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How to Improve Business Culture: The Top 5 Practices Small Businesses Can Start Doing to Develop Their Company’s Unique Culture

The concept of Business Culture for many companies tends to draw up more questions than solutions. What is our culture? How do we set our business culture?

In any business, the style or model of business operations in a company is determined to be that company’s “culture.” It’s this culture that is vital to a company’s identity and philosophy of how to run itself each day. How staff communicate with each other, how communications work between staff and customers, and how businesses handle every day issues and transactions all tie into a business culture. So how do you improve your business culture? Companies big and small can shift and mold their business culture and set the tone for their company the way they want by implementing the following five practices. Lets review and get started! 

  1. Encourage open communication

For many companies the idea of staff and employee open communication is frightening. What if staff say something we don’t like? What if staff say they are unhappy? What if a customer doesn’t like our product? Well what if through open communication your company fosters honesty, identifies areas to improve, and delivers an even more customer-focused product? By developing an open communication system, companies can develop a trusting environment for all parties to thrive. Culture starts with knowing the truth about a company.

 

  1. Value contributions

One way to find out what kind of “culture” your company has is to embrace and value employee contributions. What does each person bring to the table? What are ways in which employees feel appreciated? If a company can identify ways to value contributions from its employees, it can create an environment that draws out more contributions from the employees as well as give employers a good sense of who they have on the team and if that team fits into the culture the company is wanting to develop.

 

  1. Develop employee engagement activities

Every company faces similar challenges with staff retention. Many companies lose good staff because they do not engage the employees that work hard for the company each day. Create activities that engage employees. This doesn’t have to be a huge event or costly outing. These activities can simply be round table “get to know you” discussions, after work gatherings, and small communications such as group emails or messages. By engaging employees, employers begin to look at drawing out the similarities and differences that will shape the culture as the team gets to know each other more.

  1. Deliver the culture

Deliver the culture? Sounds funky, but hear us out. Companies big and small can be the spearheads of the culture they want the company to adopt. If the owner enjoys humor, companies can embrace professional light-hearted banter. If a company wants people to value work life balance, they can set a tone that everyone clocks out at the same time to be with their families. Whatever the owner or company wants the culture to be, start implementing that into the daily practice and the rest will follow.

 

  1. Promote the team

Small businesses know the value of the team. To shape and develop a culture the company wants to take on, employers should look at encouraging the team to be leaders in developing such culture. If employees feel empowered, they take ownership of the company’s mission, values, and culture. By promoting the team, small businesses will see the values of the company through its employees.

Setting a business culture may not happen overnight. By implementing the concepts and ideas mentioned above, small businesses can begin to shift and mold their company’s culture and set the stage for fostering a strong business philosophy. No business culture is alike, but for many businesses starting with a plan and engaging ways to develop culture can happen sooner than one would thi

Performance Reviews: Are You Making These Mistakes?

Yearly reviews are commonplace in many organizations, but they are often dreaded by both the reviewers and the employees being reviewed. Managers feel uncomfortable giving out negative feedback, while those reporting to them stress while anticipating the feedback.

The main problem of annual reviews, aside from their negative connotation, is that they are largely ineffective. A study found that job appraisals negatively affected job performance more than one third of the time. As a result, many companies around the world, such as Microsoft and Gap, are phasing out traditional annual reviews altogether. However, performance reviews can be effective if the leaders correct mistakes they are making in this process! Read on to find out if you are making common mistakes during the evaluation meetings with your staff and how you can ensure yours is successful.

Not Timely

Another problem with the annual review is that it’s only given once a year. That is not nearly enough time for managers to be able to provide productive feedback and work together with their employees to make relevant changes.

When you sit down with a staff member in December and mention something that occurred in May, the individual may have no recollection of the incident. Therefore, leaders have to provide timely feedback instead of waiting a year to bring something up.

The most beneficial feedback is immediate, or at least timely, brought up within a few days of the occurrence; otherwise, it is just pointless. While a formal meeting to discuss the yearly performance may be helpful when discussing promotions or raises, feedback should be regularly provided during the course of the workweek.

Focusing on the Negative

Bosses often misunderstand the main point of the performance review, which is to help employees work more productively and efficiently. Instead, they consider this a time to air their grievances and dissatisfaction with the team member. Even if the individual is performing up to the standards most of the time, if the supervisor focuses solely on what needs to improve during the review, it may negatively impact the loyalty and job satisfaction of the person.

