Today’s post is not the one I originally sat down to write. I realise that makes no difference to you whatsoever, for me though, it’s an accountability thing! Writing takes time, research, energy and focus. I am not the one that words spew freely across the proverbial page for. So before I get too sidetracked, I’m typing this as a promise that my intended, and fully researched piece on the impact of Covid-19 on our future work force, inspired by a very robust conversation with my Gen Zs and their mates, will be up next (linked text coming soon). Instead, last night I was Inspired by an open question posted in a very cool CPO forum I subscribe to:
Hi I’m looking at creating a guide defining our ways of working for the entire organisation – has anyone done this sort of work before and be happy to share structure/format of what’s worked?
I realise that having built out WNDYR as a remote first company, from the ground up, there are a couple of things I take for granted. Lessons learnt with each painful iteration since 2016 (and before), means I’ve come to appreciate that what seems like a simple ask, is never as quick nor easy as anticipated.
So I’ve chosen to type this post this morning to jot down my learnings in this department. I’m hoping it will make for lighter work for anyone reading it. It’s not a fixed template, but a list of ideas that have transpired from my learnings over the past many years. You’ll make your own adjustments to suite your organisation, but I’m hoping it will at least give you a starting point. I know fully that you are juggling too much right now to have to get bogged down by some of these details. Get started. Have fun!
Here’s a process summary that I’ll take you through so you can hop where you need to go in a jiffy, or get straight to work knowing what needs to be included where:
- CHOOSE THE FORMAT
- DECIDE ON SECTION HEADERS
- FLESH OUT THE CONTENT
CHOOSE THE FORMAT
Yup, this is the beginning.
I’ve seen many such handbooks*/playbooks/guides/packs (seriously, they are called anything imaginable under the sun). They come in multiple formats, from printed miniature beautifully bound books, a series of gorgeously designed flash cards you can keep on your desk, infographic-type one pagers, living pages within a hub or company website to a word-type-doc or PDF. Regardless, whichever format you choose, know that you will need to be agile. This masterpiece will never (and should never) be “done”.
You have three main considerations here that you want to consider:
- Who is your target audience – culture, demographic, generation, growth phase, company size all factor into the messy mix.
- What do you want them to experience
- How established are your policies – rapid iteration calls for agility in updating
my preference (well suited to a rapidly growing, fully remote, work from anywhere startup): editable presentation deck with gorgeously designed branded pages as a template base that can be quickly iterated by selected team and saved as a PDF for easy sharing
aspirational preference (well suited for an established org, that can sustain a solid print run): call me old fashioned, but I do love the feel of a physical book in my hands. One day, when we are big(ger) I’d love to send a playbook copy to each employee on our team, regardless of where they are located. I’ll include a mini questionnaire at the end of each section to re-enforce the content. The physical book version is also a nice change for a digital first org.
*Note: If you have team in the US, you likely have an “Employee Handbook” which is different to this type of handbook, so choose your terminology carefully! While of course you may combine everything into one big meaty document, this might make for heavy reading and updating. The US employee handbook typically includes:
- a welcome message
- about the company page
- full and detailed list of all company policies, procedures & benefits.
DECIDE ON SECTION HEADERS
Obvious I know, but not so much when you’ve been challenged from the top of the office chain to get this circulated yesterday.
There is much to consider here and I like starting off with understanding the multiple uses of this workbook across the employee journey. While most orgs choose to incorporate their vision, mission and culture within their “ways of work guide”, I actually like keeping them separate, though fully aligned and living side by side. Hybrid versions work well too.
To get going, and because frankly we all have too much to read, I suggest keeping it simple with:
- A word from the CEO
- Vision, Mission, Values
- Learning the Lingo
- Rules of Work (how we play)
- Set up for success
FLESH OUT THE CONTENT
Before you dive in, four words of advice.
ONE: As your work section by section to get the basics down, remember to go gently on yourself. This work will never be done. There is no finish line. It’s a living handbook and needs to stay this way (consider mentioning this fact in the handbook itself if you feel it’s worth reminding).
TWO: You don’t need to work in order of the content and a “still under construction” or “coming soon” message for unpopulated sections is acceptable if you allow it to be (I would!).
