7 Ways to Craft a Great Company Culture on a Budget

A carnival of perks is great, but how do businesses without multimillion-dollar budgets for complimentary manicure salons compete?

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By Amy Power

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Company "culture" is a major buzzword for big business -- and with good reason. When an executive is leading a large enterprise with financial and human resources, it's much easier to leverage a massive budget to create company culture. Google touts lavish perks including on-site physicians and nurses to save time, massage chairs, nap pods, free meals and a stable of electric cars for those in need of a ride. Facebook offers a bike-repair shop, barbershop, video arcade, free candy shop, bakery and free computer-accessory vending machines.

A carnival of perks is great, but how do businesses without multimillion-dollar budgets for complimentary manicure salons compete?

Company culture doesn't have to be all about massages, breakfast burritos and swag. Culture definitely matters, but its success is based more on how people feel about working for the company than ritzy perks. Real culture is personal, and that starts with the leader. Here are seven pointers:

Related: Creating and Keeping a Positive Company Culture

1. Hire the right people the first time. Building a great company culture starts with the people selected on staff. When facing a hiring decision, resist the need to plunk bodies in chairs. Great culture leaves room for people to further their careers and help one another along the way. Ask whether candidates are trainable, helpful team players. Some assets such as great personality, trustworthiness and integrity simply can't be taught. Most important, is the job candidate likable? If the person has a stellar resume but is repugnant, walk away.

Ask the team's opinion when hiring. Have the group take the candidate out to lunch to see how he or she behaves outside the office and whether members of the team enjoy being around them.

2. Encourage community involvement. Altruism generates well being, and happy people do their best work. When people volunteer, they also forge new social connections that benefit their professional network.

When shopping for job candidates, look for someone who is well rounded. People with a variety of interests are not only more interesting, they have more to offer a company's culture. Give time off for volunteering, and organize civic event participation as a team. Group volunteering at cleanup days or a Habitat for Humanity building event lets people get to know one another better and forge memories, all without costing the business a cent.

Related: A Sustainable Social Enterprise Takes Business Savvy, and Heaps of Passion

3. Give employees breathers. Say it now: People are not robots. Entrepreneurs have to nourish their business as if it were a child (a needy, hungry, demanding child). And it's natural for an owner to sacrifice all to make that business thrive. Employees care about the business, too. But just like nannies who treasure their wards yet need a vacation now and then, sometimes employees need an escape.

My firm, Power Public Relations, closes its office between Christmas and the New Year and allows employees to take off a little bit earlier on summer Fridays. Granting some time off now and then lets everyone come back refreshed.

4. Fun is not the enemy. It's easy to assume fun is equal to goofing off, but a little play brings people together and inspires amazing work. Introducing a hint of joy with low-cost traditions and perks makes a world of difference in how people feel about their companies.

My firm always celebrate birthdays and the team has been surprised with such activities as indoor skydiving. To welcome new employees, onboarding takes place on a Friday so no one feels overwhelmed and a cupcake on the desk always awaits the new person. The cupcake is cheap, but the sense of being welcomed to a cohesive group has huge value.

Related: 6 Ways to Foster More Happiness in the Workplace

5. Acknowledge wins. When something good happens, celebrate! Everyone needs a victory now and then, and when employees know one person has been recognized, everyone feels happy for the individual and glad for the company. If a company's culture incorporates rewards for wins, whether a pat on the back or a lunchtime toast, all employees are motivated to do their best.

6. Let the passion be contagious. Sometimes bosses worry too much about acting like the boss. Don't be afraid to enjoy work, and let passion for the business show. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when members of a team know they're behind an engaged leader, they'll feel energized.

The boss is still the head honcho but also becomes the approachable fellow player. Who wouldn't want to work alongside a coach who embraces the game as opposed to a dictator?

7. Trust the employees. So many bosses worry about being taken advantage of, but treating employees like servants or prisoners doesn't track. When people know they are trusted, they feel personally responsible. Trust is one of the most important elements of a company's culture; when employees' honor is validated, the message is sent that they are entirely valued.

When employees don't feel like the boss is looking over their shoulder all the time, they are comfortable to do their best work. Trust encourages the most incredible brainstorms, which can lead to groundbreaking ideas.

Developing a great company culture doesn't have to cost a fortune. It's about treating employees with respect, hiring the right people in the first place, acknowledging their humanity and working together as a team.

Most of all, when a leader lets the love for his or her business show, the attitude is contagious -- in the best way.

Related: How Good Meals and Goodwill Lead to Good Business

Amy Power
Amy Power is president and CEO of Power Public Relations in Dallas. The firm’s core values are to be transparent with integrity, maintain a whatever-it-takes attitude and collaborate in a fun, happy environment.

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