Even if you have an employee who is underperforming in many areas, it is helpful to first bring up something positive about their efforts before concentrating on the negative. Consider the small things that the person may be getting right, like the fact that they are always pleasant, to bring up before moving on to what they may need to improve.

Not Setting Benchmarks

The feedback given out during a performance review will likely not amount to anything unless measurable and realistic benchmarks are set and agreed upon by both the employer and the employee. It’s not enough to tell a subordinate that they need to work faster; to help them become more productive, set small goals that the individual can work towards.

For example, if you need a staff member to work faster, instead of telling them to do so, you should count how many tasks the person currently accomplishes in one week, and increase that by 5 percent per month to see if they can ultimately speed up by 15 percent. It’s important for managers to be involved in this process, observing current behaviors, setting goals and then measuring the employee performance to see if they are meeting those goals.

The reason performance reviews get a bad rap is because many managers are not doing them properly. Sitting down to provide feedback only once a year, focusing on the negative and not setting benchmarks makes the process ineffective; however, making small changes can positively impact both the person and your company.

 

How Corporate Social Responsibility Can Help Your Business

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a strategy many small and mid-size business owners should embrace for two reasons: to help society and to help their own image. There are many causes you can choose to support, such as saving the rainforest, helping refugees, or contributing to a local boys & girls club. A source lists the most common causes of US companies as the following:
1. Efforts to protect the environment (74%),
2. End discrimination or restrictions based on sexual orientation (59%) or gender (54%),
3. Improve access to quality education (59%)
4. Protect human rights abroad (49%)
5. End discrimination/restrictions based on gender identity (52%)

Why adopt CSR into your operations? For these three reasons:

Set Your Business Apart

Regardless of what niche your business is in, you have competition. A way to identify your brand and let potential clients know what sets you apart from your competitors is with the adoption of a social initiative. For example, TOMS shoes, is a great example of an owner who built CSR right into the business model. For every pair of shoes bought, the company donates a pair to those in need around the world. This cause helped people connect with the brand, and sales soared!

People like feeling good about themselves and know that they are making a difference in the world by spending their money. If you align your business interests with a social or environmental cause, you can set your business apart and grab more market share away from your competitors.

Staff Engagement

While a CSR can help you connect with your audience, it is also beneficial to your own staff. Although they are motivated to come to work every day to receive a paycheck, they can become more engaged with the company and invested in its success if there is a cause they believe in involved.

For example, some real estate agents participate in a network called Charitable Agents, which donates 10 percent of commission from homes sales to charities. Agents can feel good about not only making a profit from a sale, but also contributing to a cause close to their heart. This benefits the business with more exposure, as people looking to make a difference when buying or selling a home will find an agent through this network, bringing new business to the agency.

Lower Costs

Corporate social responsibility doesn’t only have to involve donating money to causes, it can also benefit you within the confines of your company. For example, companies who pledge to help the environment should start with changes in their own offices, such as recycling, switching to energy-friendly appliances and technology, reducing water usage, etc.

Not only will these actions represent your true commitment to your cause to your clients and employees, but it will cut costs and promote your own sustainability in the years to come.

Oftentimes, small business owners need funds to market their CSR efforts, otherwise their clients may not know about them. IOU Financial is committed to helping business owners make a difference in the world, which is why we offer small business loans in as little as 24 hours.

Low Corporate Morale? Five Ways to Boost Employee Engagement

Working in today’s world is not easy – the hours are getting longer, the responsibilities more intense and the push to cut costs are brutal. Many business owners find that they have more to do to stay afloat with less resources to hire staff, so all employees end up doing more with less – less time, less money and less help.

Overworked and tired employees develop low corporate morale as they stop looking forward to coming to work every morning, and feel tired and stressed out. This leads to high employee turnover, decreased productivity and an unhappy workplace.

On the other hand, engaged employees are better for business – a source states that businesses where the staff members are truly engaged “have 6% higher net profit margins,” according to Towers Perrin research and “five times higher shareholder returns over five years,” according to Kenexa research. It is up to the business owner to find ways to boost employee engagement, which will create a better corporate culture and better overall morale.

What is Employee Engagement?

An employee who is truly engaged is invested into the success of the company in which they work. They don’t just come in to receive a paycheck, but care about the company’s goals and interests. This type of team member uses discretionary effort, meaning they do things to help the company without having to be asked or required to do so. This can involve staying late or coming in on a weekend, mentoring a new staffer, or addressing a safety concern.

