How Small Business Culture Can Create Success

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What do you think of when you think about small business culture?  It can mean many things depending on who you talk to. It can be a “brand,” motto, values, uniforms, or behaviors. It could also be service level, return/exchange policy, or customer appreciation gestures. Do you think of Main Street USA, with all the “Mom n’ Pop” shops on both sides of the street? Do you think about a small business doing business out of a garage?


Culture is a set of attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and customs. These cultural cues are ingrained in the members of the business, team, or group, and then accepted as the norm. Beliefs about the role of the business, and how business activities fall into this understanding of culture, is typically dictated by how employees interact within their own cultural boundaries. Small business culture will determine what kind of customers it attracts, the service it delivers, and its growth.


Customs of a business culture might be dress code, communication style, physical environment, or even the level of formality. Dress code in the workplace projects an image about the company, to potential and current customers. If a business doesn’t have a dress code, employees will certainly attempt to wear whatever they deem to be appropriate, and this may not always be acceptable. Customers do not want to feel like they are giving their hard earned money to a business that doesn’t care about its image. In a business to business relationship, it is important to understand that each party is a reflection of the other. Business owners/managers should always protect their interests by having a written dress code policy, otherwise the business might suffer.


Communication style (in the literal sense) is another custom that reflects onto the business. If communication within an organization is relaxed and unprofessional, the same will occur when meeting with customers. Maintaining professional dialogue will also minimize the chance for harassment charges. Communication style in the functional sense is an important part of a business’ success. If communication breaks down within an organization, service and sales will be compromised. Businesses should set forth expectations for communication protocol, in order to prevent lost sales.


Most successful business leaders would agree that the physical environment of a business can make or break the bank. In a retail environment it is crucial to have an inviting environment, which includes clean, uncluttered, and safe. Not many consumers will frequent dirty, cluttered, and unsafe establishments. A good rule to follow when creating business culture, especially in retail, is “Straight is clean, Crooked is dirty”.



In a manufacturing environment, clean, safe, and uncluttered are equally important the success of the business. If the physical environment in a manufacturing plant is not maintained, morale tends to be bad, and accidents are frequent. Morale and injuries tend to go hand in hand, and both affect the company’s bottom line. A business that creates a culture of cleanliness will also experience better morale and fewer accidents as employees will be more inclined to maintain a clean environment.


Professional office environments must also be maintained and inviting, otherwise customers will likely avoid visiting or directing new business to the company. Most people clean their homes before inviting guests, the same should be true in the workplace.


Attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors are related, and have a huge impact on business culture.  Is there a difference between large business culture and small business culture? The answer isn’t easy.


Large businesses have usually established through expensive media campaigns, and large cash outlays for remodels, uniforms, or other things that will help them establish their “brand” or culture. However, despite these investments, they may be challenged by employees that don’t buy into the campaign. The customer may easily identify the culture to the business, but that doesn’t guarantee employees will deliver according to the cultural context.


Small businesses on the other hand may not have the resources for expensive media campaigns, etc. but since they are smaller in employee numbers, the employees tend to be more invested. Small businesses pride themselves on customer intimacy, less bureaucracy, and ability to “walk the talk”. Employees in small businesses tend to share the same understanding of goals, processes, and expectations.


Large and small business cultures require the same ingredients, just on different levels. Both require established dress codes, communication processes, clean facilities, and most importantly, EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT. If employees don’t buy into the company culture, everything else is wasted. Company culture should begin in the early stages of training, train to retain employees that believe in the company culture. Employees that believe in the company culture will also live and share it with others.


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