Let's talk about Employee Handbooks.
🤔 Why you should care about it
"After Y Combinator, we set this ambition to be a company of 500, 5 000 people in the future. And I don't like repeating myself. So, instead, I started writing everything down. And now, if you want to communicate something in GitLab, you don't send an email, you don't do a PowerPoint, you don't send a Slack message. You change it in the handbook." - Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab.
Human organisations have leveraged books to scale for centuries while staying true to their culture, mission and rules. When they scale, corporations can leverage handbooks in the same way to share culture, mission and rules with newcomers.
Oral tradition doesn't scale —> small companies usually share cultural knowledge and information with newcomers through speech. As organisations grow, shared information becomes inconsistent, putting pressure on the few individuals who possess it.
Onboarding that never ends —> since most onboarding processes are not structured, new hires spend months trying to acquire every little bit of information required to get their job done, creating gaps of knowledge in the process.
Lack of clarity creates unfair games —> when most rules are not written, it creates unfair conditions for success and does not encourage diversity.
An employee handbook typically includes information about the company's mission, values, and primary rules and processes. It is also a great way to share the company's culture, especially if the handbook is publicly available.
To write your employee handbook:
- Determine your audience (internal only or public)
- Start with WHY (justifications for a handbook, company's values, mission, vision, and strategy)
- Share the company's rules and policies for every employee (work hours, collaboration, remote work, meetings, performance evaluation…)
- Ask every department to write its handbook, including rules and processes that only apply to them
- Give editing rights to all employees to comment/add/correct
- For every question that's not in the handbook, create a new entry in the handbook
- Ask every new hire to make updates to the handbook
💡 Key Concepts
Transparency —> transparency help employees feel more informed and empowered, which can lead to higher job satisfaction, productivity, and retention rates.
Consistency —> consistent information in an organisation reduces confusion and misunderstandings while keeping velocity high.
Organisational culture —> shared beliefs, values, practices, and behaviours characterising an organisation and shaping its collective identity.
"The handbook is always out of date, it doesn't make sense to read it" —> if team members keep answering questions from newcomers orally or via other channels like Slack, the handbook will always be out of date. The handbook should be the only source of truth in the organisation.
"It is too time-consuming to create a handbook" —> while the task can seem daunting at first, a handbook is an essential investment in the organisation's success and can ultimately save time and resources in the long run.
"A handbook feels fake; it doesn't really show a company's real culture" —> while a handbook may not fully capture the nuances of an organisation's culture, it can still provide a general overview of its values and expectations.
📚 Top (hand)book(s)
Some great tech companies' handbooks: Valve, Basecamp, GitLab, and Zappos.
🗂 See also
📝 Top content
What You Can Learn from Culture Decks and Employee Handbooks - NOBL
Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab, explains why your company needs a handbook - Matt Mochary