How do You Promote Employee Engagement?

In order to “turn that frown upside down,” use the following tips to improve corporate morale to increase employee engagement:

Reward Your Staff’s Efforts

When small business owners hear the term “reward,” they tend to think of financial rewards; however, rewards don’t have to cost anything! Simply showing your staff that you recognize their hard work and are grateful for their efforts is often more than enough to get them to take ownership of their responsibilities and become more engaged.

Oftentimes, simply saying, “I see you are working hard, and I appreciate it,” will do the trick. However, it can also be advantageous to recognize certain team members publicly during a staff meeting or to create an employee of the month award so that the whole office is aware of someone’s achievement. 


Other ways to reward staff without spending a dime are to let them go home earlier after a long week, give them a day off after a busy season that required continuous overtime or to host a potluck to celebrate a big company win!

Support a Cause

It’s important to remember that companies are made up of people, and that many of them are motivated by social causes. A great way to boost engagement is to survey your employees about causes important to them – be that the environment, local boys and girls clubs or third world countries. After calculating the responses, pick a social cause that you can support as a company.

You can either dedicate a percentage of your profits to the cause, or help bring awareness to it through marketing and social media campaigns. To take it a step further and truly unite your team members to strive for a common goal, dedicate a day to go out and make a difference together. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter or build houses for Houses of Humanity to help those that are less fortunate.

The best way to boost morale and create employee engagement is to take the time to get to know your staff, form relationships with them, and make them feel appreciated!

 

Five Ways to Lead Independent Thinkers

There are different types of leaders – micro and macro-managers. Micro-managers are akin to dictators, they want to be involved in every small decision, and do not provide their staff members with the ability to think for themselves. Macro-managers, on the other hand, lead a democratic team, encouraging their employees to make their own decisions, take chances, and provide innovative solutions to everyday problems.

Time and time again, research studies have proven that macro-managers are the best types of leaders; this manager not only creates a happier corporate culture, but has loyal and productive employees. However, in order for a manager to relinquish control and delegate tasks to staff members, they need to be sure that the workers are up to the challenge of working independently and trusting their own instincts. Whether you are integrating a new candidate into your team, or want to delegate more and micromanage less, you can lead your staff to become more independent thinkers in the following five ways.

Delegate

A common grievance of bosses is that they spend a majority of their day on tasks their staff members should be doing. However, not all supervisors have the skills necessary to take themselves out of the equation and delegate tasks to free up their schedule.

The first step to encouraging employees to think on their own is to make them responsible for their own tasks. This process starts with the team’s leader – this individual must be able to hand out assignments without looking over the individual’s’ shoulders every step of the way. Employees must feel capable and qualified to handle their duties in order to start thinking independently, otherwise they will keep turning to the boss with every question or concern.

Be Open to Different Views

Once tasks have been given out, the manager must be open to hearing and implementing different views. Many leaders feel comfortable following the status quo, and resist any suggestions to innovate. This attitude stifles the minds of the employees, and doesn’t encourage them to think on their own, as they know that any suggestion will be ignored or denied.

Trust the Capabilities of Your Staff

Another component to promoting independent thinking is to fully trust in the fact that your employees are capable of making their own decisions, and are invested in the best interests of the company. After all, you hired them for a reason! When bosses stop second guessing their team members, and trust that they are experts in their field and have the experience and knowledge to work independently, they can start encouraging their staff to trust themselves.

Encourage Original Thinking

To promote independent thinkers in your workforce, you should promote original and out-of-the-box thinking. Ask your employees to come up with innovative ideas and share them with the rest of the team. Consider rewarding employees who offer unique ideas that can benefit your company – you can offer gift certificates, time off or bonuses for the effort!

Provide Inspiration

Innovation often comes from inspiration, but it’s difficult to get inspired inside the bland walls of most office environments. To promote creativity and original thought, provide inspiration in the form of bright colors, vivid images (art and photography), music and unique experiences in the office.

Advise your employees to take a walk outside if they are in the process of a creative endeavor, or take your team to an ethnic restaurant to introduce them to flavors and smells from different cultures. All of these experiences can contribute to helping them change the status quo.

