A business culture is an amalgam of the businesses' activities past and current. This can include: stories of previous events, organisational structure, leadership style and much more.
In essence though, it amounts to "the way we do things around here". But how do you shape that in practical terms and what is a good or not so good culture?
Well, that all depends on what you are trying to achieve. Considering what sort of culture you want to create is an essential starting point and one many organisations ignore.
In the case of a small business, the owner is initially the only employee and is likely to have a clear idea of how the business is to interact with its customers. This may be as simple as being efficient and polite, but it may include thinking creatively to offer a personal service, or wanting to be known for being informal or welcoming. The culture won't be explicitly articulated because it doesn't need to be - it's in the owner's head!
As the business grows, the owner will recruit more people. If the recruitment is done with care, the people recruited are likely to share the owner's views just in the same way as we subconsciously choose friends with whom we have common attitudes. The new recruits are also likely to have an affinity for the business and a passion for it to succeed. Nothing will have explicitly been done to shape the culture, but implicitly the workforce will have come together as a group of like-minded individuals.
So far, so good but what happens when the business gets continues to grow?
In a larger business, the latest recruit won't have a close relationship with the owner and is less likely to have been personally recruited by them. They may well be working to pay a mortgage, support a family, buy a new car but it is unlikely they will automatically share the passion the owner has for the business.
This is the point when the culture shifts from being implicit to requiring explicit direction. Once you've grown to the size where the latest recruit does not have day to day contact with the owner, you need to stop, think clearly about the views and attitudes that have made the business successful to date and ensure they are replicated with every new employee. And they must be reinforced for the existing employees.
It sounds simple and perhaps obvious, but it rarely seems to actually happen. However, it's much harder to change an organisation's culture when it has become firmly established than it is to shape from the start.