Company culture is one of those things which businesses often find really hard to define. It’s not easily quantifiable like sales figures or product costs. Instead, it’s a feeling or a state of affairs rather than a solid concept, which is why it often leaves company bosses scratching their heads.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Ultimately, you need to ask yourself what you want your company to look like and be known for. Do you want to be known as the firm that churns through employees, uses them up and spits them out without a second’s thought for their wellbeing? Or do you want to be known as a business which is flexible, forward-thinking, inclusive and fair?

Company culture is, in essence, a set of unwritten rules by which your company and staff behaviour is guided. If you get it right you’ll reap the benefits by attracting high quality, talented staff, retaining those staff and being perceived as a fair employer and someone worth working for. Get it wrong and you’ll suffer a staff brain drain and reduced productivity which will ultimately hit your bottom line.

Company culture is an invisible set of rules

More often than not company culture isn’t something you write down but rather it is an invisible set of rules which guides the behaviour inside your business. When starting out in business it’s easy to look to much larger companies such as Google or Facebook and simply try and copy wholesale what they do. But this is a mistake for SMEs for several reasons.

As an SME you’re never going to have the budget of big multinationals to be able to implement the same strategies that they do. You’re also not going to have the luxury of time as they do because you’re busy growing your business. And besides, it’s not a good idea to try and transplant the exact same ideas anyway. Company culture is unique to each business and should develop organically. What works for one business could be a disaster for yours.

Your company culture should evolve

Although culture is generally something that isn’t written down you can create a basis for it with a written set of values and a vision for your company – what you want it to be, how you want people to behave and what the company embodies. This could form part of your employee handbook.

But if you do try and define what you want you shouldn’t ignore it and never look at it again once it is done. Company culture should evolve over time and you can achieve this in the way you lead. If you display trust and openness with your staff as well as participate in their work actions/decisions it will help the work environment to evolve. If the way you lead is positive for you workers and positive for your business, then culture will develop alongside that.

Leveraging company culture when you recruit

As an SME you’re unlikely to have the financial backing to be able to offer the big salaries to candidates, but attracting top talent isn’t always about money. You need to be able to show why you’re worth working for instead of Joe Bloggs Ltd down the road, and one of the main ways you can do this is through having a positive company culture.

If you’re upfront about your values and convictions during the hiring process you will attract the people who share those same values and your culture will build. Workers with a shared company culture tend to pull together, work together more effectively and simply do better work.

Trust your staff

It can be hard to let go of your business when you are so intimately involved in it but if you want to build a positive company culture, then handing responsibility over to your staff is vital. If you micromanage your staff it will build resentment and a belief that you don’t trust them which can create a toxic atmosphere. However, if you give employees autonomy and purpose you’ll improve the quality of management and company culture organically.

Create a shared language

Company culture is the living expression of shared convictions but it is also manifested in the language choices people make within your business. At the outset you should define the language you choose to use which in turn informs the culture.

It’s important to create a shared language around the culture you have and the one you want.

Ultimately, there is no easy formula for figuring out company culture but if you follow these core principles you’ll build a great culture from the start and create a thriving business.