended budgets, integrated (and beloved) brand recognition or any benefits such as dog sitting, on-site hair salons or other benefits recently offered by businesses.

Without these bells and whistles, most small businesses, for lack of a better term, need to be more “scrappy” in how to create successful business cultures. In my opinion, these are the real examples that most companies can learn. Not to say that big companies do not do amazing things, but in the name of “things my business can really do” vs .. “What I would like to do if my budget was huge”, it’s time to come up with some examples of small businesses that do things right – and that are relevant to the majority of people who read these articles.

So I recently spoke with two small businesses in two very different areas of how to create, define and measure a successful corporate culture. Based on our conversation, here are some steps that every small business can take to create an exceptional corporate culture:

Step 1: Define what your culture and corporate values ​​should look like

Michael Monteiro, CEO of Buildium (a Boston-based growth management software company), believes there are three key questions to solve to build a successful corporate culture:

Why does our company do what it does (ie, why do we exist)?
What do we believe (ie, what are our values)?
Where do we want to go with the company (ie What is our vision for the company)?
Michael admits that in the early years of Buildium, it was much harder to build a clear corporate culture without answering those questions. “In the absence of answers to these basic questions, we did not know if we were really aligned, which was good in the early years when we were in survival mode, but over time our staff wanted more More companies are going. ”

Michael offers this advice to other small businesses: do not slow down, which is important.

“Concentrate as early as possible on your culture – the benefits – free beer, free snacks, ping-pong – will accompany you for a while, but in the end, people want to know where you are going and why they do the work What they do: Without a defined culture, employees become disillusioned, they move forward and, without these obstacles, it is difficult to make decisions as owners. ”

The fundamental values ​​of Buildium.


It is also very important to ensure that these values ​​are part of your employees’ daily lives. “Make sure you do not just hang values ​​on a wall, imagine something real for you and your business, then think about what it’s like to live what you’ve described, what you need, to stay true to this vision and these corporate values, “adds Michael.

Step 2: Look at what your culture looks like now – and if you need to make changes
Sarah Larson, partner and CHRO at Third Rock Ventures, has extensive experience in building corporate culture throughout her career. Third Rock Ventures is a venture capital firm that brings life science and biotechnology companies to the marketplace. To make a short story, Sarah has been developing construction cultures in startups countless times.

When asked how she literally created a corporate culture from scratch, Sarah said, “Culture starts with the very first person. Whatever the circumstances in which they were in the company, it is their beliefs and values ​​that are the first. It’s not too long (maybe 5 to 10 employees) to see what kind of culture exists, she says. “That’s when you can make changes proactively if you wish.”

For example, Sarah says that if you’re worried about the energy level in a team (maybe they’re too loose), make the conscious decision to hire more energetic people. Or if you feel there are too many “spirit groups” – maybe the employees come from start-ups or from all the big pharmaceutical companies – change them. “Rebuilding a business from scratch is in fact the simplest cultural setup, it changes the culture once it is deeply rooted,” she says.

The core values ​​of Third Rock Ventures.

After all, in these early corporate cultures, you do not underestimate the importance of consulting and its impact on culture. “Investing in the culture of the board as much as in the corporate culture: in small businesses, the role of the board of directors is often more intimate and connected to the organization and can greatly influence the culture.”

Step 3: Identify someone who will be your person
It’s clear that hiring the right people and having a good track record has a big impact on how a company works culturally. Sarah said there is a key rent that can really help achieve something in the early stages of building culture – your staff.

“I think one of the most critical attitudes as soon as possible in a business is your staff, you need the culturally trained expert to help you achieve what you’re creating and see if it’s working well or not, “she says.

And that does not mean hiring a human resource person. “Many people make the mistake of thinking that just because someone is a human resource professional, they” acquire a culture. “That could not be further from the truth – ask yourself if no, why do you do you expect them to create it for you? ”

Although your company members contribute greatly to your cultural efforts, do not make the mistake of transferring the role of culture to a person. “Culture is not an HR job.” It’s everyone’s priority, and it should be a top-notch strategic requirement, “says Sarah.

While we are constantly listening to all the fun events and activities that some of the world’s most admired corporate cultures do, we need to remember that these activities and events in small businesses are a double-sided piece. “Culture is not just about social events: do not create a bunch of” funny bullshit “just because you think it means having a fun and socially engaged culture, small businesses are busy, social events bring people time to do their job, so make sense, said Sarah.

Step 4: Invest Time in Creating Your Talent Brand
Your talent brand is what your employees think, feel and share about your business as a workplace.

“I strongly believe in the power of a talent brand and the ability to articulate your culture across different channels,” says Michael. “In the struggle for today’s talent, candidates are almost always passive, giving you the opportunity to meet you before they can meet you, make an opinion, and then evaluate their expectations as soon as they are ready. arrival. another level of commitment, “he adds.

Sarah is fascinated by the few (biotech) companies that create their talent brands. “When we first came to Foundation Medicine, we were one of the pioneers of the biotech industry and Biotech is known to be a Play It Safe industry with its brand, and we have seen immediate and exponential results.”

An example of Foundation Medicine’s talent brand was this very successful video that featured individual employee stories as part of the broader vision of Transforming Cancer Care.

