How to create a good culture for your small business

While the culture or atmosphere at any business can be critical to attracting and retaining top workers, it needs to be a focus for small business owners who can't offer the kind of salary and benefits that bigger companies do.

Many owners are busy with customers, vendors and finances, and culture isn't something they think about. Owners who want to develop a good company culture should take a first step of determining what kind of culture they want, says Jay Starkman, CEO of human resources provider Engage PEO. For example, a culture can be performance-based, strive for work/life balance, put employees' families first or be a combination, Starkman says.

After that, an owner needs to formulate the policies that will support the culture, and then manage the business so those policies are enforced.

"If you have a family-first or work/life balance culture, then you walk around at 5 p.m. and ask, 'why are you still here,'" Starkman says. "It comes from management. It comes from ownership."

A key factor in a good culture is giving employees autonomy — it's something today's workers want, says Tony Fross, who advises clients on workplace practices for the consulting firm Prophet. He recalls a company he worked with whose owner was a micromanager.

"People quit all the time and he couldn't keep staffers. He was disempowering them instead of helping them to do better," Fross says.

Owners should keep in mind that a culture needs continual attention from the boss.

"You need to routinely analyze your organization to determine whether the culture you want actually exists. It often can take a back seat to deadlines and work pressure," Starkman says.


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