Skip to content
ATB Entrepreneur & Small BusinessJan 4, 2024 11:26:08 AM4 min read

Creating your business’ culture

Company culture is your business’ shared understanding of values, standards and behaviours that inform your organizational environment. It’s about how people interact daily and influence what it’s like to work for you.

Values are foundational principles. Your culture is how they are expressed.

Reflection questions to get you started:

  • Why does your business exist?
  • What are your company’s values? How do your values show up in your daily workflow
  • What is your leadership style?
  • What are your company’s communication practices?
  • How does your business make decisions, respond to customer complaints and handle emergencies?
  • What are your hiring and training practices? What kind of people did you hire?
  • Is your business a place where team members can thrive? Are they proud of where they work?
  • How do you show you care about your employees’ well-being?
  • How do you, your employees and your customers treat each other?
  • What impression does your company give?
  • How are your physical spaces designed to make people feel?

You might already have unspoken guidelines, so write down your answers to solidify your values.

Why culture is important

A positive culture sets your business’ tone (and you up for success) with boosted morale, less staff turnover and a good reputation—all of which help your business succeed. 

Toxic workplace cultures contribute to stress, bad habits, disengagement and missed days.

Company culture is what attracts and retains talent. If employees understand your values, they’re more likely to feel a sense of belonging in your culture. Research has shown that happy employees are more productive.

Creating a positive environment

Here are ideas to consider when constructing your culture:

Know your brand’s values. For example, do you value security more than innovation? A laidback approach more than a results-driven one? Every business should consider what values are important to demonstrate.

Common values are:

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Collaboration

Other ideas: results, charity, quality, consistency, excellence, innovation, creativity, sustainability, courage, ambition, growth, stability, accountability, compassion, community, inclusion, competition, authenticity and simplicity.

Have first-rate compensation. How can you create an equitable compensation package that makes top talent want to work for you (and stay)? Consider your values, your budget and the market when determining your compensation package. Compensation goes beyond just a paycheque, and how you demonstrate care for your employees beyond their salary (such as benefits, paid time off, pensions or other retirement benefits, perks and more) contributes to your overall culture.

Lead by example. How do you want your employees to behave? Is everyone held to the same standard? For example, do you respond to emails and messages while on holidays and after work hours? This may be demonstrating a culture of being “always-on.” Effective leaders’ words match their actions.

Ensure psychological safety by creating an environment where employees feel empowered to take risks, make mistakes, share opinions, raise concerns and ask questions.

Create opportunities for connection. How do employees build relationships with coworkers? Maybe they regularly run into each other at your open-concept office or they might make connections via your company’s communication platform working from home. Some companies host events or gatherings where employees can connect on more of a personal or social basis.

Clearly communicate expectations. Are employees aligned with your vision? Ensure your business has a strong sense of purpose, a straightforward onboarding process and an employee handbook outlining procedures.

Recognize employees. Who doesn’t want to be appreciated? Acknowledge their hard work—it could be as simple as saying thank you or as elaborate as a company-wide incentive program.

Seek and provide feedback. Foster open communication by asking for input via touch-base meetings and anonymous surveys so you can learn what it’s like to work at your company. 

Representation matters

A diverse team values different perspectives, which accelerates problem solving and innovation.

Ways to implement diversity initiatives:

  • Prioritize establishing a sense of belonging in your workplace
  • Educate yourself and your employees about discrimination and unconscious bias (question long-held assumptions, beliefs and stereotypes)
  • Re-evaluate how you handle hiring. Do you seek candidates from a variety of backgrounds?
  • Promote pay equity amongst all employees
  • Accept ongoing feedback
  • Acknowledge all cultural holidays and practices

Foster inclusion with humility and vulnerability. It’s crucial that your employees feel like they can be themselves at work.

How small business culture is different

Small businesses have close-knit, innovation-minded teams. Your company has the agility to adapt in ways that larger companies cannot. But you have limited resources to accomplish your goals.

Because your team is small, it’s imperative you hire for cultural fit (in addition to necessary skills) to avoid challenges later.  How does their attitude mesh with your culture? Can you see them growing with your business?

Conclusion: What do you stand for?

How does your business embody your values? The answer will inform your organizational culture. Ensure it aligns with your business’ purpose, everyday employee experience, and public image and messaging.

How will you shape your culture to keep employees motivated while striving for your vision? Culture starts with you—and it’s a top-ranking factor candidates consider when job hunting.