Innovative SME strategies: company culture and business performance

Managing employees


Company culture is not an accident, or a by-product. A smart manager will shape company culture to reflect the strategy, and in doing so will build a business that communicates its goals from the inside out. Employees can either be a part of your team or they can be just employees; they'll never care much for your company and you won't have the benefits a strong culture provides.

 

Creating a dynamic, well functioning company culture is a way to be innovative starting with yourself and what you can bring to the table. You can allow a culture to just take place, or you can take an active role and shape it.

 

Company culture can be a strong motivator and it greatly affects how well people work. One of the most powerful things you can possess is a company where people want to work. When that happens you can have your pick of suitable candidates; people who can help you achieve your goals. That's not to say all companies should have the same culture; while a laid-back atmosphere may be suitable for some places, others might thrive in a fast-paced dynamic environment.

 

Indicators of a strong company culture is amongst other things a sense of purpose for employees; a feeling that what they do matter is imperative to fostering a culture that functions well from the bottom up.

 

Looking to others for inspiration

Japanese companies have been know for a strong company culture for a long time, long before they became the fabled "Japan Inc." set to take over the United States' prime position as world leader in business (at least in a self-described sense). However company culture has to be more than just strong, it has to have its sights on a greater goal. Ideally, company culture is designed to further the company in addition, or as an underpinning to creating a good working environment.

 

The idea of kaizen - of continuous improvement – is not just on each person's head but is tackled by the team as a whole. A company in which a lot is expected of you, but you are also well supported is a solid foundation for business to flourish. Not that this is something you just implement in a day, just because you understand the term doesn't mean you know how to transfer those ideas into your business. Of course, it's not as if any one culture is the perfect one, Japanese companies are often criticised for not investing enough in women and thus letting some highly useful talent go to waste.

At Australia's Red Balloon, initiatives that ensure the company works as a team are found through-out the organisation. There are wellness programs that focus on employee health, alongside other opportunities for employees to volunteer. It may seem that this has nothing to do with work performance but on the contrary, it reinforces the feeling of camaraderie, and of appreciation. 

 

Creating a business that thrives

Maintaining a clearly defined company culture is certainly not effortless. Red Balloon founder Naomi Simson recalled one year in which staff turnover was staggering. She realised something needed to be addressed, and made the decision to pay closer attention both to how Red Balloon hired staff, and to how they were managed. Following this overhaul the company recorded an impressive growth in profits. She wrote in the Financial Review that she found a key resource for her success in her peer group; that advice and stories from others in a similar position to hers was often useful to growing her own business.

 

Company culture is the secret weapon of SMEs

Many SMEs have demonstrated that even with significantly smaller means you can make your business stand out by fostering a culture that ensures the right message is being delivered on all levels. Introducing new employees to the culture right away not only helps them understand where they fit in but also give you as a manager a great opportunity to instill values in them that will forward your brand without the new people feeling overburdened with company propaganda. Make it fun, there's no harm in that. You don't have to be serious to take your job seriously, in depends entirely on context. And just because you intimidate people doesn't mean they'll work harder for you, there's just a much bigger chance they're scrolling through SEEK whenever you're not looking.

 

Don't just sit back and wait

A culture that promotes your brand the way it should is a fantastic asset but it's not enough that you can simply lean back and assumes the rest will work itself out. Hopefully though, the culture will blend itself into other aspects. Creating an innovative culture might give your employees enough inspiration to extend this into what they do, and in doing so they will strengthen rather than weaken your brand.


Lina Barfoot

Editor at SavvySME

All things marketing and advertising interest me greatly.


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Jef Lippiatt

Jef Lippiatt , Owner at Startup Chucktown

Very well written article. Company culture is best thought of as a living organism in that it needs to be flexible and adaptable over time as you scale your business. Your company culture must also be revisited from time to time to ensure nothing has fallen out of date or gone completely unheeded be all staff (potentially including yourself). Always model the desired behavior from the top down but let all know you value ideas from the bottom up.

Lina Barfoot

Lina Barfoot , Editor at SavvySME

Thank you! And well said, I agree that culture should be responsive and flexible, lest it become just a series of HR initiatives that doesn't actually have a real impact.