Small Business CEO and Culture

I personally believe that you cannot change the culture of a business without changing the people. It’s like hitting the ‘refresh’ button. I also know this from personal experience, having had to change the culture of a few organizations along the way, and it can’t be done with a few workshops and bonding weekends.

People ARE the culture of a business. Look at Virgin, which is a much-used example but that company has such a strong culture it warrants comment. The culture is clearly driven by Richard Branson – his values, his beliefs, his energy. Without insider information from their global HR department, it seems pretty clear to me that they recruit to those values and employ people who embody the Virgin culture.

You cannot have a service focused business if your team doesn’t ‘get’ the whole customer experience perspective. Customer services needs to reach across the entire company from all the customer-facing staff (sales, account managers, customer service, reception – automated or real person) through to other departments including IT, HR, as well as how the accounts department interfaces with customers.

There are many ways that culture manifests in an organisation, from energy levels in the office, to employees going the extra mile, to rave reviews from customers and clients.

For small business CEOs, managing people and building the right culture is one of the most important aspects of your role. Good culture will translate to better business performance. Here are a few strategies for getting your culture right:

  1. Identify the ‘culture blockers’.

You know these people. They have been in your organisation for ever and plan on staying as long as it suits them. They resist change; they represent everything you are trying to change; they won’t listen to your directives and will do anything to maintain the status quo. They are also the people who remind you that ‘we did that before and it didn’t work’.

Use the tools at your disposal to set them straight on how things are to be done in your ‘new culture’ (use position descriptions, KPIs, new process guidelines etc). Three things will happen:

  • They will fall in line and embrace the new culture
  • They will appear to fall in line but their behaviour will undermine the new culture
  • They won’t fall in line because it’s all unfathomable, confronting and foreign (and that includes ii) above – and you will need to manage them out using your management tools
  1. Culture is about values and what’s important – make it clear to your team
  • Always focusing on client needs
  • Innovation
  • Celebrating wins
  • Doing what it takes
  • Going the extra mile
  • Trusting each other
  • Collaboration
  • Supporting each other to support the clients

These are just some examples of cultural values that contribute to successful businesses.

Identify what your values are. I find that doing this exercise on my own and then workshopping it with my team has created interesting outcomes. It will certainly identify the culture blockers we talked about in point 1.

  1. Recruit to your values

Don’t just recruit experience and skills for a particular role. Recruiting the right attitude, values and willingness to do a job the right way will take your business further than you would be capable of if you stayed in the ‘old culture’ way of doing things. As you start to infuse your business with new culture, the energy will shift and your results should improve too.

  1. Live and work to your values as the CEO

Your team need to trust you in order to let you lead them. If you demonstrate the values, beliefs and focus you want them to live by, they will trust your leadership and live the culture.