Creating A Great Business Culture

Not long ago, I heard about a very interesting study that really sheds light on what makes great small businesses, well, great. A franchise association wanted to figure out why some of its franchisees were consistently more successful than others. What set the best of these small business owners apart from the rest?

The association looked at all sorts of things: The history and experience of the franchise owners, locations, advertising and marketing strategies, and a whole lot more. The association wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly did not expect the results that came in.

It turns out that the best franchise owners had one thing in common: They were great bosses. The owners whose stores were consistently successful, who had the lowest turnover and best overall results, were run by owners who managed in an open, friendly, participatory manner.

And, when you come to think of it, it’s actually not that surprising. Friendly, happy managers – bosses who take care of their staff – create employees who tend to be happy. Happy employees treat customers better, and happy customers become repeat customers. So yes, how you treat your people has a very real, bottom line effect on the success of your business.

And yet, the type of boss you are is only one part of your overall business culture. According to Entrepreneur Magazine, a business culture is “a blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.” The interesting thing to note there is the phrase “all companies.” The fact is, all small business have a culture, although most by default. Only a very few small businesses have a culture by design, and that is really too bad because your culture sets the stage for a great many things in your business.

Entrepreneur adds, “Whether written as a mission statement, spoken or merely understood, corporate culture describes and governs the ways a company’s owners and employees think, feel and act . . . Whatever shape it takes, your corporate culture plays a big role in determining how well your business will do.”

Why is that? Well, consider these two businesses:

Company A promotes creativity and having a good time at work. Managers treat employees well, folks aren’t beaten up over sales quotas, and camaraderie is stressed over competition.

Company B is all about the bottom line. Everyone (not just the sales staff) has strict, quantified, performance standards, and employees who don’t meet their quotas might be fired. Work is about work and any non-work related activities are strictly prohibited.

Which company would you rather work for? Well of course the answer is Company A. And, as indicated by the franchisee survey above, customers would rather do business with Company A as well.

So how can you promote that sort of positive corporate culture? Here are a few ways:

Encourage teamwork: By fostering a sense of cooperative teamwork amongst your staff, you forge connections, both with each other, and for the business.

Value their opinion: You can create a workplace where people feel valued if you – truly – ask for, listen to, and value their opinion. When people feel like what they think makes a difference, work ends up having more meaning.

Foster fun: Many big companies that are consistently ranked as amongst the best to work– places like Google for instance – know that people who enjoy their work are far more productive than those that don’t. So whether it is adding a foosball table to the break room or a basketball hoop in the parking lot or taking the gang to a game, if you create an fun place to work you will go a long way to creating the sort of culture that makes a difference.

Give incentives: People work for many reasons, and of course a main one is money. Giving financial incentives for a job well done is smart, but it need not be only financial incentives that you offer. You can give people more time off, or extra training, promotions, and so on. When people know that their hard work will be rewarded, they tend to work hard.

Recognize excellence: Aside from money, the other way to reward employees is to recognize, both publicly and privately, work well done. People appreciate that.

The bottom line is that if you treat your staff right, they will return the favor multi-fold, and you will all be better off as a result.


Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss is the senior small business columnist at USA TODAY, the Editor-in-Chief here at Small Business Connection, a speaker and spokesperson. He can be reached at

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