By Allison O’Neill

The boss can be a bigger influence on an employee’s happiness than the job itself. Some people stay in roles for years simply because they enjoy the team and atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if the job is boring or stressful – culture can outweigh fulfillment.

In a small or midsized business you’d think it would be easier to create an amazing culture than it would be in a huge company. But it can actually be harder as personality clashes and tension can be more obvious, as can the impact of the boss’s energy.

On the upside it can be easier to gather staff feedback in a smaller business as long as employees are made to feel comfortable being open and honest. Changes from staff input can be easier and faster to implement. As personality clashes and tension are more obvious they are able to be addressed rather than allowed to brew for ages.

How can you be an amazing boss and create a great culture? Here are six tips from The Boss Benchmark to help build a winning workplace:

1. Remember your staff are human
They have lives outside work. There are plenty of things that can happen in their personal lives that need attention during work time. It is about building trust. If you are micromanaging them and have your ear to the wall to check if they’re on “yet another personal call” you won’t be getting the best from them.

Granting leniency when staff need it the most will be remembered, and can inspire them to work harder when they return. Small businesses can sometimes offer more flexibility to staff than larger firms. If your business also needs flexibility from your staff it can work out very well for both parties.

To do:

  • Be open to doing things a bit differently
  • Make a list of areas where your policies may be unnecessarily strict. Think about how you could be more flexible and the benefits that would bring
  • Brainstorm with staff about areas in which they would prefer more flexibility

2. Don’t tolerate tension
When it comes to tension, it is important to “sweat the small stuff.” If you don’t cope well as a boss and as a team with the small issues, how will you possibly cope with them when they grow? By taking good care of the small stuff, you are ensuring communication lines stay open and that all cards are on the table. This eradicates any need for “whispers,” which are not good for a business – especially a small one.

3. Express gratitude
Verbal recognition is something workers really cherish but rarely receive. It is a costly mistake many bosses keep making.

Perhaps you think you are great at giving verbal thanks, but on closer inspection it may just be you thinking, “I must remember to thank” or “Boy, they did a great job,” but the words never leave your lips. You need to recognize great work, great attitudes and general wonderfulness and comment on it straightaway.

Also mention it in a weekly meeting – and give staff the chance to thank each other for their contributions. You may find keeping a notebook of the great things you see (big and small) is helpful.

4. Don’t avoid the yuck
Don’t look for the best things within your company – look for the most terrible. Then fix them. Constantly seeking out the weakest parts of the business and then doing something about them is simple but genius. Too many people would rather ignore the yucky bits. In smaller businesses it is especially important to keep your eyes open for favoritism or anything that could be seen as favoritism.

5. Be contagious
A boss’s energy impacts a workplace hugely. In a small business it can become even more obvious if the boss is grumpy, tired or stressed out – close quarters mean there is no avoiding the energy.

Peak performers constantly access empowering emotions, on demand, under pressure; if you as the boss can do that, your staff will too. A good way to create positive energy flow at work is to take opportunities to bring some fun into the workplace.

To do:

  • Think seriously about the energy you put out into your workplace. Are you a grumpy complainer or do you ooze enthusiasm and laughter?
  • Commit to actions you will take to improve the energy you contribute to the workplace

6. Listen to your team
Do some form of a staff survey regularly in your workplace. As the boss, don’t kid yourself that you already know everything. Staff see things from a much different perspective.

If you have a staff suggestion box that is never used it doesn’t mean staff have nothing to say. Try another tactic – perhaps a team talk, regular brainstorming session or paper survey. If the culture has been a bit dreary explain what kind of things you’d like to know and why. Encourage your people to be open and honest and assure them anything they say will not be belittled or vehemently opposed. It is about gathering lots of suggestions and processing how they could help and then how they could be made actionable.

Allison O’Neill launched her first business at age three selling soaps for 20 cents at the edge of her driveway. She later started her own staff survey company, where she saw inside many organizations and worked to fix their problems. She distilled some of her lessons from this experience into her book, The Boss Benchmark. Allison can be reached at [email protected].