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Examples of Company Culture for Entrepreneurs

Examples of Company Culture for Entrepreneurs

It’s well understood that culture influences how we think, what we say, and how we behave. Anyone who has travelled far from home experiences this first hand. And it’s true in business, also. Every company has its own culture, which impacts how employees treat customers, and how they treat each other. What we know for sure is that companies with strong cultures perform well financially. It’s so linked to revenue that when Peter Thiel invested $150m in AirBnB, he told the founders “don’t f&ck up the culture.” No matter what stage of your business growth, it’s never too late to make culture a priority. Read on for examples of company culture for entrepreneurs, and don’t miss tips to use in your small business.

Understanding Company Culture

One thing to understand about company culture is that it’s deeper than what can be seen and observed. It goes beyond team meetings and staff events. It’s less about what is said, and more about what people think and believe. For example, the leader of one non-profit organization I worked with said all the right things about having a collaborative working environment. The public message was that everyone on the team was empowered to deliver their best.

However, the reality was that every small decision required his approval. Also, key stakeholders were blocked from attending some meetings. This is because the assumptions and values were that each department worked alone as a closed group, with no transparency or communication with the others. For more on the 3 levels of organizational culture, read How to build company culture in a small business.

Examples for entrepreneurs

Many “best of” lists are of huge multinational corporations. And frankly, that isn’t much help for entrepreneurs running their own company. So I’ve collected these few examples and explained exactly what lesson you can use in your small business

Clio

This Canadian technology company provides software for legal firms around the world. They highlight their focus on creating a supportive and inclusive work environment throughout their website. In fact, it’s part of their branding. And clients feel good about working with a company that takes such good care of their team.

After all, engaged and happy employees provide service! What entrepreneurs can learn from this example is that culture comes from the top down.

As a leader in your business, be sure your behaviour and words support and are consistent with the values and culture you want to build. For example, Clio founder Jack Newton wrote a book on The Client Centered Law Firm. No, you don’t have to write a book! The point here is to walk the walk and talk to the talk. For example, don’t complain about customers to your staff and expect them not to do the same.

Zappos

This American clothing and footwear company is a pioneer in creating an outstanding company culture. Way back in 2009, they were ditching old corporate rules to be fully transparent with staff and empower everyone to do the right thing for customers.

They are so passionate about the link between culture and revenue that they offer advice to business owners with their Insights program. What entrepreneurs can learn from Zappos is to embrace the individuality of each employee. A strong team doesn’t have to be clones of each other, with identical personalities and profiles. After all, there is strength in diversity. What matters is that everyone you hire is committed to customer service and sharing the same set of values as the company.

Prezi

This Hungarian software start up transformed how students and businesses created presentations. What is unique about their story is that they created a positive and engaged company culture which adapted to the needs of introverts and extroverts. So instead of making busy and loud company conferences mandatory, they allowed introverts to interact in their own way. What entrepreneurs can learn from Prezi is that building an amazing company culture doesn’t need parties and enforced social interaction. What matters is communicating values and creating a safe space for all employees to thrive and feel fulfilled by their work.

Tips for your small business

Though the companies described above may not look much like your business, they are still great examples of company culture for entrepreneurs. Setting aside the size of the budgets and the team, there are tips for your small business in these examples.

Hire the human, not the resume

Yes, job experience and education matters, especially depending on the business. Obviously, you can’t hire someone with no training to be a vet technician or a plumber. However, it’s also a mistake to focus so much on the resume. After all, it’s the human who is going to be showing up to work, so their outlook, engagement, and communication skills matter. Creating a positive company culture is more than a set of policies. It’s the attitude of the people on the team who can make or break a work environment.

Don’t micromanage

Certainly, policies and procedures are important for maintaining service standards and quality levels. However, it’s a slippery slope because an operating manual can easily turn into a burden that restricts staff from doing the right thing for the customer.

Don’t keep it a secret

If your company culture is thriving and staff are engaged and happy, don’t keep it a secret. First of all, it will help attract more staff, and cut down on recruiting costs. More importantly, it helps gain consumer trust. People love to be part of something good and positive. Also, people love to receive great customer service, and that is more likely when the staff are empowered and committed. So include it on your website, in newsletters, on social media, and in other customer communication.

Be you

These examples of company culture are meant to spark ideas and be aspirational. However, just because something worked for a successful company doesn’t mean it’s a fit for you or your small business. So reflect on what sort of company culture makes sense for you, in your community, with your type of business. Most importantly, feel free to be unique. For example, the founder of Prezi is an introvert, so he made that part of the company culture.

Lessons for entrepreneurs

Overall, there are lots of positive examples of company culture available. Don’t dismiss them because the size and scope of these examples are so different from your own business. Remember that many of these companies started out small, with just 1 or 2 founders working together to build their vision. No business is too small to have a company culture. So be inspired, and be intentional with creating the kind of business environment you want for your company.

Examples of Company Culture for Entrepreneurs Read More »

How to build company culture in a small business

How to build company culture in a small business

I recently witnessed an ancient fire ceremony on the banks of the Ganges River, in Varanasi, India. Which got me thinking about how rituals are integrated into culture, in all aspects of life and work. Even when we are not aware of it. And culture is overlooked by many entrepreneurs because they are focused on revenue. However, this is a mistake. All entrepreneurs should understand how to build company culture. Read on to understand why, and learn steps to get started with creating culture in a small business.

