Small Business: Company culture - Jillian de Beer

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Jillian de Beer, founder, de Beer Marketing & Communications and Incredible Edge, specialist in future thinking, business strategy, cultural identity

Jillian de Beer, founder, de Beer Marketing & Communications and Incredible Edge.
Jillian de Beer, founder, de Beer Marketing & Communications and Incredible Edge.

What does having a good company culture do for a business?

Culture is the essence and expression of what brings people together, and connects people as a community.

Community culture is expressed through the shared values, beliefs, language, actions and expressions of its people.

A good company culture is embraced by a strong community with a defined organisational identity. The community has a strong sense of connectedness, shares a common set of values, engenders enormous pride, and attracts on-going mutual respect and loyalty from its members and the communities at large. It is enabled by inspired leadership, trust, transparency, authenticity and sharing. Its members come together to connect and interact in a physical place, and are usually linked virtually. Their actions are extrovert, and their cultural expression is larger than the company or its physical place or space.

How can a company's culture come under strain as it experiences fast growth?

Entrepreneurial, innovative companies are founded on the initiator and leader who exudes passion and drive for the business. That person has a big vision and is the way-finder, able to guide, energise and inspire employees, within an inclusive and high-contact environment. It is the unique innovative culture, philosophy and values that spawns the company's rise.

As the company starts to grow, the business leader is confronted with new challenges - leading and managing the business, relationship building, and continually innovating, while also needing to deal with an increasingly dynamic and constantly changing operating environment. There are multiple demands on time spent looking for new markets and striving to acquire new growth opportunities.

Growth demands may require the company leader to travel away from the physical workplace, creating a sudden leadership void among employees. They can feel isolated and on the fringe of decision-making, rather than in the centre, which in turn can lead to a lack of engagement. In this fast growth phase, there's a huge demand on an SME in terms of communication.

The fast-paced growth environment requires speed of thought and decision-making, and the demand to stay ahead of the market through constant innovation. The business model must be customer-centric with the innovation of products, packaging, and service delivery needing to be a seamless cultural expression of the organisation and the customer's aspiration. The requirement to retain a highly dedicated, talented, high-performance team in times of change requires total commitment to people, communication leadership and technology within the company and across its collaborative networks.

How should an SME continue to build its company's culture as it goes through the business's life cycle?

Every SME should have a very clear understanding of its purpose and the company culture required to maintain collective understanding, ownership, and focus in support of the attainment of its goals. Defining the company's purpose, philosophy and values is to know what positive difference the business will make in regard to its value creation in its chosen market or field, and the positive difference or the legacy it will leave in terms of people, planet and profit. A sense of shared purpose, values and goals will fuel the spirit and passion of high performing teams. It is best described as the sense of defining a pathway, a form of pioneering spirit and going beyond the horizon.

It is vitally important that those who lead the SME are immersed in the team and visibly present in the daily life of the business. A visible presence of leadership earns the respect, trust and bonds required to create and maintain a high-performing team.

As the business grows, openness, team briefings, knowledge sharing, and support and encouragement for ideas and experimentation around those ideas, will become increasingly important. The SME must foster and build an innovation ecology and know how to identify, harness and grow talent.

The culture must also be open to collaborations, looking at how the human geography of the business may foster relationships and shared assets of what can be "brought to the table" to achieve big ideas beyond what otherwise may not be able to happen.

At risk at this time is the culture of being customer-centric, and being at the centre of the business focussing on retention, repeat business and growth.

Face to face, people to people communication, dialogue, interaction and participation will grow a strong cohesive company culture and a strong knowledge-based, creative and innovative value ecology.

Meanwhile, as leadership at the helm assumes a greater role in expanded or high value markets, it is vital that highly talented employees can achieve significant personal growth and have a clear professional growth path that may enable them to eventually have some form of stake in the business, or to go on and develop their own business endeavour. Talented people who are grown, shaped, nurtured, acknowledged and rewarded by the company stay loyal and become collaborators in the future ecology of the business.

If a business is hiring a lot of new people, how can it introduce them to the business's culture effectively?

A vibrant business culture is organic, always evolving and alive. The culture is values-driven, nurtured and modelled by everyone in the company. They form the authentic expression of the business, applied to the workplace, products and services, spaces, events, and all forms of customer communication.

The values form a filter when hiring talent for the business. They establish a framework to guide performance expectations and to empower people to know what is expected of them and how their performance may be measured.

It is important for the business to map the individual and shared aspirations of employees, and to understand how they want to be, what they genuinely believe in, what they want to achieve, and what will motivate them to be a close-knit, energised and motivated high-performing team. The culture of the business is formed from the shared values that connect everyone. It is the basis of community building, and is vitally important when extending the company's cultural expression, or identity, to customers and collaborators.

The individual aspirations of new employees can be overlaid with the existing values of the business, exploring the complementary fit of talent and building cohesiveness through clear communication of the values that will enable the culture to flourish.


Next week: So often, small business owners tell me about the support they have had from family to get their new companies off the ground. Sometimes it's financial but often it's them rolling up their sleeves and getting in there and doing the donkey work too when numbers are tight in the early days. Tell me of the times your family - wife, mother, brother, father - have stepped in to save your bacon. It's an opportunity to say thanks for everything.

- NZ Herald

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