Next week, BBB serving Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia will host our annual Torch Awards for Ethics Luncheon, where we'll announce the winners and finalists of our 2022 Awards. While we're keeping the names of these companies under close cover for now, we can share that one of the most common traits noted with each company's submission is their focus on intertwining their organization's values throughout their operation.

In honor of Small Business Week, your BBB offers tips on how you can make the most of your company culture.

Company culture is the way in which your employees interact with each other, including how they work together and the values they share. Your company culture is essential to maximize productivity, and to get the most out of this culture, you need to ensure that employee morale is high. This way, they will be encouraged to put in their best effort.

As a small business owner, you know that culture is everything, and you are continuously striving to establish a positive culture that fits your brand. If you are looking for ways to make your company culture more effective, there are a few simple tricks you can try that will go a long way.

By implementing or fine tuning the eight tips below, you can help ensure you are consistently promoting a positive company culture in which your employees will thrive:

1. Prioritize open communication. One of the most important steps for creating a positive company culture is making sure there is open communication between you and your staff members. This will allow you to talk to your employees about their performance and how they can improve, and it will also enable them to approach you with any concerns. Your employees should also be able to communicate with and learn from each other in order to improve their skills.

You can use several different methods of communication, such as email, text message, or even face-to-face conversations, as long as all of your employees have an equal opportunity to participate in the discussion.

Without open communication, it can be difficult for you and your employees to understand what each person is responsible for, and it will be much harder to address any issues that arise, which will hurt the company's productivity.

2. Practice what you preach. Another key to creating the optimal company culture is practicing what you preach. If you want your employees to perform in a certain way, then you need to follow the same values. By setting a good example for your employees, you will gain their respect and boost morale.

It's important to make sure your employees understand the expectations that you have in place, and there is no better way to set these expectations than by fulfilling them yourself.

3. Be inclusive. Your employees will not be able to thrive if they fear being judged by their colleagues in the workplace. Therefore, it's vital for your company culture to be inclusive, which promotes trust and respect. Your employees will then feel comfortable coming forward when they have a problem.

Being inclusive also means making an effort to understand the individual needs of your employees, which builds loyalty. When people feel listened to, they will want to put in their best work. You will earn their respect, and they will strive to earn yours.

4. Encourage collaboration. When you encourage collaboration, you create an atmosphere that allows your employees to share ideas. When everyone has the chance to give their input, you can make more comprehensive decisions. Your employees will be more motivated to do their best work and share their personal knowledge, which create a company culture in which everyone is inspired to learn from each other.

5. Always be transparent. Being transparent eliminates misunderstandings. Your employees will better understand your expectations for them and what is happening in the company, which will improve morale.

Transparency also builds trust. When your employees know exactly what you are doing and why, they will be more likely to trust your decisions, which will improve your relationship with them.

6. Allow for flexibility. Flexibility is an essential part of a productive and successful company culture. If the COVID-19 pandemic showed business owners anything, it was just how vital workplace flexibility truly is.

By prioritizing flexibility within the workplace, you will keep morale high and increase productivity. One way to do this is by encouraging employees to work from home, if this model works for your business. You should also have an effective management system in place to ensure that your employees are working efficiently as well as effectively.

7. Create a sense of alignment. Being "pro-employee" should be a practice that is instilled in your overall culture because it develops a strong rapport with your employees. Looking beyond the basic aspects of providing benefits — e.g. 401(k), health benefits, etc. — to your employees means that you are also finding a way to align their professional goals with overall business objectives.

Doing this will allow you to empower your employees and sustain that motivation needed for business growth, as well as a beneficial situation for employees to push for more as individuals too.

8. Protect employee well-being. Finally, one of the most important aspects of a positive company culture is looking after your employees. This will help them to stay productive and healthy.

Offering employees a creative place where they can push to achieve business goals you have in place while also ensuring that you don't limit them to just siloed aspects of their jobs will breed even more growth. This growth isn't just around revenue, but with instilling trust among your entire company as a team.

Stay tuned for next week's column where we'll highlight our Torch Award winners, finalists and final contenders.

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga