How to Create a Small Company Workplace Culture
Generally speaking, the company culture at small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) can feel closer, more nurturing, and more engaging. When we break it down and analyze the differences, it seems like SMBs might be a little scrappier at putting together an amazing employee journey that makes team members feel more like family. In fact, some of the employees I coach have stayed happy in their same role and job for decades—all because they are finding ways to grow and adapt in a supportive and friendly work environment.
Employee happiness is bred through more than beer Fridays, ping pong, and flexible hours —employees must feel inspired, motivated, and rooted in their relationships at work. There are countless examples of SMBs and startups leveraging team events and team-bonding as ways to inspire and motivate employees. Despite facing tighter budgets, smaller hiring pools, and higher risk, SMBs can often take a personalized approach with their business, clients, and employees. One code search platform, Sourcegraph, for example, hosts regular meetings up with programmers in Silicon Valley, all for the purpose of allowing its team to develop relationships with new software engineers who are thriving in tech,” according to the Muse.
By taking a page from the SMB employee handbook, companies of any size can discover new ways to increase employee happiness, build a satisfying employee journey, and sustain a positive employer brand. Here are three ways SMBs leverage their size and agility to increase employee happiness, even while facing adversity —and a few suggested tactics larger organizations might try to enhance workplace engagement and increase employee satisfaction to reduce churn.
#1: Focus on comradery.
The one defining feature of SMBs -- and the thing that differentiates their work cultures from those at larger organizations -- is the depth of personal relationships within small and medium enterprises. SMBs are often geographically located in one or a small handful of locations, which means employees most likely live and work nearby. Because there are fewer employees, individuals have the opportunity to build stronger relationships with team members, even outside of the workplace. After all, if you live and work in the same town, you’re bound to run into each other from time to time at the grocery store or park. The resulting depth of individual relationships can lead to a “we’re-all-in-this-together” feeling, which can increase employee satisfaction and retention.
While it may be easier and more natural for SMB employees to feel a sense of comradery, leaders and managers at businesses of all sizes can bring a team-like feeling to the workplace. Team get-togethers that incorporate personal interests or even family members provide opportunities for personal relationship-building. Events outside of the office, or meals shared together can have the same effect. Take the time to create opportunities for employees to get to know their colleagues through company-wide (or location-wide) events outside of the office and lunchtime events during the workday.
SMB to enterprise tip #1: Create an atmosphere of caring and personal relationships to improve employee engagement and loyalty.
#2: People are the greatest resource
As a best practice, SMBs tend to naturally put their people first. It only makes sense, since the relationships comprised in a SMB are typically much deeper and more personal. When a major organizational change, such as a layoff, is necessary, these companies have already done everything they could possibly do to avoid the situation. Specifically, in the case of a reduction in workforce, the business leaders typically understand that things are going to get personal because people are more intertwined in their work and personal lives, so they want to do all that they can to avoid them.
Through working with many SMBs tackling the challenge of preparing for and dealing with a layoff, we know that most of these leaders think a little harder about where to strategically spend their budget. This is why we see so many SMBs investing in outplacement services and career coaching—they care deeply for their employees and want to ensure that even once they’re laid off, they transition into the next phase of their career with less hurdles to overcome.
SMB to enterprise tip #2: Take care of your employees, no matter where they are in their career journey with your organization, even upon exit.
#3: Lean on your network (and don’t be afraid to call in the experts!)
SMBs, especially in times of crisis, are often strapped for time and resources. Depending on the size of the SMB, it’s highly unlikely it employs all of the experts needed to smoothly undergo a layoff, acquisition, or other organizational changes. What I’ve seen work well for SMBs in the past is tapping personal and local professional networks to get immediate resources and guidance. Enterprise businesses, even if they have access to a large internal resource, can take a page out of SMBs playbook and lean more heavily on their networks for outside expert advice.
For SMBs, that advice may come from local HR associations that can provide resources or checklists when a crisis does arise. Communications professionals or crisis public relations experts in your personal circle might have tips for making a local statement to the press. Put out a notice to your network to ask, “who has ever done this,” or “who has templates for communications for this situation?” Use your resources, ask questions, get advice, and figure out what works for your organization. I have leveraged this tactic a countless number of times when entering unfamiliar situations.
If going through a layoff specifically, all business owners should seek the legal advice of an employment attorney to ensure they’re adhering to all the employment rules and regulations that a layoff triggers. In addition, businesses of all sizes should partner with an outplacement expert like RiseSmart to take the burden off the HR department – no matter the size -- with notification and resiliency training for managers prior to the layoff, career transition support for impacted employees, and resiliency training for remaining employees.
SMB to enterprise tip #3: Rely on outside, expert advice during times of workforce transformations.
SMB employees often experience intertwined business and professional relationships allowing them to know each other on a more personal level. This means when business is going well, it feels like it’s going really well and becomes a significant, positive shared experience. Organizational leaders should take this into account when considering the employee experience, as relationships are often deep and highly valued. Think about how employees interact with your company at the very first touchpoint, during their tenure, through outplacement and beyond. SMBs seem to know this at their core—which just might be their secret to success.