How small businesses can create a good workplace culture

This is a guest blog by Vanessa O’Shea from CultureShapers. Vanessa has just published her book Shaping Your Workplace Culture, so it’s great to get the highlights here.

Over to Vanessa…



Whether it’s those cool people at Google with their nap pods and free haircuts, or media companies with beer o’clock on Fridays, we know that culture is important.

But what does it actually mean? How do we build a good culture within our businesses? And, as a small business, is it worth it?

Culture 101

Culture essentially describes the environment in which behaviours are encouraged, or not tolerated. It’s the result of a group’s values, beliefs, taboos, written and unwritten rules.

Perks are appreciated, but I think there is a more fundamental way of shaping your culture; below, I outline my suggested steps to shaping a good culture. As an aid, I use a small but growing techie business based in Brighton to illustrate each step. See if you can guess who they are (the answer is at the end).

1. Know your mission

If your staff team know what your mission is, they will be able to link what they do, to the business achieving its mission. It’s a sure way to find meaning in your work. Mission statements can be literal or broad as in this example:

Example: “to be a company that our customers love working with, and our employees love working for.”

2. Identify your values.

Your values are your principles that you need to help you achieve your mission. You use your values as the filter through which everything you do, decisions, actions, behaviours. A good way to identify your values is to identify one person in the organisation who reflects the company well and identify what their qualities are (there are some other ideas outlined in my book, p.51)

Example: “Relationship – to create long-term relationships with our clients.”

3. Put them to action – embed them.

Being a company that follows through on what it declares is key. We believe to be true, what we experience rather than what we are told. This is how you develop a culture that reflects your values.

Example “Ask job applicants to complete a strengths questionnaire. Applicants that have relationship building strengths have a much better chance of joining the team.” 

4. Develop ‘culture-shaping’ leaders

As we know, it’s the boss who sets the culture in a company – for a positive or negative effect. There are some key qualities that I have observed over the years, as being key to influencing the culture in a positive way. They include qualities such as resilience, communication, decision making and emotional intelligence. Here is how our techie company nurtures empowerment and emotional intelligence:

Example: “We coach each other informally and in 360 reviews.”

Your culture determines how valued, appreciated, and ultimately how productive your staff are. As to whether it’s worth building a strong culture as a small business, the way that Brightec (our mystery business) keep winning awards (6 industry awards either won or shortlisted in 2018) is evidence that investing in your culture brings business success.

For more info on the impact of certain cultures on business success, a 4-stage model on shaping culture and how to train yourself/your managers on the seven key qualities needed to create a good culture, check Vanessa’s new book Shaping Your Workplace Culture 



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