Your company culture can be a hindrance, or an enabler. It can get in the way of growth and change. Or it can bolster innovation and prosperity.

I was reminded of this at a seminar recently that covered how important it is to have a culture that fosters change. Too often companies are afraid to admit mistakes, dismissive of new approaches, and accepting of the status quo.

Culture is valuable, not just at big companies (like Yahoo and Best Buy), but at much smaller businesses that may only have five to 10 employees.

Give your employees responsibility and leeway.

If you're the owner of a small company, it can be easy to try to control and micromanage everything that goes on. This business is your baby, and you may be hesitant to give your employees freedom and flexibility. It's an understandable impulse, but it's also dangerous.

When your employees aren't given any autonomy to make decisions on tough calls, the result can be staffers who are satisfied with the status quo. You'll end up with a culture that's a hindrance to innovation, rather than an enabler of it.

And you don't have to look far to find examples of the value of company culture. You can feel it when you walk into an Apple Store, or fly Southwest, or go to Target, as opposed to other less-engaging electronics outlets, airlines, or big-box stores.

But a local retailer can beat the big guys because of culture. 

There's an appliance dealer in the Chicago area called ABT that has only one store, yet its sales from one store likely outpace what a large nationwide chains does in the whole region. How? Generation after generation its culture has adopted change, and kept up with technology. You sense the staff at ABT cares a lot more than the other place.   

Think of fast-food restaurants. You can go to two McDonald's, obviously serving the exact same food, and get completely different vibes in each one. It's the culture that makes the difference.

Culture matters in your small business too. Just about everyone has worked at a place where no one has any passion for what they're doing, called customer service and felt like no one cared, witnessed CEOs with big ideas that fail because they don't consider culture.

Don't get caught in this rut. Embrace change from the top down, and the bottom up. Create a culture that motivates people to look forward, find new ways of doing things, and constantly seek better results.

Published on: Mar 21, 2013
The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of