Michael added that Buildium also understands the real importance of an effective branding. “Adjust your culture and your values,” he says. “They want your employees to know what they’re signing up for, and you want them to be part of it, and when they see the vision and understand what’s important to you, it’s easier for everyone to follow the same direction. ”

Step 5: Optimize your recruitment process to ensure you recruit the right people
When recruiting and hiring, “time is profitable, because in a small business, it’s wrong to make mistakes,” says Sarah. I agree with this statement with the power of 10,000 suns. The first adjustments you make can not only affect your business, but also have a direct impact on your culture. I often see many small businesses get hired early (out of necessity) to acquire skills, but they do not attach enough importance to the cultural aspect when assessing new employees.

Here are some ways to make sure your hiring process is about attracting the right talent:

Make sure candidates value your culture and values ​​- identifying new employees with your culture and values ​​allows anyone to move in the same direction, says Michael. Here are some interview questions that can help you determine if a candidate shares the values ​​of your company.
Share and conquer the interview process: Optimize your interviews and use your interview team to work as much as possible. Nobody, no matter how good, can not have a complete picture in 45 minutes. Assign your team different areas covered by the interviews (skills, cultural abilities, experience, etc.). Assigning different topics to different areas of the interview (and interviewers) will result in deeper conversations, different conversations, and a broader understanding of each candidate.
Prioritize attitudes towards skills and experience: As a growing small business, it is easy to hire someone who can do the job “immediately” with the least amount of training. Shit – most small businesses employ people who do the exact job they need – just in another company. Although these settings have an immediate effect (usually), you should consider whether they will grow with you for years after the end of the task / immediate need for which you defined them. I have seen many clients succeed over the long term in hiring people who may not have the 10 skills or experiences they need, but maybe 6 to 7, and are very enthusiastic and culturally enthusiastic. These types of attitudes tend to stay longer and evolve into different roles as the business grows.
Do not define “Mini-me”: “Adapted Culture” does not mean that a new employee like you and his team is watching, thinking or acting. Do you consider it an “extra culture” – is the person someone who brings a diversity of opinions, thoughts, experiences and knowledge? Understanding this in your attitude can give your organization a balanced and truly diverse culture.
Step 6: Find ways to constantly strengthen your core values
Programs and initiatives that regularly reinforce the core values ​​that are the main tenants of your culture are the key to your culture. That’s what Buildium does, starting with cultural awards.

“All of our awards are nominated by peers and we think it’s a great way to celebrate those who live and go beyond our values,” said Michael.

Some of these prices include:

The Founders Award – an annual award given to an employee who best embodies the core values ​​and represents the best of what it means to be a “farmer”.
“Animal” price of the fundamental value – a monthly price for an employee who shows the best values. It’s actually “Animal” by the Muppets (!).

Other core Buildium programs include “volunteer weeks” four times a year and monthly company-wide meetings with a lot of open communication. Michael says that the “life” of these values ​​also leads to a culture that can also have a tangible impact on your customers.

“Some of my favorites are not programs, but small examples that go beyond: sending flowers to a customer when we’ve learned about his 30th wedding anniversary, ordering one of our troubled tenants; meal when they and their families are going through a difficult time, and you will not find any of these things in a manual or a manual, just a few examples of our employees who illustrate what it means to be a construction worker The culture we are proud of ” says Michael.

Step 7: Measure if your culture attracts and links talent effectively
In the absence of countless tools and the resources to manage them, how do you actually measure if you are a culture in which people make their purchases?

To achieve this, Michael likes to measure something he calls “Employee Pride”.

“We measure effectiveness in a number of ways, including employee surveys, employee reference rates, voluntary turnover rates, and employee reviews and reviews, which help us understand if we want to create the experience. of our employees. ”

However, Michael warns that there are only a few things that can be measured by measurements. “We find things that can not be measured are just as important, that’s what you see and feel around you, we always wonder,” this will help the employee to see this as the best place and “Do we set the highest standards in business management?” It creates an environment where people stand together, and we find that they are doing everything for it. do more for our customers. ”

Sarah believes that recruitment can also be an indicator of cultural effectiveness. “Win the battle for talent without bringing compensation to ridiculous heights?”, She asks. Sarah also says that one of the measures is simply to look at the bottom line. “Most people do not think about productivity and sometimes about income [to measure engagement].” Happy people produce more, it’s a fact. ”

Final thoughts

There is one thing that Sarah said I think it really nails:

“Work-life balance is not an affair in a small business – hold it and adopt it, be honest about it, then create an environment in which you can rely on the robustness of your hiring process what they do, what makes them successful, what their expectations are and what they can expect from you. ”

Culture is a big difference when it comes to winning and retaining competent people – and also being a very successful company. Registering for a startup or corporate culture for 1,000 people can be very different from joining a group of 100,000 employees. Yes, the big “sexy” multinationals do incredible things, but what they do can be incredibly difficult if your entire company has 5 to 200 people.

Creating an effective culture is ultimately unique to any organization, but the “nuts and bolts” of an effective small business culture have made these conversations with Saran and Michael so interesting (and important) for me. Any business, regardless of sector or size, can benefit from its advice.

As promised, not a yoga room or an office sommelier – just a few practical examples and tips that do not require a budget and significant resources. Building your culture is one of the most important goals for small businesses – and efficiency can be the key to recruiting and maintaining a highly engaged and productive team.

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