They have an edge over bigger companies from Day One – size – making it easier to accomplish the task

CORPORATE culture is fundamental to the success of any company. It is the emotional glue that bonds an organisation to its employees and customers. For small companies, the need for a successful and effective corporate culture is even more pronounced. Most start-ups and SMEs are cash-strapped and resource-starved, and, unlike their bigger counterparts, do not have an upper hand in the compensation and benefit space.

This challenge is exacerbated by the influx of highly-mobile and hyper-connected millennials who pay more attention to personal growth and want to be rewarded for their hard work. Therefore, companies with an exemplary workplace culture and effective employee engagement initiatives will prevail in the future

However, the art of attracting, managing and retaining outstanding talent remains a challenge among HR personnel and CEOs of start-ups and SMEs as they compete with the big players for talent.

But there is an advantage that small companies have over their larger counterparts – their size. Start-ups and SMEs tend to be less bureaucratic and hierarchical. Because it is easier to build a corporate culture among a smaller number of employees, this is something that can be an advantage from Day One.

Top trait

According to a poll conducted by the Singapore Computer Society, almost six in 10 (59 per cent) of respondents in Singapore cited a collegial environment grounded in kinship as a top trait that differentiates the great companies from the good.

Start-ups and SMEs typically have smaller and more closely-knit teams and this makes it easier for employees to collaborate and exchange perspectives and ideas. Over time, such working relationships can be nurtured into friendships and kinships, providing employees with a support system during stressful periods.

Leaders of startups and SMEs can facilitate this process by creating opportunities for staff to collaborate and interact with one another. At Carousell, we have regular Family Fridays and Tech Detoxes, which are events where the whole company gets together with the opportunity to interact with people outside your immediate teams. Our new office also has plenty of collaborative spaces where our employees can comfortably break off into groups and discuss ideas.

A strong corporate culture does not develop overnight as a result of HR disseminating an “employee engagement survey” or the CEO sending a personalised e-mail. It needs an investment of both time and money, and involves long-term, open and transparent communication.

One way that startups and SME leaders can build a positive corporate culture is to be visible and personally involved in all employee engagement initiatives. It is also advisable to communicate both short and long-term company goals to all employees so that everyone can understand how he or she can contribute to the success of the company.

Again, in our Family Fridays, we always talk about the big company goals so that everyone understands what we’re all working towards. Another considerable advantage that start-ups and SMEs have over corporate giants is the ability to give every individual a voice in how the company functions. 50 per cent of respondents to the SCS poll want to be empowered to have a sense of ownership in the workplace and consider this as an important trait defining a successful corporate culture. Similarly, a recent internal poll revealed that 66.7 per cent of Carousell employees cite a sense of empowerment as their favourite aspect of working here.

Once we convey our key objectives for Carousell, we encourage our employees to determine themselves how they can best contribute towards these goals. Many of them choose their own projects and experiments, and they’re given control to make them work.

Entrepreneurial spirit

Compared to their corporate counterparts, employees in start-ups and SMEs tend to exhibit greater entrepreneurial spirit and a penchant for collaboration. However, as the company expands, there is the risk of losing this trait.

By leveraging innovative HR technology and social platforms, leaders of start-ups and SMEs can keep creating opportunities for collaboration, even as the company grows larger. For start-ups and SMEs that have teams working remotely, such tools can also help leaders learn how to engage all team members and communicate better with their remote teams.

Human resource

The importance of a sound and effective human resource function in contributing to the growth of start-ups and SMEs cannot be understated. Cash-strapped start-ups and SMEs must leverage their attractive human resources policies to attract and retain talent and compete with their larger counterparts.

Creating a collegial environment and support system, supported by a two-way, open communication system, can enable start-ups and SMEs to compete with their corporate counterparts.

Furthermore, leaders of small businesses can empower their staff to have a sense of ownership and explore the use of innovative tools to ensure a collaboration bridge between teams. In the long run, the investment in these practices will pay off and allow start-ups and SMEs to have an edge over their larger counterparts.


Published by Business Times on Jul 11, 2017.

Marcus Tan

  •  The writer is co-founder and president of Carousell which is one of 10 Best Tech Company to Work for Award 2017, conferred by the Singapore Computer Society
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