How to Keep Small Business Culture as a Company Grows

How to Keep Small Business Culture as a Company Grows

by Stephanie Morrow, January 2013

Many small companies strive to grow bigger and more competitive in their respective industry, but how can a small business retain its culture and values shared throughout the company when it grows and expands? Is it possible to keep a small business culture in a large business world?

By maintaining open communication and creating a positive work environment, a midsize or large business can attain small business cultural perspectives to keep its employees happy and, in turn, maintain happy customers. A recent Deloitte survey reported that employees ranked compensation and financial performance amongst the lowest motivators of a positive workplace culture—and, instead, ranked candid communication, access to management and recognition as a positive factor that motivated employees and contributed to the company's success (“Core Beliefs and Culture” 2012).

Below are six steps a midsize business owner that began as a start-up can take to ensure their growing business avoids potential growing pains.

1. Promote Shared Beliefs

Small businesses have a culture unlike midsize and larger companies, usually with a positive, laid-back attitude that encompasses a small, family-like atmosphere. Although this relaxed environment may be in jeopardy as a company grows, there are ways to maintain this small business feel in a midsize business environment. Starting at the top, management should create a set of shared beliefs throughout the company, which includes establishing a framework for how to make decisions, set company priorities and treat one another within the company.

One way to maintain these shared cultural beliefs is by writing them down and disseminating them. These core values can serve as a constant reminder of the shared beliefs that should be upheld throughout the company. In addition, the old saying of actions speak louder than words is integral in a growing company—the management needs to lead by example and uphold these shared cultural beliefs. Quarterly training of these values may be needed to remind managers how to guide the office culture as it grows, especially because managers may be given more responsibilities. Instilling small business values throughout the management base will help to preserve this small business feeling throughout a midsize organization.

2. Treat Customers with a Small Business Perspective

Shared company beliefs are not only important within the business walls, but also outside of the company. Small businesses have a reputation of showing empathy, understanding and being responsive to customers. However, as a company grows, that personal touch may be lost when customers are now dealing with a different employee for each and every business need. Employees need to be reminded that, although the company is growing, it is critical they see things from a small business perspective and support customers' needs on a personal level.

3. Manage Communication

Small businesses usually have an open-door policy in which employees feel comfortable walking into a manager's office to discuss company issues informally and frequently. As the number of employees grows within the company, however, this ease of communication is stifled and employees may get compartmentalized into a specific role within the company. Employees may feel replaceable, diminishing the loyalty employees felt in a small business atmosphere. As companies grow, it's imperative managers maintain an open-door policy to preserve communication and help employees feel they are respected. Encourage employees to come to managers with any questions or concerns—and managers should demonstrate their availability and willingness to discuss issues either through email, memos or verbally throughout the day.

When a business grows it can also be hard to maintain close connections with employees. To avoid this loss of commitment, management should strive to communicate with employees daily. Although midsize and large companies tend to focus on objectives in lieu of its employees, managers and supervisors should be instructed to communicate with employees on a personal level. This can be accomplished by having daily meet-ups, whether it is over a coffee break, at lunchtime, via email, over the phone or a simple visit during the workday. Talking about everything from the weekend to the weather will maintain a familiarity within the company. Additionally, avoid employees taking unnecessary, impersonal steps to address concerns, such as filling out forms to make time to speak with a manager. Instituting an open-door policy will help maintain a small business culture.

4. Involve Employees

Keeping employees apprised of company decisions will help attain a small business culture that promotes unity within the company and helps keep employees engaged in the welfare of the business. For example, employees that have a strong understanding of the profit and loss perspectives of the company will have a sense of entitlement within the company, which is good for promoting positive morale. By organizing a specific time and place to convene and allow employees to contribute ideas and goals, such as during informal monthly meetings, employees will sense their need within the company and will avoid feeling either underappreciated or ignored in the larger business setting. Managers can propose questions to employees before the meeting to help build discussion, and should always ask employees what problems or issues they may be seeing and what solutions they can offer. Large companies retain a small company feel by giving their employees a specific purpose and allowing them to contribute ideas and help solve problems.

5. Recognize and Reward Employees

Giving recognition for a job well done sometimes disappears as a company grows, but it is more important than ever to continue to recognize employees in front of their peers. It is important to recognize and reward top performers even after the amount of performers has grown. This can be done by recognizing an employee of the month in a company newsletter or during a regular staff meeting so that the employee's peers can acknowledge the job well done. In addition, incentives should be provided regularly, not just with promotions or yearly raises. By offering more frequent incentives, such as gift cards to local restaurants or free products, employees will feel more appreciated regularly and will stay motivated as the company continues to grow.

6. Grow the Culture Outside the Company

When a company grows, it is harder for employees to get to know who they work with on a day-to-day basis. Activities outside of the office can help build camaraderie and introduce employees to their counterparts in a fun, relaxed setting. Whether it is a holiday office party, mid-summer barbeque or impromptu catered lunch, growing the company's culture through events that are not necessarily company-related will allow employees to bond on a more personal level, which can help develop and improve employee morale and promote a small business culture in a midsize to large business setting.

Maintaining a Small Business Culture

A company's culture and beliefs should maintain a focus that helps employees feel trusted and appreciated, as this will allow the company to maintain quality employees and happy customers. Communication throughout the organization is the key to keeping a small business culture within a growing organization, and by making employees feel valued within the company through communication, recognition and incentives, employees will stay motivated, productive and enthusiastic as the company grows.