How to Create a Business Culture that Stands Up to Scrutiny

How to Create a Small Business Culture

The concept of social responsibility has been part of companies’ operations for a while now. But while social responsibility was once seen as being green or donating to charitable organizations, it’s taking on a broader meaning these days.

Perhaps due to constant sharing on social media, consumers — especially millennials and younger — have come to expect transparency from companies they do business with. has dubbed the trend Glass Box Brands. Now, the expectation of transparency is extending to corporate culture. In other words, your customers are paying as much attention to how you treat your employees as to how you treat the planet.

Here’s what you need to know to survive and thrive under the microscope.

Yes, You Have a Corporate Culture

Do you think your business is too small to have a corporate culture? Think again. Every business, no matter how tiny, has a corporate culture. It could be friendly and informal (like in many small businesses) or buttoned-up and bureaucratic (found in some small businesses). Do you and your employees chat about your weekends, socialize outside the office or grab lunch together? Does your staff wear jeans and hoodies, Dockers and company-issued polo shirts, or business suits? It’s all part of your corporate culture.

In a small business, corporate culture generally grows organically based on the personality and approach of the founder. If you’re Type A, for instance, your corporate culture is probably more procedure-oriented and rule-focused than if you’re a laid-back surfer type.

Your corporate culture may work for your business. But can it withstand outside scrutiny? The dozens of well-known companies discovering endemic in-house harassment shows that what seems like a casual, friendly culture may actually be toxic for some of the team.

If you discover weaknesses in your corporate culture, don’t try to cover them up. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to make positive changes. Then promote what you’re doing to the world.

How to Create a Small Business Culture

Offering good employee benefits, wages and perks are the most obvious signs of a good corporate culture. Here are some other hallmarks of a positive corporate culture — one that will win customers for your business and keep them.

  • Respect for employees. That means asking employees at all levels for their feedback, listening to their ideas and taking complaints or concerns seriously.
  • Ethical operations. Don’t just present an ethical face to the world — live your values inside the business, too. If you’re cutting corners in order to make a deadline, how would you feel if the whole world found out?
  • Sustainable HR. For transparent businesses, not only natural resources but human resources must be managed in a sustainable fashion. Are you working employees into the ground and burning them out, or are you encouraging a balanced approach to keep employees around for the long term?
  • Honest communication. Do you explain the reasoning behind your decisions to your team, or just issue an edict? If the company is having a bad quarter, do you share that with your employees — or do they have to guess based on your bad mood and the rumor mill? Honesty and openness create a positive work environment.
  • A  strong team. Does everyone know what the other employees’ jobs are, what they do all day and how it contributes to the whole? When employees understand where everyone fits into the big picture, they’ll be a stronger team.
  • A diverse workforce. Make an active effort to diversify your team by hiring employees with disabilities, women, people of color, and LGBTQ employees. Your company will benefit from new perspectives.

By taking an honest look at your corporate culture, then taking steps to remedy any problems, you’ll be building a long-term business that has nothing to hide.

Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.