Engage the team

Whilst the size of SMEs enables greater flexibility and adaptability to business change, the close-knit, familial structure of smaller businesses can sometimes give rise to workplace tensions.

This is particularly evident during periods of transformation. Emotions can run high when the workforce is facing change. Relationships between leaders and the rest of the team can become particularly strained if the right approach is not in place to ensure all parties feel heard and empowered.

It is therefore crucial for a constant evolution of cultural change to occur to reinforce workforce relations in the long term. People should be central to any change journey. Creating a culture of openness will help all parties to address pain points. It will also help overcome the challenges of business change moving forward.

Take a simple approach to cultural change

Establishing a culture of transparency does not have to be limited to complex activities or corporate exercises such as surveys. For SMEs, taking a ‘back-to-basics’ approach can often be more fruitful.

Cultural change could simply begin with holding an in-person meeting where the entire business gathers in one safe space. Within this they can openly discuss any concerns and work together to determine lasting solutions to pain points.

Transparency should be mutual where possible, with leaders using such discussions as an opportunity to outline how workers might be impacted by the transformation project. Honest engagements are the foundation of successful cultural change, helping to build trusting relationships between all members of a business.

Encourage relationship change

The parent-child dynamic between leaders and their supporting teams has long been both a weakness and a strength of SMEs. It is rooted in the fact that leaders often make more personal sacrifices for the business than their corporate counterparts. However, when businesses undergo periods of transformation, these family-like relationships can cause tensions to grow.

To maintain a healthy dynamic between all levels of the business, the team should be encouraged to participate in decision-making and take on more responsibilities in their areas of strength.

Supporting a shared understanding of individual personality types will equally help to break down unhealthy relationships across the board too. It will  enable individuals to better understand why they differ from colleagues and how working relationships can be strengthened, ahead of business change.

Address generational boundaries

In times of transformation, generational differences can be another obstacle to navigate in SMEs. The close coexistence of people from several generations, who may well have differing values, experiences and opinions, can cause rifts to form if left unacknowledged. This can even have an impact on productivity and wellbeing, according to research.

As such, it is important for strong communication lines to be maintained. This will ensure that all parties can positively contribute to business culture if the time is taken to listen, understand and incorporate opinions from many different people. Doing so will help to promote honesty about generational differences. It will also enable individuals to better understand and manage their expectations of other people.

Support employees to become agents of change

The onus of sustaining successful working relationships frequently falls to senior leaders, particularly throughout times of business change. However workers have an equal responsibility to maintain these ties. This includes talking through pain points with leaders to find appropriate solutions and being open about career goals. In doing so they will help personal ambitions and business objectives align.

Clear communication is crucial to the sustainability of strong relationships in SMEs. It’s a commitment both workers and leaders should keep for lasting cohesion and to ensure people remain a core business priority.

Cultural change is evolution

When it comes to bridging the gaps between senior leaders and workers in SMEs, it’s important for businesses to view cultural change as an evolving entity, something to be consistently adapted and improved.

Exercises to encourage honest feedback should be undertaken regularly to develop a culture of openness. Doing this will allow problem areas to be tackled effectively to achieve change for good.

In adopting this approach to managing a workplace culture, smaller businesses can move beyond the traditional setbacks of SMEs. They can then work toward a healthier, more prosperous future for all.