Co-founder WorkTango
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My employee handbook fits on a business card. But how?

20th Jul 2015
Co-founder WorkTango
Columnist
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Employee handbook
Michael Quirk

Catalano writes on recognition, engagement, alignment and forward-thinking methods for helping organisations focus on employees to drive business success. He leads global engagement and expansion at cloud recognition and engagement company Achievers. Rob is a Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) and a popular speaker on the HR circuit, having presented on best practices and trends in over 30 cities. His writings include a ‘wisdom of crowds’ approach leveraging his work with hundreds of organisations globally.

I’m not kidding.

Most people don’t believe me when I tell them.  And it isn’t super-tiny writing to fit on two sides of a business card either.  In fact, it’s one sentence:

“All employees use their common sense, have respect for others, grow professionally and personally, create value and treat our shareholders’ assets as is they were their own.”

Achievers Handbook

In my opinion, it’s really all you need.

"HR won’t love this statement - but we get so caught up in HR creating rules, policies, handbooks, doing presentations for the office… for the 0.1% of employees that don’t act with common sense. Most HR leaders I speak to know this and love their profession a little less each day because they spend so much time on a small fraction and not the majority of the employee base."

Relationships with employees and employers should be one about trust

A hundred-plus pages of all the things your employees already know (and they likely will NEVER review) is not doing your employees any favours.

I liken it to what many large organisations are struggling with right now when it comes to social media ‘organisational rules and regulations’.  They spin wheels on trying to figure out what it should be and publish documentation that is restrictive and doesn’t relate to the masses.  If your company is struggling with this, you don’t have a social media problem – you have an employee trust problem.

Scared companies run away from it and try and eliminate it, but smart companies figure out how to leverage it. For example, in my line of business, I’ve experienced several large organisations that allow employees to share recognitions they’ve received at work from colleagues in their own personal and public social media profiles to help build employer brand.  When I bring that up to an HR group, the usual reaction is fear, followed with the question “Why would anyone share THAT?!” 

I return the question asking why people share pictures of food, babies and the sky with #nofilter?  It’s personally motivating to them!

But back to the main point.

Having a myriad of rules that dictate how people must work isn’t productive.  Today’s employees want a level of autonomy where they get alignment from the business on what success looks like with a few painted football lines of parameters they should play within.  Rather, too many companies focus on laying every blade of grass that have potential landmines attached to them if they slip-up.

If you’ve never read Drive by Dan Pink, you should. The idea of Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose as major requirements for engaged and motivated employees is a good one.  No time to read? Check out this quick video.

When you have a level of trust with your employees and build cultural norms around what is acceptable within the business, things begin to take care of themselves and people know what their actions should be, and they don’t have to ask management every time they act.  In great cultures, your employees enforce these values and cultural norms with each other.

Does this mean a company shouldn’t have rules, or do the things to save their asses legally? No.  But it’s the way you position and present things to employees that matter. 

My philosophy is to ‘ask for forgiveness later.’  And if you can defend it, do it.  Employees take ownership when you offer them trust and an environment that allows them to be successful without having to swim in a sea of red tape.  Will they make mistakes? Absolutely!  Will you have to deal with them? Of course.

All I’m saying is to not start the conversation focusing on all the potential problems – focus on potential.  We ask our employees to come to us with solutions, and not just problems, right?  We should take our own lead and not start with a tree-and-a-half of materials explaining all the potential problems they can cause, but focus on getting alignment of what success looks like and build trust.  If you hire right based on your culture and values, common sense will prevail to getting to that success. 

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