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Aliya Vigor-Robertson, from JourneyHR looks at how small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can create and project an exciting and innovative culture that enables them to stand out in a crowded marketplace. When it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent, big businesses can often rely on their household name or strong reputation. SMEs, however, will need to use a different approach in order to create and project an exciting and innovative culture that enables them to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

A company’s culture is noticeable from the moment someone walks through the door or speaks to an employee. As such, the office environment will go a long way towards creating a positive first impression for candidates and even potential new business opportunities.

Larger brands often bring their values to life and create mission statements, which not only help staff to work collaboratively towards a common cause, but also instantly create an internal culture. By adopting this same approach, SMEs can establish a positive working atmosphere that will make each employee a brand ambassador for their business.

When it comes to building a positive culture, SMEs should also take advantage of their size. Smaller companies tend to be much nimbler than their larger counterparts, as they have less restrictions and bureaucracy to deal with. As a result, change can happen more quickly, which in turn allows these businesses to be more creative.

SMEs do not always know what their company’s culture is, however, or what ‘good’ looks like. As a result, returning to their core business values is an essential starting point. All businesses need to have a sense of purpose and a reason for existing, as these are vital ingredients for attracting the best talent and keeping people engaged. Once this exercise has been completed, it will be vital to ensure that the right candidate has the traits and behaviors that will reflect and support these values.

Of course, to maintain a strong and happy internal culture, regular communication will be vital. This is especially true in the creative industry, where agencies tend to employ a number of freelancers who are not always physically present in the office, and where many permanent employees work from home on a regular basis. Because of this fluid working culture, it can be difficult for managers to visually determine how their team is feeling.

To address this issue, and to improve internal communication more generally, agencies should consider using innovative apps and other communications tools to encourage everyone to share their successes, frustrations and challenges. With this approach, businesses will be able to adapt to the needs of their employees much more easily.

Communication needs to work both ways, however, so encouraging staff to be transparent about their thoughts and feelings is only going to work if the company shares theirs too. For example, it is important for owners and managers to tell staff when the business is doing well, and reward them for their part in creating this success. Including staff and rewarding them in this way not only keeps them motivated, but also imparts a deep sense of ownership and loyalty, which in itself creates a culture that leads to high staff retention levels and boosted employee performance.

At the same time, however, success should not be defined too rigidly. This might seem counterintuitive, but it is important to remember that, from an employee’s perspective, when the importance of success rises, so does the cost of failure. Because of this, staff might be dissuaded from taking risks or acquiring skills which go beyond their job description, fearing that their prospects will be harmed if these endeavours do not pay off.

The ‘fear culture’ that this model produces often has the effect of stunting organisational development, reducing productivity and compromising employee satisfaction. With this in mind, employers must support staff who are struggling in the same way that they reward them in success. By striking this balance, SMEs can create a culture which motivates staff to innovate, develop and ultimately to achieve superior results.

Aliya Vigor-Robertson, is the Co-Founder at JourneyHR