How Redefining Your Core Values Can Benefit Your Business

As the new year momentum continues, it can be beneficial to review the core values of your business to see what you can amend and improve upon. Redefining your business core values to make them significant and actually mean something to your staff, partners, and customers can play a monumental role in the way your company is seen and how others relate to your brand.

A source for Harvard Business Review, who has helped companies refine their corporate values for over one decade, states that bland or meaningless values can damage the credibility of the company and alienate employees. To prevent this, revisit your current core values, find room for improvement, and take the following steps to redefine them.

Review Your Current Core Values

To start, re-familiarize yourself with the current corporate values you have established. Are they still relevant, achievable, and actually being implemented? For example, if one of the values is transparency, do your firm’s daily operations reflect that goal? Does information freely flow from top to bottom and in reverse? Are you open and honest with your investors, business partners, and clients about any issues, roadblocks or failures?

Remove any core values that are no longer important to your brand, don’t say anything about your corporate identity, or are simply impossible to achieve.

Survey Your Team

An organization is made up of the team members employed there; therefore, it can be beneficial to survey your employees to find out what their personal values are. If you able to align the personal beliefs and values of your staff with your business values, you can create a better corporate culture and overall working experience for your team.

Send out an email or online survey and ask employees to write down three to five personal values that matter to them. Review these answers and narrow down the top five to 10 choices based on popularity, significance, and relevance to your brand.

For example, if the majority of your staff value sustainability and the green movement, you may consider adding an eco-friendly component to your company’s philanthropic efforts. This can increase employee loyalty by supporting a cause that is important to them, and also start to promote your brand image with a new and important initiative.

Implement the Newly Established Core Values

Once you remove outdated and irrelevant values, and have worked with your staff to come up with meaningful new principles, you must create a plan to implement them. Core values must be ingrained in every decision and practice of the organization because they are the foundation of the brand’s identity.

If you added honest communication as a core value, for example, consider investing in training that would improve the communication skills of your managers and other staff members. Teaching them to better read nonverbal cues, actively listen, and understand difference in multicultural communication can lead to a more productive work environment.

Redefining your core corporate values can unite you with your clientele, partners, and employees by exposing the main principles that define your company and creating common goals for all staff to follow. Revisit your business’ core values while you’re still riding the momentum of New Year’s Resolutions and betterment initiatives!

Is Offering Unlimited Paid Time Off Right for Your Company? A Top 5 Pro and Con Review

Offering employees perks is no new concept. Many companies offer great benefits, 401k options, and discounts on everyday purchases through employee rewards programs. For many companies offering perks to employees has been a major selling point when they aim to recruit some of the best talent. But what about offering employees the perk of unlimited paid time off? While this may sound crazy to some, many companies are starting to offer this amazing benefit. But at what cost? In this post we will review 5 Pros and Cons of offering employees unlimited paid time off

1. Pro: Morale Boost

Boosting and maintaining morale is one challenge that every employer faces. Offering an incentive of essentially “unlimited” vacation time at an employee’s disposal is a major draw of talent who may be swayed by other companies offering great benefits packages. Offering and supplying unlimited paid time off is an instant morale boost.

  • Con: Employees may take advantage. While employees would “assume” people would follow the norm of 2-3 weeks off a year, plus a given day here or there, they must be ready to have practices in place if an employee decides unlimited time off means “unlimited.”

2. Pro: No Rush to Take Unused Time

We have all been there. End of year or end of cycle where paid time off is available to be used and we are rushed to use that time before it gets cashed out or blocked by accrual caps. By offering unlimited paid time off, employees are less likely to bank and dump that time. They may spread the time out, take smaller chunks of time off, and use the time when things come up, rather than use it at the worst time or because they were forced to.  

  • Con: No rush to come back. One downside is that once the employee’s foot is out the door, they may be no rush to get that foot back inside. One major risk is some employees may take advantage of this policy or skip out of the office for larger chunks of time. Some employees may come and go so often that it starts to impact their work and those who rely on them.

3. Pro: Monitoring Gets Easier

Human Resources (HR) costs and managing of employee’s time off can be daunting, tricky, and costly all in itself. Watching employees’ time so they don’t abuse it comes at a price. With unlimited time, HR doesn’t have keep track of  how much personal time, sick time, accrued time, etc. so closely.  Some numbers suggest that an unlimited vacation time policy saved companies over 50 hours a year in administrative time.

