On the surface, the most successful small businesses usually aren’t that different from the competition. They sell the same products at similar prices, but when you examine success, the one thing that usually sets them apart is their culture.
Fostering the right culture doesn’t happen by accident. It’s not an entirely “organic” process that can be left up to chance. It’s guided and deliberate. While it does leave room for quirks and creativity, a properly cultivated culture has three things that set it apart: attainable goals, a set of measurable outcomes, and a definite direction.
1. Attainable Goals
“Bill’s Bar & Grill exists to end world hunger, foster world peace, and unite the global community around a sustainable future while making a bunch of money.”
That’s one heck of a mission statement. It’s also practically meaningless. There’s really no practical way to know whether those goals are being met and whether Bill’s Bar & Grill had any impact on their progress, unless Bill’s Bar & Grill happens to be located in the lobby of the UN. And even then…
A far better way to approach goal-setting is to ensure all goals can actually be attained in a measurable way. So, if we run Bill’s Bar & Grill on a typical American “Main Street”, a better statement would be:
“Bill’s Bar & Grill exists to serve outstanding food and drinks to every guest who walks in, provide a friendly dining experience, and give back to our local community as a successful local business.”
Now that we can measure! Having attainable goals is the first step. These are goals I can constantly communicate to the staff and use to evaluate our performance.
2. Measurable Outcomes
Now that Bill’s Bar & Grill has a more realistic set of goals, we can start measuring our success.
Did every guest get fed? Including children, vegetarians, and gluten-sensitive guests? Were there any complaints or incidents with my staff members? What do we do with the food we didn’t use? Is there a local shelter nearby that would be interested in working with us to make sure edible food isn’t just being thrown away? Did we meet our minimum profit goals this week/month?
There are easy answers to every one of those questions. It’s not just for food and drink either. Consider the simplicity of Tom’s Shoes. For every pair bought, a pair is donated. It’s a simple, measurable goal and one that sets it apart as a culture. At the end of the day, the CEO can ask, how many shoes did we sell and how many did we donate?
Success breeds success. Attaining a small goal will give everyone the morale and confidence to go after bigger and bigger goals. Failure breeds failure. Missing out on large goals again and again will deflate a team and sap confidence for even the most hittable targets.
3. A Definite Direction
“Where is this going?”
There should always be an answer to that question in the mind of every manager and business owner. This also doesn’t have to be an existential puzzle. If I run a small retail outlet, then the goal is likely to provide for my family, give opportunity to my employees, and contribute back to my community. Whether that means I plan to open additional locations and begin franchising, or selling the business as a retirement nest-egg, that’s up to my circumstances. But there’s a reason for me to be here.
Nothing is more damaging to a culture than a mentality of, “I’m here because I need the paycheck”. Now, that may be the reality, but it can’t be the mentality. Every job allows for growth, for experimentation, for challenge, even for fun!
It’s your job as a manager/owner/overseer to engage your employees. If you’re working with low-skill teenagers, that means you’re likely providing a stepping stone. Work with them to cultivate a sense of duty and responsibility. If you work in high-end luxury retail, build that professionalism your clientele expects.
Life is changing for everyone, like it or not. But while my employees are here, this is the direction in which we’re all pulling together.
Every employee is an individual, but so is a company. Your corporate culture will have an identity, the only question is whether it’s the one you build or the one that gets built around you.
Setting attainable goals, measuring the outcomes, and adjusting the directions as a result will ensure your company is consistent in meeting its goals. By definition, a company that consistently meets its goals is successful. Let that be the identity of the culture you build.
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