Big Culture In A Small Company

Guest blogpost by Laura Wallace, owner of Worx Graphic Design, founder of The Green Couch Project and author of Brandstarter, the workbook designed for entrepreneurs. Her passion for branding combined with the thrill of taking a risk is the base of everything she and her team continues to achieve.

We’re hearing the word culture a lot in companies today. We’re hearing everything from giving across-the-board salary increases to unlimited vacation days to the unstructured schedule. Business is evolving, and so is the way it’s running. But what happens if you’re running a small business and aren’t able to adapt to some of these progressive methods of doing business? What if you want to give those same benefits but don’t have the resources to?

If there is any industry that is especially looking for flexibility and creative freedom, it’s the design industry. As creatives, our brains are already hardwired to do things differently and running and working in an agency is equally complex.

I own a small creative firm where I’m fortunate to have four talented women who make up one awesome team. When I started Worx Graphic Design, Inc., nine years ago, I knew I wanted to create an atmosphere that empowered people to be who they are while supporting and nurturing their skills. I wanted to offer a workplace that people could be the same person from 9-5 as they are from 5-9. After working in a traditional corporate atmosphere, I noticed a few things. People simply want to be seen and heard. They want to be celebrated in their victories and guided in their challenges. They want to enjoy the place they exchange a quarter of their week at. They wanted to be treated as people.

As a small business owner, I can not provide the big ticket items that the corporations are able to, but I am able to make small changes on a daily basis that are powerful within my own team. Here are a few ways you can do the same:

Know what’s important to them.
Knowing your team and what’s important to them is imperative. Creating a culture of like-minded people is one of the fundamental ways to create a solid company culture. It could be a quick survey or just from getting to know your team members, but knowing what’s important to them will allow you to celebrate them in the ways that mean the most to them. It’s one of the many ways you tell your team that you see and hear them.

Give them time.
Once a month we have Blackout Day, a day to turn off all distractions and focus solely on the projects they need to so they feel accomplished. Once a quarter, we have “Crumple Day;” a creative freedom day to to express yourself, however you want. If they have a doctors’ appointment, a phone call to make or an extracurricular activity with their kids, I allow them to take it without question. People need time to be people. It’s difficult enough to balance life and work, then add on the limitations of when you can do these things, and you get stressed out, unhappy employees. Give people time and they’ll give you 10x more in return.

Harness their skills.
Employees love to do what they’re best at. For every new employee, we take the Gallop’s StrengthsFinder Test. This tells us what their top five skills sets are and helps us determine what type of designer we’re hiring as well. Need a strategic, concept designer, but the test shows they’re more of an executor? They’re not a good fit and vise versa. Use tools that help you see who they are and what they’re good at beyond the design work. Once you figure it out, harness those skills. Give your employees what they are best at and continue to nurture them in that skill. Thank

Invest in them.
Every day we’re learning that social media has changed its algorithm, there’s a new platform, blogging is changing or there’s a new design technique. Invest in your team’s knowledge. Take a course as a group, bring in a speaker or expert, go to conferences or take webinars. Whether it’s an hour or a weekend, investing in your team’s knowledge is a win-win for both of you. It’s a chance for them to get out of the chair and refresh their brains. They’ll get re-engaged and excited for their work. You’ll have a team that comes back re-energized and ready to tackle the next big thing … as a team.

Include them as part of the larger picture. 
I include my team in almost every big idea conversation. I love to get excited with them because a rising tide lifts all ships. Engage your team by including them as part of the plan. Forget closed door planning meetings with the senior team. Break down those walls, head outside and invite every one to be part of the big picture. When your team can picture themselves with you on this journey, they’re more likely to be part of that journey. There aren’t any big surprise changes that catches everyone off guard when everyone has been working towards the same goal.

You’re running a small business that can make a big impact on your team. Making subtle changes to the way you engage and grow your company not only makes for happier employees, but it sets the tone for your future employees. Your company culture will become your standard and people will, or will not, seek you out for what you’re known for. Exchanging a quarter of your week for an atmosphere and people you love isn’t so bad, after all.