As a business owner, you spend your day in the trenches, growing your client base, tracking sales and planning your next big move. You may not have much energy left to pursue more abstract ambitions, like building company culture — at times, it may feel like improving employee morale or creating a supportive work environment will just have to wait.
But creating the sort of workplace culture that will help you attract and retain the top employees should be a priority, no matter what your business does.
"Culture unleashes the power and energy of every individual in the organization," said Manish Goel, a board member of Aerospike Inc. "No matter how much work is put into developing strategies, all have to work in an environment where they feel they can succeed and are supported. A great culture ... has to be fostered."
In a recent survey of hundreds of businesses owners — conducted by The Alternative Board (TAB), an international provider of executive peer advisory boards — 93 percent of entrepreneurs agreed that promoting company culture boosts productivity and creativity.
"When an employer considers the wants and needs of their employees, and creates policies and a workplace environment based around them, it sends a clear message to their people. That message is: 'We value you,'" said Jodie Shaw, chief marketing officer for TAB. "When you value your people, it creates a happier workplace. Employees who feel they are valued and trusted are more loyal and therefore more productive."
Shaw and Goel provided four simple ways that leaders can build and improve company culture. [See Related Story: 7 Common Causes of Corporate Culture Crises]
Remove hierarchies. The new "open door" policy is the "no-door" policy, Goel said. It's easy to fall into the trap of "us" and "them" when leadership is behind closed doors and others are in a cube. This type of environment creates an atmosphere of intimidation and inhibits the free flow of ideas, he said.
Empower and trust. When you're a business leader, most of what goes on in the organization is not visible to you. Goel advised leaders to empower and trust their co-workers to make the right decisions. The benefits of trusting and empowering others far outweigh the fear that mistakes will be made.
"It is important for the entire company to know that they are an integral part of the company's success," he said. "Control outcomes, not behaviors."
Offer flexibility. One of the findings from the TAB survey was that business leaders who identified their work culture as "strong" offered more flexible work arrangements, such as flextime, compressed workweeks and telecommuting. Even in environments that are more formal or in positions where extensive flexibility is not a possibility, employers can still make meaningful efforts to provide a work-life balance, Shaw said. These efforts can include allowing employees to leave early to take care of family or personal commitments and make up the time later; offering dress-down days; or encouraging employees to take their birthday off as paid leave.
Listen. The most important thing you can do for your company culture is to listen to those who are a part of it, whether that be administering a company survey or just asking someone how their day is going. Foster the type of environment where your co-workers feel comfortable enough to reach out, no matter their status within the company, Goel said.
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.