THREE: The tone of the content needs to align with your company culture. Avoid jargon (unless you include a reference guide).
FOUR: Because this is such an important company wide alignment document and you believe in inclusion, I’d like to suggest that you seriously consider investing in having your workbook translated (even if it’s only the annual update).
Okay, enough already, let’s dive into the meaty bits. Here’s what you can consider under each section header …
1. A WORD FROM THE CEO
A brief message from your CEO to say hello and get everyone excited. Written, voice or video format can all work, but have it up front as it’s a good place to start. The message should be enthusiastic and authentic leaving the reader feeling inspired, supported and excited for being part of the organisation and journey that lies ahead.
2. VISION, MISSION & VALUES
In this section you are going to cover the culture bits. If you have recently shifted to a new way of work, it is likely time to have the leadership crew review these for new alignment.
If you don’t have what you need to populate this section, you can use the wisdom of Patrick Lencioni from his book, The Advantage.
- Why do we exist? your mission & vision
- How do we behave? these are your values and behaviours
- What do we do? how you serve your customer
- How will we succeed?
- What is most important, right now?
- Who must do what? a company 30 000ft view organisational chart can do the trick here
- How do we impact society? | not from Lencioni, but one well worth considering adding (please!)
side-note: If you have time, take your leadership team through the book, chapter by chapter, to bring clarity on these 6 to 7 questions above and get full buy-in and alignment moving forward. As a bonus, consider extending the training across your team as a way to bring everyone on the same page, reinforcing clarity with each new group trained.
3. LEARNING THE LINGO
It’s time for some acronyms and explanations. Every company, even those in aligned industries, adopt their own lingo over time. It’s not fair, nor kind, to expect all employees to know what each acronym means. Best to be inclusive and bring everyone onto the same literal and figurative page.
Going department by department at this stage of the game might be a winner. Get the team to shout out what jargon they use: MRR, SEO, SaaS, API, iPaaS, PPC are 6 quick examples of what may come up. Group the acronyms by function or department and add a one liner (with additional links if necessary/appropriate) to bring everyone into the loop and not left floundering or too shy to ask.
While you are at it, add your company’s explanations for:
- your chosen new way of working with an explanation of what that means for the company and the individuals within it.
- new way of working words like your definition of asynchronous vs synchronous and digital first are common industry terms that I realise need clear contextual explaining
4. RULES OF WORK
This is that bit that can see you lost in the weeds. To help keep you on track, I’d like to suggest simplifying things.
All work, regardless of role, vocation, tenure, etc covers just 5 distinct areas:
That’s it. So when it comes to explaining the rules of work, start with headers for each of these 5 sections with a clear explanation of: what, where, when and how. (Add why if needed)
quick suggestion: work this through the company lens and not the department. Department specifics may well differ to the company’s rules, so set expectations accordingly. At minimum, though department playbooks may differ to the company wide one, they most certainly should be aligned.
5. SETUP FOR SUCCESS
This is where you tie everything together and make sure everyone has some handy best practice wisdom on hand. Depending on your chosen way of work you may want to add some thoughts on how to get setup for success. You can pose these as FAQ’s or list them as learnings. Some ideas here could include:
- Setting up your virtual office space
- Setting up your virtual digital space
- Tips for working remotely
- how to make friends
- prevent burnout
- deal with ‘cabin fever’
- how/where to get support
WHOOPEE, YOU’RE DONE
Nope, I tricked you. Remember that this work is N-E-V-E-R done. You are absolutely almost done for now though 🙂
This handbook is such an integral part of your culture and sets the tone of how your team “play” at work, I suggest a solid copy edit or second set of eyes before you hit save and send. Schedule time in your calendar or backlog to revisit this annually (at an absolute minimum and suited only for well established orgs), ideally quarterly, before each new onboarding round, or designate a team champion to keep the live document iterated with each new advancement.
Final word of advice typed with a smile on my face. Creating this type of document can actually be fun. It’s one of those times you get to collate content which will move into a beautiful design that will be referenced constantly. Be proud of what you create. Good luck!