Low-cost ways small-business leaders can create a healthy company culture

Nap rooms, on-site daycare centers and free food at gourmet cafeterias. These perks -- typically offered by large companies with deep pockets -- are often touted as evidence that the companies that offer them have “great” company cultures. If that’s the measure of outstanding company cultures, many small-business owners figure it’s out of their reach.

Don’t get discouraged, says Jessica Rohman of the Great Place to Work Institute. It’s true that larger companies have resources. But the very thing that prevents small companies from competing with the big players is also an advantage: their small size. Rohman studies and reports on trends in workplace culture for the institute. She says that her organization’s research finds that small businesses often outperform their larger counterparts because they are more nimble and able to connect on an individualized basis with their employees.

Small-business owners are also the de facto senior leadership team of their companies. With fewer layers of management to cut through, they can get things done more quickly in their organization. Here are four ways to create a healthy company culture without breaking the bank.

Make your hiring strategy a collaborative one. You have to hire new employees regardless of your company’s size, points out the Institute’s Rohman, so you might as well make it a collaborative effort. Collaborating with employees about whom to hire shows that you care about who you’re bringing on to the team—and how it will affect the existing staff. This emphasis on relationship-building with your team builds loyalty and trust. Robin Schooling, a consultant who specializes in helping small-business owners with HR and talent strategies, suggests that you work with employees to identify a candidate “persona” for future hires. Your employees are in the best position to describe the skills, attitudes and values needed to successfully contribute to your small business, so draw on their experience to help you out.

Help employees see the meaning in their work. One of the most important things all leaders do is help their team members "connect the dots" between their daily tasks on the front line and the larger mission of the company. Employees who understand the "big picture" of their organizations make better decisions and are more likely to cooperate with co-workers. Let’s face it, some jobs just aren’t that glamorous or exciting. As a leader, you’ve got to find a way to help Olivia in order fulfillment understand how careful packaging and timely shipping of products ultimately delights customers.

Develop a culture of trust. According to Rohman, one of the most important elements of what makes a company a “great place to work” is that the organizational leaders create “high-trust cultures.” These cultures have many business benefits, such as decreased employee turnover and outperforming competitors in the marketplace. As the leader of a small business, take advantage of there being fewer organizational layers between you and the front lines. There are many ways to foster trust with your employees and they all cost little or no money.

Use technology to improve connections. Access to inexpensive technology levels the playing field between large and small businesses. Once again, agility plays in favor of the smaller company: low-cost services like Skype or social media channels such as Facebook are typically off-limits to large organizations due to IT security concerns. Schooling encourages small-business owners to consider ways that technology can help them connect with vendors, employees and job applicants. “It’s easier than ever to regularly share information. You can incorporate various technology channels depending upon the culture and communication styles of your team,” notes Schooling. These services are especially useful for companies that use independent contractors, because the contractors can access the social media platforms using whatever technology and devices they possess.

Although expensive perks are often out of their reach, the leaders of small enterprises still have access to effective, low-cost ways to create a strong company culture. Camaraderie, employee loyalty and trust -- these are the true building-blocks of a vibrant workplace culture, regardless of a company’s size. And small businesses can foster all of these important elements to create a fantastic place to work.

Jennifer V. Miller is a writer and leadership development consultant. Her writing and digital training materials help business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Follow her on LinkedIn and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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