Running a small business often means recognizing that traditional approaches to a strong corporate culture won't work. The very idea of a "corporate" small business is an oxy-moron, so getting creative with hiring and treating your team like family will help attract the right people and make them never want to leave.
My new friend Richard Branson in his book Screw Business As Usual agrees that the classic notion of a "corporate environment" is dead. My philosophy has always been a reflection of my personality: fun and free with a deep desire to achieve results. I call it a "sticky corporate culture," and it's how I got an entire team of people to relocate from one side of Canada to the other.
Empower your team
I give my team a chance to take ownership and to see project success as an extension of their own success and potential. Avoid micromanagement and they will not only work harder to achieve results, they will be more confident in coming up with and presenting innovative business strategies.
Make it a family affair
I don't like the term 'employees:' I consider my staff to be members of my team and I treat them like family. I invite them to my house for BBQs, we go on boating trips, I host team retreats and appreciation dinners – anything to show them we have a strong relationship that goes beyond the office. Communication and collaboration become much easier if people feel like they are operating in an open and comfortable environment, and teams are much more likely to go beyond the call of duty.
I never have to ask my team to stay late or take on more work, they just do it.
Put a premium on loyalty
Loyalty is everything when it comes to being a successful small business, because there inevitably comes a time when sacrifices have to be made by everyone. My staff made an overwhelming display of loyalty when we decided to relocate our entire office in Kelowna, B.C. to Ottawa this summer. We assumed relocating would result in some of the employees leaving, which is a normal response when asking a group of people to uproot their lives and families.
To my surprise, everyone made the move without a single complaint. Even those who had been with us for only a month and were native to Kelowna said they would make the move for the good of the company. That was when I realized the true value of our sticky culture.
Get creative with hiring
Developing the right corporate culture hinges on selecting the right employees. We receive hundreds of resumes per job posting, so as a small business with limited resources we found an innovative way to sort through them. We developed a unique but simple process that requires applicants to "self-qualify" themselves – for us, a majority of the labour is eliminated, making the influx of resumes more manageable.
When we receive an application, we send the candidate a video describing our culture and specific instructions on a set of forms that they must fill out. If they need assistance or send responses to the general inbox rather than the designated one, they have already displayed two qualities we don't want from an applicant and they are automatically eliminated.
Only interview the best candidates
After all this, only 1 per cent of applicants actually get to the interview process, and we typically hire 80 per cent of these candidates. Our unique process of self-qualification and self-elimination reduces a normally labour intensive process to simply posting the ad and setting up a few interviews. This frees up resources to focus on more important things, such as customer service and business development.
This is the new age of corporate culture, formalities are dead. To my fellow entrepreneurs and small-business owners who are looking to develop a sticky corporate culture: focus on effective communication, hire better people and always treat employees like family. My simple but efficient philosophy can really help people feel close to the organization, it can motivate and inspire them, and it will ultimately produce a better business and an improved customer experience.
Steve Martel is the president and founder of Martel Group of Cos. Inc. He has dedicated his career to building real estate related companies and coaching Canadians on how they can invest in U.S. property.
Special to The Globe and Mail