The start of a new year is a great time to enrich the messaging of your culture and to state (or restate) what you as a leader expect of your team. One very impactful way to do this is with your employee guidebook. Have you read yours recently? Does it accurately reflect your evolving company culture? Does it set a purposeful tone for your organization? Here are some tips as you look at yours:
1) Rearticulate who you are. Even if you think employees do (or should) fully understand your purpose and perspective as an organization, lay it out clearly and make sure it reflects where you are today. Revisit whether your mission statement is what you want it to be. This becomes the guidepost for the future and lights the way for new employees. Moreover, a well-articulated statement of purpose can make new employees feel more connected to the organization from the start--and help tenured employees reconnect to feelings of pride about your company.
2) Write policies in a way that explains the why. Employees are more likely to comply with your guidelines if they understand why the rules exist. Make it clear how the policies you've created actually align with your organization's principles and goals. For example, a lateness policy that simply says "you must be here at 9:00 a.m." sets a clear expectation; a policy that explains that late employees create an added burden on those colleagues who have to cover for them creates a sense of connectedness among the team, which will be more effective in motivating the right behaviors.
3) Make it sound like you. The tone of your manual should sound like the environment you want to create. Don't get caught up in legalese. Use language that reflects who you are. Talk to your team through your employee manual. Let them hear and feel your leadership through your tone. For example, Zappos.com, the online shoe retailer, expresses its fun and wacky cultural values by producing an employee handbook in cartoon format.
4) Don't write policies to deal with one person's behavior. We once had a client who added a formal dress code policy and distributed it to all employees because one rogue employee was not dressing appropriately. Create policies intended for your organization as a whole; when you need to deal with one person's behavior, do so pointedly and privately.
5) Write policies that empower rather than restrict. If your policies reflect trust and respect in your employees, they are more likely to embody the behaviors you want to promote. For example, a strict allotment of sick days might tempt employees to use those days deceptively at the end of the year so as not to lose them; or, if they have used their days up, they might come into the office on a day when they're sick, and risk spreading it to others. Conversely, a sick leave policy that allows employees time off for illness whenever they need it implies that you trust your team's integrity--thus encouraging genuine integrity--and keeps potentially contagious colleagues out of the workplace.
6) Repeat, refine, and revise. Remember to revisit the manual periodically to ensure it accurately reflects your vision. Manuals can have legal ramifications, so if you have one, keep it current. And it never hurts to have an attorney review the document to ensure you have not implicitly made agreements you didn't intend.
When employees understand your vision, your organization, your policies--and the reasoning behind them--they are more likely to get on board with the behaviors you expect. Moreover, they will be more effective at work because they're not worried about "what's allowed." At HQ, we like to think of policies as riverbanks that help set the boundaries for workplace behavior. They help to contain and guide the river, while leaving plenty of room to swim around. Write an employee guidebook that clearly communicates what you expect--then trust your team to swim around a bit, and know that you can deal with individual infractions on a case-by-case basis.