Startup growth is exciting and fun. When I hired my first employee, I was beyond excited.  But, as you start to hire more people, the culture of the company takes on a life of its own. Every new hire adds a bit of their own flair, and many times the culture gets lost in translation.

It's easy if it's you and a few people in a small office space, but once more people start joining the organization, it becomes really difficult to define exactly what the culture of the company was intended to be.

The best way to dictate how you would like the culture to be is to document it for everyone in the company to see it in writing, as a company handbook. I truly believe every organization needs one. It's more than just an on-boarding document or a "policy handbook", it's a definition of how the company wants and expects you to act, in very explicit terms.

Netflix has its culture document online for everyone to share and Basecamp published its company handbook, which is a great example of a culture document in action.

If you want to create a culture handbook, keep vague language out of the document. Be direct and concise. You shouldn't speak in a way where something can be interpreted for something else. It should be clear and direct on what you're asking from them.

For example, instead of saying "Work from home is okay", it should read "Working from home is great, but if you have meetings, you should definitely be in the office. Getting complicated things done is hared from home. When you're going to work from home, please make sure to reschedule meetings for when you're in the office. Use this time at home to focus on your more creative tasks."

Yes, that's a little bit more verbose, but it's clear and direct, and there is no way someone can misinterpret the language. In fact, if you use something like this, you've told them exactly how you want them to act and that it is actually okay for them to reschedule meetings. 

If you never told them that, they would never do it because they didn't want to feel like they are breaking the rules. 

In Tesla's leaked "anti-handbook handbook," they used extremely direct language to talk about their policies. 

One section that I really liked in their anti-handbook handbook is the "No Call, No Show" policy:

Our assumption will be that if you don't call and don't show up for work, you're a jerk. You better have a really good reason for not letting us know why you didn't come in or you're out of here. One time is enough.

Wow. Talk about direct. Whether you agree with them or not, they made it clear how the company handles certain situations.

Being direct doesn't mean you're being unreasonable or mean. All that it signals is that you know exactly how you want the company to operate. It's a clear and defined company culture that everyone can abide. It gives your employees permission to do things that otherwise they would be afraid to do. 

Create a culture handbook, and be as crystal clear as possible to create a company culture that lasts generations.

Published on: Mar 5, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.