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6 Ways to Improve Company Culture as a Small Business

6 Ways to Improve Company Culture as a Small Business

When you think about what makes a business successful, you probably think about increasing profits and decreasing costs. While there’s no question that a business’s future is largely determined by its ability to generate revenue, there is another, often neglected element that can make or break a business of any size: company culture.

Company culture is the living, breathing example of a business’s core values and beliefs. Creating a strong, well-defined, company culture is important because it sets the tone for how employees are expected to interact with one another and with clients. It also helps attract the right job candidates when hiring, as well as the right clients or customers. Lastly, a strong company culture contributes to a business’s overall reputation, which helps keep an organization growing.

So, how do you create a solid company culture when you’re a smaller business without the resources to dedicate an entire team to the task? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but I’d like to share some ways that we’ve been able to create a company culture as a small team. Here are six ways that Hudson has been able to reinforce our own positive culture within our agency over the years:

1. Prioritize Communication

illustration of team communication

We’ve made it a priority to remain in communication with all employees throughout the course of the year. Employee health and well-being are core parts of our culture, since healthy and happy employees are more productive and less likely to turnover. One of the best ways to make sure employees feel cared for is to give them a real voice in the company.

Regular check-ins with each team member, and mid-year and annual performance reviews have been paramount in gathering employee thoughts and feedback. Similarly, we often send out employee surveys to gather anonymous feedback on our policies and practices, which we then discuss as a team. Lastly, we hold weekly “Friday Fireside Chats,” where employees are encouraged to speak openly and honestly about any potential problems, successes, or questions they have. 

By putting practices in place that consistently give our employees a voice, we’ve cultivated an atmosphere of openness between all team members, which contributes to our company culture.

2. Be Consistent

illustration of team members

Company culture starts with the founders of the company. It’s important to make sure there are no inconsistencies between what leadership says and what actually happens; all the positive communication in the world won’t matter if a company’s leaders disagree on the organization’s core values. 

Hudson’s culture is rooted in transparency and openness regardless of one’s position within the company — meaning that everyone from interns to directors has a voice. If leadership did not agree on this, employees would get mixed messages and be less likely to share their thoughts.

It’s important to note that defining your company’s core values is only half the battle. Values only become part of a company's culture if they are put into practice on a day-to-day basis. If your words and actions do not align, then you run the risk of building mistrust between employees and management. You may leave employees feeling discouraged and unmotivated, leading to poor performance on their part.

The key to consistency is making sure all company leaders are truly on the same page about what matters most. Employees can always tell.

3. Hire Wisely

illustration of person choosing from job candidates

When hiring a new employee, regardless of whether it’s a full-time or part-time position, it’s crucial that you hire people who fit into your company culture. For example, Hudson has a team-oriented, and customer-service driven culture. Finding a “people-person” is critical for us because working with people is at the heart of what we do. 

We’ve found that asking the right types of questions upfront can really help to determine if the candidate shares the same values as our own organization. For example, we always ask how the candidate would handle an unhappy client. The response to this question is extremely telling, and largely determines whether or not someone is a good fit.

We also make sure the candidate is in contact with at least three different individuals throughout the interview process (typically HR, Manager, and CEO or owner). This allows us to collectively decide whether or not someone is a good fit from multiple perspectives. For small businesses, hiring wisely is even more important because every single team member impacts the company.

4. Create an Onboarding Process

illustration of new employee completing onboarding tasks

Once we have hired the right candidate, it’s our responsibility to train the new hire for success. One of the ways we do this is through our onboarding process. The goal of this process is not only to make the new hire feel more comfortable, but also to really drive home what the company believes in, why we do what we do, who we are, and what is expected of the new employee. 

During a new hire’s first two weeks, we have each team member sit down with him or her for a one-on-one conversation about who they are and what they do, as well as to learn more about the new hire. This would not be possible if we were a larger company, and it’s definitely a huge advantage for small businesses. New hires have consistently told us how helpful they found this process.

We also have the new hire sit down with his or her manager to review general expectations. If expectations are not set upfront, new employees will likely feel confused, overwhelmed, and anxious, which is the exact opposite of what we want. By explaining what’s expected of them from day one, we create a clear roadmap to success for the new hire.

Onboarding should be a team effort. Hudson is a tight-knit family of individuals who all respect one another, which means that we all must do our part to make new hires feel welcome and included as a key component of our organization.

5. Show Employee Appreciation

illustration of team members receiving accolades

Never underestimate the power of positive feedback. If you’re looking to motivate your employees to work hard and contribute to a positive company culture, there’s no better way to do so than to express your genuine appreciation for their efforts. 

At Hudson, we make it a point to celebrate all of our team members’ successes, no matter how big or small. Whether that’s giving a team member a public shout-out for a job well done in one of our team meetings, giving a small gift in honor of an employee anniversary, or providing an end of year bonus, employee appreciation goes a long way in building a culture of hard work and a sense of company gratitude.

When team members are recognized for their efforts and loyalty, they are much more likely to continue working at peak performance. On the other hand, when employees feel unappreciated or unnoticed, they’re more likely to seek other employment opportunities. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture either — saying something as simple as “thanks for doing great work” can make a world of difference to an employee.

6. Make Time for Team Bonding

illustration of team members bonding

Working in a small business certainly has a family feel to it, but it’s still important to set aside time for non-work-related team bonding. When people like and respect one another, they’re much more likely to work better together. Getting together outside of the workplace allows employees to get to know one another as people — not just coworkers.

Here are some team bonding exercises and activities that have worked great for our team in the past: 

  • Show & Tell: On Show & Tell days, each team member shares something important to him and her for about 10-15 minutes. These activities have been hugely successful for our team, as we get to learn more about one another while doing something unrelated to work. People have shared about hobbies, personal experiences, vacations, and other passions.
  • Team Gatherings: We always make time for casual team get-togethers, no matter how big or small. Some Hudson team favorites have been summertime BBQs, after work happy hours, early morning breakfasts, Escape Room adventures, Friday lunch outings, and even a simple, midday walk to Starbucks to break up the work day. This is when we’re truly able to kick-back and just enjoy one another’s company on a personal level.
  • Volunteering: Some of Hudson’s most memorable experiences have come from volunteering with Morris Habitat for Humanity, at Market Street Mission’s thrift store and soup kitchen, and participating in the National MS Muckfest, in which we helped to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. We’re not only able to spend time together as a team, but more importantly, we’re able to give back to our local communities and those causes most important to our employees. This is something that we love to do, and strive to do on an annual basis.


Final Thoughts

While you must be able to generate revenue and profit to keep your business thriving, company culture is the backbone to any organization’s staying power, especially when navigating challenging times. 

The recent COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of a challenging time. No question — all businesses have been affected, but it’s small businesses that have been most impacted by the sudden industry and economic disruptions. Without a strong, positive company culture, difficult times can create an environment of confusion, disorder, and toxicity, and ultimately devastation. Without a properly defined company culture, the ability to make clear, large-scale decisions is diminished, making it much harder to come out as a unified team on the other side. 

The 6 practices outlined in this article have helped our company tremendously — especially during the precarious moments of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, adopting these practices can help your organization head toward employee happiness and company longevity.