  • Con: Implementation is tricky. For those employees who have been with a company before an unlimited time off policy goes into effect may be impacted by the banked hours they were able to keep. For many “old timers” who leave they may want to cash out their hours for cash. Those folks would need to be considered if “paid time off” became non-monetized in value.

4. Pro: Less Employee Overhead

Consider all the overhead of housing employees throughout the year and the cost associated with each employee being in the office each and every day. By offering unlimited paid time off, employees may become more efficient, happier, and do not waste as much time in the office because they are tied to a “schedule.” By allowing employees to go when they need, they reduce wasted time, energy, and overall overhead costs.

  • Con: Lack of face time. Employees that are out of the office tend to not be as visible. Therefore, offering unlimited paid time may be a dip in important face time with their colleagues and business partners. If companies rely on face time and presence, this option may put a damper on the party.

5. It Sounds & Looks Good

How good does “unlimited paid time off” sound? It sounds like a perk nobody could pass up, like  freedom for employees, and like it is almost too good to be true. Bragging about this option would make a company sound great to work for and seem very forward thinking.

  • Con: Performance can be bad. One downside with giving employees complete freedom is that for those that may take advantage, could leave a company in worse shape. Performance could go down, which may ultimately impact the overall strength of the company. Having one bad apple may ruin it for the whole barrel.

While there are many pros to offering unlimited paid time off for employees, companies must also think of the other side of the coin. By offering employees such an amazing perk, a company could be positioned to increase productivity, morale, and overall appearances. However that can also be the exact opposite if not implemented correctly. By understanding the above 5 pros and cons, companies can now consider if this is a right move to make at the current time.  By going in this direction, the innovative approach to employee benefits could also impact the company’s interests.

Should You Allow Pets at the Workplace?

As a business owner, there are a lot of decisions you need to make about the best policies for your office. You may offer your employees unlimited vacation, the option to telecommute to work, or free lunch. Another benefit to consider offering your staff members is a pet-friendly office environment. Although this may seem counterproductive to running a successful operation, it’s becoming more common for business owners to allow staff members to bring their pets to work. Is a pet-friendly office right for your business? Consider the benefits that pets can offer to your team members, such as:

dog_blogLower Stress Levels

The workplace is a fast-paced, demanding environment, which creates stress for working professionals. Forty percent of workers stated that they were very or extremely stressed out on the job, and 25 percent said that their work was the number one cause of stress in their lives. The effects of stress on the body are well-known: high blood pressure, sleep problems, weight issues, diabetes and heart attacks.

One effective way to fight stress is to create a pet-friendly office where employees are allowed to bring in their cats and dogs. A 2012 study found that employees who brought their pets to work reported being less stressed out throughout the day.

Dogs have been proven to reduce levels of cortisol, which is a hormone that is responsible for stress, while raising the levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone,” which causes happiness. A 2001 study found that pets can lower blood pressure levels that are caused by mental stress.

Improved Communication

Employees must be able to effectively communicate with each other, ask each other for help, and create a support system in the office. However, most professionals are too busy with their responsibilities to get to know their colleagues.

Bringing pets to work has been shown to increase interaction between employees. “When I first took the job, I often learned the names of the pets before employees, and it helped me build a bond with everyone,” stated Lisa Conklin, public relations manager for Replacements, a dinnerware retailer.

When a team is able to communicate effectively, they are more efficient, productive and happier. This benefits business owners with a better corporate culture, higher employee retention rates and additional profits due to increase productivity.

Work/ Life Balance

Employees are increasingly demanding a better work/ life balance amidst the longer work  hours common in the US. A pet-friendly office helps to improve that balance by allowing staff members to bring their beloved pets to work. A long day at the office does not seem so bad when your employee’s canine best friend is next to them. Additionally, it takes away the burden of hiring dog walkers or worrying about pets being alone for extended periods of time.

Set Policies When Allowing Pets at Work

If you believe that allowing pets at work could benefit your business, it is advantageous to create rules that all employees must abide by. First, the office should be pet-proofed, which means all loose wires must be hidden, small objects must be removed from lower surfaces and all doors must be closed at all times.

Second, a pet policy should be adopted that allows only well-behaved and friendly pets to be brought to work. For example, a dog that is prone to barking will only distract your workers instead of increasing productivity.

Third, find out if any of your staff members have allergies to pets. If this is the case, they may agree to take allergy medications; however, that must be discussed before pets are allowed on the premises.

If you could benefit from more advice on managing a business, click here to find seven tips to small business success.