An entertaining employee manual. It sounds like an oxymoron, but Zingerman's has made communicating corporate policy and rules fun.

Actually, having fun is a key benefit to working at the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based deli and its community of businesses, as Bo Burlingham points out in his January 2003 Inc article, " The Coolest Small Company in America." It's a place where even the driest corporate communications get spruced up with the founders', Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig, sense of humor and wit, including the company's Staff Guide, which  communicates the company's vision, culture, and expectations of employees through an entertaining blend of words, graphics, and games.

But, it wasn't always this way. "For a long time, we had a staff manual with much of the same content," says Maggie Bayless, the cofounder and original managing partner of Zingtrain, a Zingerman's company that trains Zingerman's managers, staff, and other companies interested in learning the Zingerman's way of life. "But one time, when we were teaching a merchandising seminar, we advised that 'the look and feel of the organization should be carried through everything,' " she says. "We realized we weren't doing a very good job at that." While the company's promotional materials were visually appealing and entertaining, the staff manual was all text. "We thought, 'Maybe people would read it more if it was a little more graphically appealing,' " Bayless says.

The result was a staff guide that employees actually read -- and use. Weinzweig teaches a welcome to the Zingerman's Community of Businesses seminar in which the manual is a teaching tool. Todd Wickstrom, who runs the deli, conducts a Deli Day One class and uses the guide as its basis. And you'll find more than one employee who carries it around as a resource. "I've been in meetings and somebody will say, 'it's in the staff guide,' and three of use will have copies we can refer to," Bayless says. "I feel very confident in saying it gets referred to a lot more than the average staff manual," she adds. Bayless admits that's partly because of its size -- it fits neatly into a briefcase -- but another part of it is that it's an entertaining and quite empowering tool for the employees at Zingerman's.

To help better illustrate the Zingerman's approach, has swiped a few pages from the Zingerman's Staff Guide. From fun to learning, the manual is an inspirational representation of what the company is all about.

The Funny Pages

The fun starts with the Staff Guide cover and includes entertaining entries such as The Zing Happy Fun Pages, where a word search game and Paul and Ari puppets provide some workday relief. A sandwich also adorns the upper-right-hand corner of each right-hand page, so when you flip through the pages, the sandwich, decked out with hat and cane, dances.

Getting Down to Business

Though flipping through the manual might suggest more comic book than employee manual, the book deftly combines fun with communicating Zingerman's guiding principles and vision. Bayless is quick to note, however, that the Staff Guide is not the only way the company communicates its strong beliefs in great food and great service.

"There's really nothing in the staff guide that we're not also communicating in other ways," Bayless says. "We try to reinforce it in more ways than 'here's this cool-looking, fun-to-read book.' " For instance, when a new guide comes out, the company might give employees a quiz to take and reward the first employee to complete it with a T-shirt. Or, the annual plan kickoff meeting might include a trivia contest that includes information from the guide.

However the information comes across, it's communicated with enthusiasm. For instance, while the Zingerman's Guiding Principles are straight text, the wastebusting pages include text, graphics and bullet points to emphasize ways to reduce waste. Employee testimonials, like the Xtra Mile Files, also share ways employees have gone the extra mile for their customers. From getting along with others to a guide for great finance to answering the phone, Zingerman's clearly -- and playfully-- presents what's most important in running the Zingerman Community of Businesses.

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