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UK small business leaders and staff divided on company culture, communication and vision, says Microsoft

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A new report from Microsoft reveals a divided outlook between small business leaders and their employees.

More than three quarters of leaders (79%) say they disclose as much information as possible with their staff and 85% agree employees perform much better when empowered with information. However, just 36% of employees say their business has a culture of transparency, and even less (18%) think their organisation even has a clear vision or goal.

Nick Hedderman, Director, Modern Workplace Business Group, Microsoft UK, explains: “Given the value of SMBs to the UK economy, small businesses need to be taking advantage of every competitive edge available to them to improve staff performance and motivation as well as attracting and retaining top talent. Our mission is to help SMBs thrive in the modern workplace, and because technology has transformed the way we live, work and connect with others, ensuring SMBs can harness this technology to drive productivity is vital to that mission.”

The report, Driving Growth in Small Businesses, was carried out in partnership with YouGov, surveying more than 1,000 SMB leaders and over 1,000 staff, to investigate the current state of play for UK SMBs and understand how communications, culture and technology can maximise their competitive edge.

Culture and communication

One area where SMBs are said to have this edge over the big corporate competition, is culture, because they’re less encumbered with large corporate hierarchical structures. This “first mover” advantage is a major one – if it can be seized.

However, our research reveals SMB leaders and employees are not pulling in the same direction. Nearly a third (31%) of SMB leaders are clear their motivation for joining a small to medium sized business was the opportunity “to do things differently”, and 26% joined an SMB because of the often unique culture and community atmosphere they offer.

When it comes to employees, these figures drop – only 14% say they joined an SMB for the opportunity to do things differently, and 18 percent joined to experience a unique culture. Enabling a culture that empowers staff, makes them feel like they’re all on the same team and which motivates them to all pull in the same direction is most important of all. 

When asked to rank causes of stress at work, SMB employees place poor communication top (34%), with lack of organisation-wide communication second at 29%. Remarkably, this is a bigger source of stress than poor work-life balance (23%) and is leading 45% of employees to make decisions at work without the information they need.

The research also finds the beliefs of staff and leadership are not as in sync when it comes to a shared vision as one would hope. While 70% of SMB leaders believe they can fulfil their career ambitions working for a small business, the figure drops to 49% when employees are asked the same.

Practical advice for SMBs

The report recommends SMB leaders need to ensure they’re providing the right mix of communications channels and opportunities to encourage meaningful collaboration. This is because of the finding that many of today’s small business employees don’t feel their current culture is supporting meaningful collaboration as well as it could.

Specifically, 42% of staff describe communication among colleagues within their workplace as sociable and 20% go as far as saying it’s unproductive. When asked what methods of communication they use on a daily basis, face to face engagement came out on top with 74% of staff stating they use it – which is a very encouraging result, followed by email at 69% and phone calls at 55%.

However, the study also finds the usage of internal communications and collaboration tools trails behind all other methods surveyed, at just 19%. Given the email overload many workers experience, this feels like a missed opportunity, especially when almost a third (30%) of leaders say they want a technology platform to help them share information more easily with employees. 

“In a small business it’s all too easy to stop proactively communicating when things get busy – a good problem to have, but an important one to solve,” comments Josh Clarke, Director of Coffee for Clifton Coffee Roasters and a Microsoft Teams customer featured in the report. “We’ve gone from a small team of six of us, to a company of 29 employees spread across the country, so maintaining the ability to communicate effectively and transparently is key to helping support our unique working culture – something that we find makes the business more attractive to the team.”

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