It's easy to read about a large company like Google and think, "Wow, look at all those cool benefits they offer! What a great place to work. Too bad my small shop can't offer any of those things." But don't get discouraged—you can provide an equally fantastic workplace for your employees. As a small business owner, you have a surprising advantage over large organizations when it comes to creating a positive organizational culture. It's possible to compete with the big players for top talent. It just takes a slight shift in mindset.
The key to success, says Jessica Rohman, is to not confuse "great culture" with "perks." Rohman works for the Great Place to Work Institute, an organization that studies what companies of all sizes do to create positive corporate culture. While perks are nice, she says, they're not at the heart of what constitutes a positive company culture. Rather, a "great" place to work is one where "employees trust their leaders, have pride in the work they do and enjoy the people they work with," Rohman says.
In fact, according to the Institute's research, small companies outshine their larger counterparts in these areas. "It makes sense that small businesses are better suited to create camaraderie and build trust because the size of the organization allows for more immediate communication and connection between top management and employees," she explains.
Does your shop have a great company culture? Here are 10 ways to tell:
1. Lots of well-qualified job applicants
Good news travels fast when you run a great company. If you always have a list of top-notch applicants from which to choose, it's a sign you're doing something right.
2. An atmosphere of excellence
Great company cultures inspire workers to achieve their best. Whether it's dishing up delectable food or satisfying a highly demanding customer, workplace atmospheres that motivate people to improve themselves and the lives of others infuse a sense of "greatness," which makes just working there a perk.
3. Clarity of company values
Can you describe to your team what your shop's values look like in action? If not, then you have some work to do if you want a great company culture. If your team members can't describe what your company stands for, then how can you expect them to act according to those values?
4. Low employee turnover
If people love where they work, they don't want to leave. The Great Place to Work Institute has found that employees of small companies are nearly three times as likely to stay with their employers as people working in larger companies.
5. Constructive conflict resolution
Part of having a great culture is empowering employees to speak up and air their differences. We're not talking about throwing dishes or screaming matches. Rather, it's about resolving conflict in a way that preserves employees' relationships (and happens outside of customers' earshot.)
6. Minimal office politics
It's a fact of life: Your staff will gripe or gossip. But that should be the exception, not the rule. Leaders of great company cultures don't tolerate backbiting, office gossip and favoritism. Leaders are the ultimate role models for showing how to demonstrate the company's values. Chris Edmonds, author of The Culture Engine: A Framework for Driving Results, Inspiring Your Employees and Transforming Your Workplace, describes a leader's role in creating organizational culture as "living" the values each and every day. "Your employees won't model [positive values] if leaders don't model them," he writes.
7. High-quality employee referrals
If your employees routinely refer you qualified job applicants, it means you've trained them to know the benefits of hiring quality staff, rather than just their buddy who lives down the street. Your employees have become ambassadors of your company's brand; they're maintaining the positive culture you've worked hard to create.
8. High level of trust
While placing hidden cameras in a restaurant to monitor employee behaviors makes for riveting reality TV, it's a poor practice in real life. Research shows that when employees feel trusted, they are more likely to show responsibility to their company and their customers. Managers are better off dealing with the few bad apples than creating a long list of rules and checkpoints for the entire staff.
9. Investment in training
When people are well-trained for their job, they are more confident and better able to serve customers. Small business owners who have great company cultures place a premium on educating their staff. According to the Great Place to Work Institute, top-performing small businesses invest an average of 64 training hours per full-time employee each year!
10. Solid financial performance
Although not a guarantee that you have a great company culture, strong profits can signal that all is in order with creating a positive workplace culture. If you follow the preceding nine suggestions, then it's likely your financials will fall in line as well.
You don't need a huge cafeteria filled with free food or a break room with nap pods to have a company where people are clamoring to work. If you focus on building an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie, consistently demonstrating your company values, and investing in your employees, your company can also become a great place to work.
Jennifer V. Miller
A freelance writer who covers leadership, emerging trends in the workplace and careers. In 2014, Inc. Magazine's Jeff Haden listed her as one of "100 great leadership speakers and business thinkers." Get tips on how to better lead yourself and others at Jennifer's award-winning blog, The People Equation.