It’s Time to Ditch the Employee Handbook
I approach each new consulting engagement with the eye of an anthropologist. I’m listening for business needs, but I’m also looking for signs about the beliefs, values, norms and traditions of the company. I want to understand the company culture, so I can engage and contribute effectively.
New employees feel the same way, which is why leading companies are moving away from policy-filled employee handbooks toward more creative culture books that illuminate their unique “civilization.” This culture investment pays off because culture has become a critical differentiator in attracting and retaining talent, while elevating organizational performance. A vibrant culture is imperative because it provides the “soil” in which employees flourish, which then enables them to embrace and implement a strategic vision. For that reason, smart companies view their cultures as strategic assets and cultivate them accordingly.
What do great culture books look like? They’re as varied as the organizations that produce them. Some are elaborate storybooks; others are simply a series of slides with culture pointers. It really isn’t about the budget or production approach. It’s about painting a picture of life at your company. We’ve summarized key elements from the best culture books to help you inspire, guide and invite new employees into your unique world.
It All Began When…
Your origin story is a powerful way to illustrate the values and purpose that drive you. New employees want to know how your company began, who your founders were and what inspired them to start a company. It’s equally important to show through concrete anecdotes and examples how your mission, vision and values shape your work today. Your culture is an unfolding story that your team is writing together. (IDEO’s culture book is arranged in chapters with just this idea in mind.) Give your new employees a clear picture of how their everyday behaviors will help contribute to your culture.
Many Characters, One Story
A great culture book includes more than a letter from the CEO and a description of what already exists. Great culture books reflect the perspectives of employees, who co-own and shape your evolving culture.
Before you start writing, gather a cross-section of employees and ask them these questions: What do you know today that you wish you’d known on Day One? What makes you stay at this company? What stories or quotations can you share that exemplify this culture? Your new employees will enjoy hearing from the resident experts in their own words, which is why companies like Zappos and Sterling Mining have incorporated employee text messages, photos, video clips and stories directly into their culture books.
Home Away from Home
Help new employees feel at home by explaining the practical dos and don’ts of your workplace, just as New York ad agency Big Spaceship did in its culture book. How do you dress? What communications systems and methods do you use? Where do people congregate or go for breaks? Do you have team activities or recreational events they can join? Are there definite “don’ts,” such as taking calls on speaker in an open office area?
Each company is unique, so identify the tips that will best equip employees to engage in your workplace. Alongside the guidance, try to explain why you live together as you do, so employees can better understand how your daily practices relate back to your values and purpose.
Growth Happens Here
Top performers care about growing throughout their careers. Top companies nurture that desire by providing clear avenues for learning and advancement. Netflix provided a roadmap for its new employees by answering questions, such as: What does top performance looks like, regardless of the individual role? What do teammates expect of each other? What behaviors get rewarded or discouraged? What are some proven avenues for learning and growth? If you answer those questions, you can amplify and direct the enthusiasm new employees feel.
The Best Workplace on Earth
Most workplaces have surprising or “cool” features that make them unique. Epic Systems Corp., a healthcare software company, invites employees to enjoy its beautiful Wisconsin surroundings by climbing up to a treehouse or riding cowhide-painted bikes around campus. True to its outdoor ethos, apparel and gear designer Patagonia lets employees take work-day breaks to go surfing at peak tide. Your surprising workplace benefits will be unique to your company and location. Whatever they are, include them in your culture book so your new employees will know they’ve arrived at the best workplace on Earth.
As your culture book starts to take shape, you’ll identify additional elements that are particular to your workplace and team. You may wonder if you should include policies and procedures, too, as those are critical tools for setting expectations and mitigating risk. We agree that employees need to know the rules that govern them; we’d simply suggest including your policies and procedures as an appendix or directing your employees to your Intranet for the most current and complete listing. Whatever you choose, keep revisiting and evolving your culture book over time. It’s a valuable way to engage your team in strengthening your culture year after year.
Contact us to find out how SageRiver can support your culture book development.