Understanding company culture

First of all, to explain what company culture really is. Our understanding of it can be traced to the groundbreaking work of Edgar Schein at MIT. He introduced a model for organizational culture which has influenced business leaders for generations. This 3-level framework is shown as a 3 level pyramid.

Assumptions are at the base, which demonstrates that these unconscious patterns drive the perception, thinking, and behaviour of people in the company.

Next is Values, which are the reasons and rationalizations for how people in a business behave the way they do at work.

At the top is Artefacts, which is the visible, physical aspects of a company. For example, the dress code, technology choices, office layout, and employee handbook.

Scheins model of company culture

Why company culture matters

It’s not unusual for an entrepreneur to make deliberate choices about the artefacts of their business. Which is important. Because not only does it build a sense of teamwork, but the customer-facing stuff contributes to brand building.

However, as shown in Schein’s Model of Company Culture, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Er, pyramid. Why company culture matters is found in the deeper layers. The feelings and perceptions of employees influences their mindset and behaviour. For example, when company culture is positive and customer-focused, then staff will be patient with customers and do their best to resolve any issues. However, if the culture is negative, staff may do the bare minimum required and not be invested in customer satisfaction.

Basically, weak company culture means low loyalty and engagement, and the consequences of this for an entrepreneur is:

  • Poorly engaged staff
  • High staff turnover
  • Less attention to detail
  • More mistakes
  • Higher absenteeism

And all of this negatively impacts KPIs for quality, customer satisfaction, referrals, and retention – all of which means less revenue. To see examples of KPIs for different business sectors, read What are KPIs or watch the video on YouTube.

Steps for how to build company culture in a small business

Clearly, culture matters. And though the topic of organizational culture is complex and nuanced, it doesn’t have to be for an entrepreneur. Just follow these steps for how to build company culture in a small business.

1. Commit

Company culture isn’t a set it and forget it thing. It’s an ongoing process of evaluation, awareness, and communication. So the business owner and leadership team must be willing to make time for it when making business plans and decisions. Furthermore, to commit resources to implement projects that will build company culture. For example, if an employee feedback survey is introduced, be sure there is a budget for the time and money to do something with the results.

2. Evaluate current culture

Make no mistake – every small business has a culture. Because rituals, values, and assumptions form any time people interact. So the next step is to become aware of what the current culture is. Use a simple 3 column table to note artefacts, values, and assumptions. Use anonymous feedback surveys to learn how staff feel about their job, customers, and manager. 

3. Find a Role Model

Next, pick a company to be a role model. Ideally, this is a business in the same sector. But it doesn’t have to be. Look in your local community and to larger national companies. Find a business that you’d like to model your own after. This gives some specific ideas and targets for what to incorporate into your own company.

4. Review and decide

In many ways, entrepreneurship is like cooking. And just like a great meal doesn’t come from dumping everything from the fridge into a pot and hoping for the best – a great company isn’t built by throwing all the great ideas at it. Therefore, take time to review and decide. How to build company culture is a process of strategic decisions that are sustainable for the business. For example, deciding that every employee should get a paid holiday on their birthday with a gift card to a spa may seem like a great idea. And this may work for a large corporation like Google who has the budget and the resources to cover workload. However, for a small business, this may be a costly perk that doesn’t actually contribute to employee engagement.

5. Plan and implement

Furthermore, now that there is a list of initiatives and projects to build company culture, plan how these will be rolled out. Work within the reasonable limits of available time and money. And don’t overwhelm the team with a dozen changes and announcements in a week. Introduce one thing, and let everyone get used to it. Be open to feedback, and measure what impact it is having on KPIs and the overall vibe of the workplace. 

Company culture ideas for entrepreneurs

These ideas won’t be a fit for every business. Each entrepreneur gets to choose what suits their vision for their company, and what is appropriate for their sector and business model. Here are just some ideas for inspiration for how to build company culture:

  • Staff performance management to support their training and career development
  • Posting all new jobs internally
  • Transparent communication with staff about strategic business decisions
  • Leading by example to demonstrate values (ie, positive outlook, own mistakes, be accountable, creative problem solving)
  • Open plan office space
  • Staff newsletter 
  • Acknowledging staff birthdays
  • New employee orientation and onboarding processes to share company history, org chart, vision for the future

Entrepreneurship and company culture

As shown above, company culture impacts quality, customer satisfaction, profits, and sales. Having a strong team of loyal staff matters to every small business, no matter what size. The steps for how to build company culture doesn’t have to be a massive project. Having an ongoing awareness and intention to create a positive workplace is the first step. Then going forward, make it part of the business planning and decision making process. The effort and investment will certainly pay off in better performance and bigger revenue. For more inspiration, see Examples of Company Culture for Entrepreneurs.

How to build company culture in a small business Read More »

How to protect your business from employee theft

How to protect your business from employee theft

Small business owners understand the importance of using secure passwords and not opening suspicious attachments. Certainly, cyber crime is a risk, and protection measures are important. However, few entrepreneurs realize the biggest risk of theft comes from the inside – their own employees. I recently shared my own story of employee fraud. Here, read about how to protect your business from employee fraud.

Employee Theft

Did you know there is an Association of Certified Fraud Examiners? Yep, occupational theft and fraud is so common that investigating it has spawned an entire profession. According to a global study the ACFE conducted in 2022, almost 50% of employee theft comes from accounting, sales, operations, and senior management. And the numbers are staggering. It’s estimated that businesses lose 5% of revenue to fraud, which amounts to $4.7 trillion annually. 

And this problem is getting worse. Due to the pressures of post-pandemic inflation, employee theft is on the rise. In the UK, employee theft is up 75%.

Types of Fraud

Fraud falls into 3 general types. There is theft, financial statement fraud, and asset misuse. Clearly, theft is the biggest source of employee fraud. Because there are many ways to steal from a company. It can be as simple as taking cash or inventory. Or it can be padding expense reports, or timesheets. Also, it could be from misrepresenting expenses, like claiming an expense for a personal purchase. 

Also, asset misuse is another form of employee theft. Company cars, computer equipment, and other technology are used for personal reasons. Meanwhile, the cost of upkeep and maintenance is paid by the company.

Employee Theft Risks for Entrepreneurs

Small businesses have a higher risk of employee theft, for a few reasons. First, a small business may not have a sophisticated software system of checks and balances. Secondly, an overwhelmed entrepreneur is more likely to know and trust their staff. So tasks are delegated and not monitored as closely. Thirdly, there may not be any fraud recognition training in place, or structured systems in place. Finally, smaller teams means less supervision and cross-checking. When only one person is responsible for a task, it gives more opportunity to commit theft.

How to Protect your Business from Employee Theft

Although entrepreneurs running a small business are at greater risk for theft, there are ways to manage it. Learning how to protect your business from employee theft will save time, hassle, and money. Follow these tips to reduce the risk in your business.

1. Separate business and personal

Don’t let employees do company business in their personal space. Specifically, this means no customers using their own phone number, email address, or social media profile. Also, no storing company documents, files, or notes on their devices, Drive, or iCloud. Make sure all their work is done in company spaces you have full access to, and control over.

2. Limit Access to Information

Do front line staff need to know strategic planning and budget forecasting? Nope. So limit access to information, according to a strict need to know policy.

In addition to reducing the risk of employee theft, this also prevents management problems. For example, I know an entrepreneur who had a big morale issue when someone discovered the salary of a co-worker. All because the employee offer letter was in the company Drive.

Though it wasn’t in a place where this person would normally be – people are curious creatures. And a simple search can pull up all sorts of information buried deep in folders. So separate out documents into different Drives, and give staff access only to what they need.

Protect passports to prevent employee theft

3. Protect Passwords

Use secure passwords, and update regularly. Never share passwords and access points to sensitive data like bank accounts, payment processing gateways, website host, domain name registration, and utilities. Furthermore, protect them in a safe, gated place that only you have access to. 

4. Have Approval Processes

Essentially, set limits for staff. Even the managers who deal with all the daily operational stuff. Set limits on spending, and have approval processes in place. Be sure there is more than one signoff required. Don’t just hand over a business credit card for them to use. Setting limits and approvals means better oversight over the small tactical decisions.

5. Set and Monitor KPIs

Consider what Key Performance Indicators are appropriate for each employee. Tie these to business objectives and strategic plans. Then, monitor these KPIs regularly, and discuss openly for a culture of transparency. Examine all the information carefully to look for patterns. Don’t take any data that is self-reporting at face value. Implement random fact checking. After all, when the team sees the boss paying attention to the numbers, it makes it more difficult for staff to commit fraud.

6. Cross Check

Clearly, the whole point of having staff is so that, as an entrepreneur, you can work on your business to grow and scale. Delegating tasks and then checking on every detail defeats the purpose. However, having team members randomly cross checking activities introduces a measure of accountability. It reduces the risk of fraud because one person can’t operate in isolation.

7. Regular Audits

Conduct regular audits of transactions which are at risk for fraud. Refunds, gift card purchases, and expenses should be monitored regularly. Watch for any changes in patterns. For example, if shipping charges jump one month but revenue hasn’t, audit the posted expenses. When staff see that financials are being reviewed and audited this closely, it reduces attempts to steal from the company.

8. Investigate

Check into every red flag, no matter how small. Though it may seem unlikely that your star employee is lying to you, it’s a mistake to not investigate. Get proof, and check the facts. Follow up every suspicion and report. It’s easy to get too trusting with long serving staff and top performers. 

Protect your Business from Employee Theft

Knowing how to protect your business from employee theft is important for entrepreneurs. As shown above, there are several strategies to minimize risk. Remain sceptical, and keep a close eye on all transactions and employee activities. Don’t let personal friendships get in the way of a healthy level of mistrust. Also limit access to sensitive information. Additionally, introduce systems and processes for auditing, cross-checks, and investigations. Finally, set limits to what employees can access. 

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Rebecca Page-Chapman