No matter the size, businesses develop cultures over time and those beliefs and behaviors become ingrained in the workplace. A company’s culture is influenced by many factors, including the style of leadership, employee mindset, motivational factors, and opportunities for advancement, recognition, and interaction. With all these dynamics at work, it is vital to make certain your employees are engaged and committed to the mission of the organization.
Mind Your Business reached out to small business owners who have gone to great lengths to create and foster an employee culture of teamwork and accountability and found that they are reaping the rewards for their efforts. Following are just a few steps you can take to cultivate a winning culture in your business.
Assemble the Right Team
James Wearley, general manager of FEMC in Bedford Heights, knows first-hand what a difference the right team can make. When Wearley left the banking industry to step in to run his father-in-law’s custom packaging equipment manufacturing business five years ago, he was shocked to find the culture of the once thriving business in need of serious attention. “There was a culture of entitlement,” says Wearley. “No one wanted to share information or follow processes or procedures.” Wearley knew he either had to successfully change the mindset of the employees or build a better team. In the end, he had to do a lot of both.
As Wearley started making changes, he noticed a handful of employees jumped on board and thrived in the new team-oriented environment. “But a lot of employees had a shot and didn’t step up to the challenge,” Wearley says. So he turned his focus to hiring the right people who would fit into the new framework. “I didn’t have the money to go out and hire the starting quarterback,” he says. “I had to find people that had a little less experience, but that had the right mindset: the mindset of, ‘I will do what it takes for this team to be successful.’”
Once he had his team in place, the goals started to align. “We now have a culture based firmly on accountability,” says Wearley. “That is not only good for our company but ultimately adds value to our customers.” And the hard work has paid off. “I knew it was going to be a tough road to get here—like a rung on a ladder that seems too high up—but now that we’re here I feel that anything is possible. We are half the size as we were five years ago, and we have double the sales,” he says.
Hiring the right team is especially strategic for smaller businesses. Chelly Bevel, CEO of Chelly’s Nursing Review & Tutoring in Highland Heights, grew her company guided by a belief in the slow growth/no debt principle of business. But last year when she outgrew her third building, Bevel knew it was time to hire a full-time employee after having previously enlisted seasonal help. Finding the right fit for her business was paramount. “It’s almost like being parents,” Bevel says. “When there are just two of you, you have to be of one mind on everything. Ours is a huge team, even though it’s only two people.”
The key to her first hiring success? “Employees have to believe in your mission,” says Bevel. “And I don’t think it works well to have someone on your team exactly like you. I believe in hiring someone who can fill in your weaknesses with their strengths.”
Chart the Course
So you have your team in place. Now it’s time to chart the course. What is the mission of the organization and what are the strategies for accomplishing set goals? In any busy business, it’s crucial everyone knows what is expected and how their individual contributions and efforts as a team drive the business forward.
Wearley and his team are in the process of creating a vision statement and core values for FEMC. They are also creating project management dashboards that include precise timelines so everyone is on the same page.
Bevel sets the same standard for her one employee as she does for her students: no excuses. “We are training professionals,” says Bevel. “There are no excuses for not being your best at all times.”
Lisa Oswald, owner of National Commercial Warehouse and Kay Chemical in Cleveland, says that the culture at their business is very much family-driven. That culture was built over the last 50 years by her uncle, the business’ original owner, who often jokes that everyone in their large family has worked in the business at one time or another. Oswald and her husband, Bob, try to carry on that sense of family with their three full-time and seasonal employees. “My uncle set a precedence of honesty, fairness and reliability,” says Oswald. “And he never refused an opportunity,” she says. “His mantra was ‘There is always a way.’ That is truly how we work, and that mentality continues to motivate all of us every day. That attitude is how we serve and retain our customers.”
Cultivate the Culture
It falls to the business owner and an organization’s leadership to make certain that the culture of the business is one that promotes the concept of teamwork. “We make sure that everyone knows that their attitude, performance and their contribution is important,” says Oswald. “I think the more people feel valued in their role, the harder they want to work for you.”
Chet Green, owner and president of Northcoast Inc. Recycling Specialists, a premier industrial and commercial recycling business located in Solon, believes he has figured out what motivates his 18 full-time employees. Besides offering an attractive benefits package that includes health, dental and retirement benefits, Green offers opportunities for education and training. “We encourage our employees and we want them to push themselves,” says Green. “If you want to take a class, and it benefits our company, we will pay as long as you pass the class.” To Green, he just can’t see doing it any other way. “Why would you want someone working for you who doesn’t want to better themselves?” he says. “To me what defines success is when the people who work for you are successful. It’s not only about the money.”
Green also ensures that his workplace is a safe one, which his employees appreciate. As one of the founding members of the Western Reserve Safety Council, Green understands the need to work hard to protect his employees and is proud of the fact that Northcoast Recycling has never had a loss-time accident in their 28 years in business – quite a remarkable accomplishment. “We work hard at doing everything we can do to motivate and protect our employees.”
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Mind Your Business magazine.