Company culture isn’t a new phenomenon. Every company that has ever existed has operated with some form of culture. Awareness about company culture and how it impacts on business success is, however, relatively new.

The concept of ‘corporate culture’ was introduced to the field of management studies in the late 1970s. It attracted much attention. Ideas around business culture developed in the 1980s, and became more widely recognised in the 1990s.

In recent years, organisational culture has become more important than ever. The world of work has changed significantly as a result of technology and globalisation. Employees used to be satisfied with job security, even when company culture wasn’t particularly good.

Nowadays jobs aren’t for life and employees are looking for employment in companies that have meaningful purpose, values and a sense of responsibility. How employees view work has changed.

As a result, big corporates are launching social innovation units, and the idea of growing a positive company culture is gaining traction across the business world. Small businesses are taking company culture seriously too, with many adopting innovative and exciting ideas.

Let’s recap exactly what company culture is and how to distinguish good from bad, before taking a look at some great examples of company culture in small businesses.

What is company culture?

There isn’t an exact definition for company culture. It encompasses many aspects of a business. But company culture isn’t just surface-level perks. It’s more than that. Company culture is all about giving employees a sense of purpose. It encompasses supporting staff, holding them accountable, and offering opportunities for personal development.

Culture is about feelings, behaviours and meaningful relationships, not things. It involves trust and respect and it has to come from the top down. Collaboration is at the heart of a good business culture.

How to distinguish between a good and bad company culture

A bad or toxic culture usually develops insidiously. It generally happens when there’s a divide in the relationship between management and staff. Micro management, disrespectful or weak leadership, bullying behaviour, a lack of trust, no flexibility, discrimination and zero praise all contribute to a toxic company culture.

At the other end of the spectrum, a good company culture encourages personal growth, offers flexibility, fosters trust, encourages risk taking and offers praise and acknowledgement.

Here are two fantastic examples of small businesses getting company culture spot on:

Propellernet

Propellernet is a Brighton-based marketing agency embracing the idea of a positive company culture as being crucial to its success.

Consistently named as a top UK place to work by the Great Place to Work Institute, Propellernet work hard as a business to support their staff to be the best they can be. They have been recognised as one of the UK’s best places to work for 5 years running, so they clearly have a winning formula when it comes to company culture.

How do they do it? For starters, they make the health and well-being of their staff a priority. The business focuses heavily on staff in its business plan and constantly looks for ways to challenge, engage and inspire its employees.

Propellernet is committed to the development of its employees and offers all staff the option to take up to 12 days a year to learn something new. Their ethos is based on caring about people’s dreams.

By encouraging employees to lead a full life, they get creative, innovative employees who want to work hard and do well. Personal development days are part of the monthly calendar and staff are encouraged to take sabbaticals for personal projects.

The supportive environment at Propellernet includes wellbeing check-ins. The business has also taken the decision to put a cap on headcount. Its focus is on growing revenue per employee (the 60 precious seats and dreams model).

Masabi

Masabi is a London-based engineering outfit providing mobile ticketing solutions to the transport industry. The mantra at Masabi is #LoveWhatYouDo. They believe firmly in the concept that the products they build are only as good as the people that build them. As a result, the business works hard to create a culture of collaboration, innovation and communication.

The three founders of Masabi are still on board since the company’s inception 10 years ago. The company values, vision and culture are driven from the top down and underpinned by a coaching and problem-solving ethos. The business supports flexible working and is set up for collaborative working with regular team meetings, company-wide meetings and team lunches. Social engagement is actively encouraged.

Masabi doesn’t relate at all to a traditional hierarchical management model. It describes itself as having an agile working culture supporting autonomy and greater developmental opportunities.

The business successfully blends management with self-governance, regular evaluation, and engagement tracking to achieve a healthy focus on results.

Read more about Propellernet, Masabi and other examples of businesses getting company culture right in our report on The Culture Economy.

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