Why culture should matter to SMBs

Merriam-Webster’s Top Word of 2014 was “Culture”. Culture has a lot of meanings and applications these days, but in recent times there has been a lot of discussion on company or corporate culture, and how your culture either helps or hinders your organization. This is a topic that is near and dear to me, as in my opinion, priority number one for a CEO is to foster and nurture a strong culture. There are several types of company cultures, but I believe that the highest performing cultures are ones where employees are empowered and also allowed to make mistakes. There has been a lot written about the corporate cultures of Apple, Google, Netflix, Zappos and others and I believe that these companies have understood that by tapping into hearts and minds of their staff they have achieved phenomenal success and we aspire to do the same at Aercoustics. I recently had the opportunity to hear a presentation from Jack Daly on corporate culture, and there were two concepts that stuck with me from his presentation:

  1. Copy the Masters (i.e. Apple, Netflix, etc.)
  2. If you get the culture right, everything else is easier.

Here at Aercoustics, we have built a high-performing culture that fosters innovation and creativity that results in “Outrageous” Engineering. The benefits of this culture serve us internally and our clients externally. One of the underlying principles of our company’s culture is based on the belief that once people’s basic needs are met they are intrinsically motivated to do a good job and learn more. This principle and concept was first introduced to me in Daniel Pink’s book – Drive. I think many companies, particularly small to medium sized companies struggle with the concept of culture when what we typically see referenced as leaders in culture are the Apples and Googles of the world. I would encourage any and every business to take what they can from these giants and incorporate what works for your organization. I am pleased to share some of the concepts and lessons that we have found useful and hopefully it will help others to build their own unique cultures:

  1. Your culture should be your own. Take cues and pieces from others that may work for your organization, but make it unique.
  2. Your culture has to be authentic. You have to be a living example of your culture and you can’t fake it. If the leadership team can’t embody the culture, it will never take hold.
  3. Develop a corporate charter. This will help to better formalize and define the values and operating principles that found the culture. Be prepared to have staff challenge each other and hold each other and leadership accountable to the charter.
  4. Keep it dynamic. Culture is one of those things that is hard to define as a tangible asset, and so it takes continuous work. Management and leadership have to keep working to get it right and keep adding pieces as you go.
  5. Systems and processes are essential to a strong culture! The key here is to ensure that the systems and processes suit the culture and are in the background. Once the systems and processes become the focus, you will inevitably build a culture of compliance and not one of engagement.
  6. Be intentional. Like most other things in business, intentionality and accountability are key pieces to having a strong culture. Spend a lot of time thinking about what type of culture you have today, and what type of culture you want to have.
  7. Don’t be afraid of mistakes. High performing cultures mean empowering people to make decisions, and recognizing that occasionally people will make mistakes that will cost money – and that’s okay provided they learn.

The benefits of our culture are both tangible and intangible. Tangible as experienced by strong financial performance as a result of increased productivity. Intangible benefits including high level of engagement, low turnover, and a lot of fun times! The reality is that by taking care of your staff and creating an environment of empowerment, you will be surprised what people will do without having to be asked.

I am more than happy to share what we have done at Aercoustics more specifically. For any more specific information please feel free to contact me at [email protected].