If you asked an employee to describe your company’s corporate culture, what would they say?  Do they even know what it is?

The best corporate cultures, even in small businesses, are defined as participatory, supportive and open. They are marked by two-way communications so that employees feel valued.  They also empower employees to contribute to success and offer ideas to turn things around when the waters get rough.

Many small businesses inadvertently dismiss corporate culture as a “top-down” function and fail to consider the prospect to build culture from within. Culture is often seen as a secondary or even tertiary management tool over “important” functions such as finance, customer care and marketing.

Countless studies indicate the high correlation between a positive corporate culture and performance.   In fact, a recent Deloitte study indicated that exceptional organizations create and sustain a culture that engages and motivates employees.

According to the survey, 83% of executives and 84% of employees rank “having engaged and motivated employees” as the top factor that substantially contributes to a company’s success.  There is a correlation between employees who say they are “happy at work” and feel “valued by [their] company” and those who say their organization have a clearly articulated culture.

Here are a few suggestions for sowing a great culture in the small business environment:

Open the Door to Employees’ Input in Shaping Culture:  Taking a cue from larger companies, employees’ input and ideas are tantamount to building trust and empowerment. As an example, corporate social responsibility programs are not exclusive to large corporations. Enable employees to tap into social and cultural connections by inviting charitable service opportunities with affiliate organizations that fit in with shared corporate goals.  

Embrace the Changing External Environment: Today’s fast-paced business environment has cultural implications. Employees on the front lines can be very astute in identifying shifts in your industry that impact culture. Service or product enhancements, identified and recognized by employees, help to create nimble organizations and foster innovation. 

Two-way communication is essential. Small-business owners who discuss values and issues honestly and realistically with their workforce and enlist employees' help in solving them will likely be rewarded with a healthy and productive internal environment.  Asking for and receiving input from employees fosters a cohesive business unit while engendering trust and support for management. This can be an important asset in helping small businesses grow quicker.

Setting a culture starts at the top. Small business owners’ behavior and attitudes set the stage for its corporate culture. Setting good examples in lifestyle, dedication to quality, business or personal ethics, and dealings with customers, vendors, employees and external influencers will find their companies defined by such characteristics.  Sharing and articulating the corporate values helps to define overall direction.

Corporate culture exists whether it’s accepted as part of the daily workings of the company or not. It can help or hinder a company's success depending on how it’s formed. Communication, transparency and employee input are the building blocks of a positive culture -- even more than increasing employees’ compensation.