Building a Corporate Culture in a Small Business

As you unlock the doors of your new start-up for the first time, how often over the planning period, did you daydream of the big corporate giant you hope to be at the helm of a few years down the line? Larger, purpose-built offices, a unique company brand, and company logo recognised wherever it is seen. It all takes time, a lot of hard work, and yes, a percentage of luck.

 Providing your business a corporate culture and identity, isn’t just about advertising in glossy trade magazines, TV, and the internet. It isn’t just about growing, and moving to bigger premises. It’s all about you, and how you interact, right from the beginning, with the half-dozen staff who are starting your business with you.

 One of Richard Branson’s famous quotes is, “There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.”

 Happy employees are productive employees, and nothing makes good employees happier, than feeling they are not just doing a job, but are taking an active part in growing the business. Sitting in your office, and dishing out the orders won’t do it. Group meetings, exchanging ideas, and putting those ideas into practise to improve production and productivity, provides staff a feeling of worth and improved self-esteem.

 We all know stopping production lines can be a costly business, yet years ago Japanese car makers Toyota and Honda gave their front-line assembly staff carte blanche to do just that. Treating each vehicle as if it was their own, they had full management backing to stop the lines should they find any defect in a vehicle coming through. During this same period, the two companies involved employees further, by encouraging them to become more innovative, and begin submitting ideas which would improve company operation and production.

 In 1987, following on from the car makers successes, a Brazilian company called Brasilata, which manufactures tin cans, began their own staff-innovation plan, and began to call their line operators ‘inventors’. Staff were actively encouraged to look for ways of improving production, encouraged to submit new ideas, provide ideas to create better products, and think of ways to reduce operating costs.

 New employees were asked to sign an ‘innovation contract’, and become an ‘inventor’. In 2008, 134,846 ideas were received from employees, and in 2010 the business was selected as one of the top ten most innovative companies in Brazil. Antonio Teixeira, chief executive of the company is quoted as saying, “Innovation can only be sustained within an organization when this goal becomes the responsibility of all involved. Employee involvement from the factory floor all the way up to the key management is a fundamental characteristic of innovative enterprises.”

 Of course, defining a corporate culture is a two way street. While your hard working staff are brain storming ways to improve and speed-up manufacturing, or helping to reduce production costs, their hard work deserves recognition when these new processes become a reality. Everyone can make a difference. It could be a new programmer who suggests adding a small piece of code. Or it could be the guy who collects the company waste, suggesting more effort should be put into recycling to reduce the waste collection bill.

Developing a corporate culture right at the beginning of your venture, goes a long way to helping maintain that culture as your business, and employee numbers, grow. With your original staff already a part of the positive culture you have worked so hard to instil, they appreciate and understand both the short and long term goals you envisage for the company. In fact in many instances they have probably had a hand in forming them.

 With senior staff already having this culture ingrained in their psyche, they will begin to pass the company culture on to new employees, as company best practises and work ethic. None-the-less, as the company and employee numbers grow, your time available to staff becomes less and less, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

 Maybe you haven’t got the time for those thirty minute innovation sessions over coffee you had in the early days, but they still need to happen. A morning or afternoon walk round the office or manufacturing area is always a good idea. A chat to senior staff about new contracts, or the loss of existing ones, and keeping them informed about new projects and company objectives, will ensure they don’t feel they have been forgotten. Stopping to introduce yourself to new staff, and enquiring how they’re settling in, will make a big difference to their feeling a part of the organisation, and not just another company employee.

 The corporate culture of staff involvement and innovation is not a new phenomenon, yet all too often as a company grows and expands, it seems to get forgotten. Never forget your roots, and make sure all your staff can put a face to the nameplate on the door.

January 2019
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