In most cases in a company there is a document, a living breathing touchstone that captures the essence of each organization's mission and its values. This is a company culture handbook.
Unlike the employee handbook that you are handed on your first day at any job, the culture handbook is something new hires should want to read. It should have information that is valuable to new hires and current employees alike. If an employee handbook is a document that collects dust at the back of someone's desk drawer, a culture handbook should be something that employees are constantly interacting with and contributing to.
1) A CULTURE HANDBOOK HELPS CONTROL CHAOS AS A COMPANY SCALES :
Company culture and values influence organizational behavior, decision-making and prioritization, and thus, ultimately, the bottom line. It serves a strategic purpose, and should be seen through such a lense. Much like the vision and mission, it is a framework that helps employees align their thinking and actions towards reaching shared goals. Writing and implementing a culture handbook is particularly useful for startups that are hiring at speed, all the while trying to steer their growing organization in a common direction.
The idea of a culture handbook came to us at Smartly.io when the company had doubled its size from 50 to 100 people in six months, and our team was increasingly distributed across continents. At that point, our culture was strong, but implicit. It got passed down from old to new employees by a sort of osmosis. We worried about how it would be adopted by the expanding and diversifying team. Things were bound to be lost in translation unless we made the culture and values explicit.
However, be critical when documenting your culture to hold on only values and those parts of the culture that defines your success as an organization. Otherwise, the culture handbook could reassert an exclusive culture only for a homogenous group of people. Diversity and inclusion should be taken into account from the start by building a welcoming environment that fosters safety and a sense of belonging. This starts by actively asking, listening, and involving everyone in your organization.
2) DOUBLE DOWN ON DETAILS AND CONCRETE EXAMPLES TO DEFINE YOUR CULTURE :
We stumbled upon this at Smartly.io when we recognized that one of our founding values, humbleness It wasn’t enough to say that we are humble, we needed to define what being humble meant in practice in the Smartly.io context.
To create a culture handbook that helps the organization behave in a confluent way, you need to optimize for clarity and practicality over everything else. Share concrete examples of how the company culture should manifest itself in interactions with colleagues and customers, as well as how it influences decision-making and prioritization. Show, don’t tell, what kind of behavior your company values, and you’ll make it easier for your people to act accordingly.
An excerpt from our culture handbook, exemplifying how we used quotes by Smartlies to highlight what our values mean in practice and how they affect our ways of working.
3) INVOLVING THE ENTIRE ORGANIZATION TAKES TIME. IT’S WORTH IT :
It may be tempting to create the culture handbook amongst a few specific teams, like Executive Leadership, People Operations or Employer Branding. These teams usually have a relatively clear understanding of what the culture is like or at least what it should be, and soliciting the opinions of a larger group tends to make the process less straightforward. We insist, however, that the entire organization needs to have the opportunity to take part in documenting the culture.
inviting the whole organization to chip in generates a shared sense of ownership, which in turn makes your employees more likely to embrace the result of the work.
4) A PUBLIC CULTURE HANDBOOK IS GREAT FOR YOUR EMPLOYER BRAND:
While a culture handbook primarily serves an internal purpose, publishing it on your career page is a superb way of giving potential applicants a glimpse of your ways of working and helping them decide if they would like to join your team. We get constant feedback that our culture handbook has played a significant role in persuading new Smartlies to come work for us.
You might also hesitate to share details of your company culture out of fear for copycats. While we think our culture and values give us a competitive advantage, we don’t believe that they can be copied from one organization to another. Values and culture come alive in the context of everyday practices that are unique to the people in the organization.
5) YOUR CULTURE (HANDBOOK) IS NEVER READY :
When we set out to write the culture handbook, we believed that culture is fairly static—something that stays more or less unchanged regardless of location or time. Over the course of the writing process we came to understand that culture, in fact, has a more dynamic nature. It evolves over time and with every new hire and varies between offices—and that’s completely natural. Startup founders tend to dread changes in culture when their companies grow, establish offices abroad, or hire new leadership. However, culture needs to evolve in order to support the growing company.
As the culture is going to change anyway, it makes sense to guide that change in the right direction. Recruitment decisions are one of the most impactful ways to nurture your culture. When a company grows, it needs people with diverse backgrounds and different ways of thinking and solving problems to help take the company to the next level of success companies should hire people who are committed to their values but elevate the culture in order to build more diverse, inclusive, and successful teams.
Since the culture evolves as the company grows, it’s crucial to keep on reviewing and refreshing the culture handbook regularly, a culture handbook can be a useful tool in guiding an organization through the different stages of growth.