Why modern managers are reviving old-school personnel manuals


The Soul Publishing, an online video content creator known for their life hacking material, is ruthless towards meetings. Employees should make sure they have tried all possible avenues to resolve their issue before calling a meeting. It is only when they are absolutely sure that they are at a dead end that they can request an appointment, 24 hours in advance. Then, they must publish the agenda, and limit both the number of guests (brainstorming is considered a waste of time) and the duration (30 minutes maximum). Once the meeting is over, the notes will be posted to the cloud, accessible to anyone who wants to review.

Soul’s remote workforce learns about these meeting protocols on its online wiki, where the company publishes its company policy manual and a guide to its work practices.

Regarding internal communication, the online wiki warns: “It is totally forbidden to use email for internal communication within the company. Completely. Totally. There are no exceptions. Instead, employees are advised to use Slack, the workplace chat app.

Although the manual is not publicly available, the company does share sections with potential candidates so they get a feel for its culture. Arthur Mamedov, COO of The Soul, says: “Not everyone would be suitable to work in this environment.” Meeting protocol can be especially difficult for new hires from traditional business backgrounds. “It’s a mental twist in the first few months, the older they are, the greater the mental twist. ”

In a white-collar world that is increasingly likely to include a work-from-home component – or may be remote altogether – an increasing number of employers are creating virtual company manuals to document their working style and culture. job. The scope is broader than traditional manuals that would define benefits and compliance issues.

Jennifer Smith, co-founder and CEO of Scribe, which makes productivity software, says two new trends are making company manuals important. “The first is remote work. Before, you could lean over the proverbial booth, learning by osmosis. When people are far away it is much more difficult. It becomes more and more of a burden for your best people and more difficult for new people who might not want to ask or know who to ask. The Great Resignation also underlines its importance. “Collective knowledge is leaving the company.

Sarah Willett of The Very Group hopes having a staff manual will help attract new talent

Such an approach is also suitable for business leaders, such as Reed Hastings at Netflix and Ray Dalio at Bridgewater Associates, “who take a proselytizing approach to the way they work,” says Nick Lovegrove, professor of practice at the McDonough School of Georgetown University Business. Meanwhile, social media platforms like Glassdoor, an employee review site, have made cultures more transparent to outsiders.

The launch of a hybrid office culture at The Very Group, which operates Very.co.uk, the retailer, has accelerated flexible working. To help employees adjust, he produced The Very Good Work manual, which features protocols on new ways of working. “In a hybrid world, having accessible digital information is vital to setting standards and sharing how we get things done,” says Sarah Willett, group director of human resources. She hopes this serves as an induction for newcomers and a way to attract talent.

The company publishes one chapter at a time to enable employees to process information and acclimatize to new work practices. He has so far published guides on hybrid working, how to use corporate workplaces, and how to hold a meeting. The next chapter is devoted to collaboration. “Our staff absorb information in different ways, so each chapter includes content to read or listen to, supported by short and accessible digital learning modules,” says Willett. There is also an accompanying podcast.

The Very Group predicts that content will grow and change as work practices subside and its employees provide input.

Willett says, “Tracking and measuring the effectiveness of the playbook will be critical. By tracking participation and impact, as well as our survey data, we’ll know if the playbook is achieving its goals: removing things that slow us down, increasing productivity and, most importantly, making it easier for our employees. their jobs.

GitLab, the online repository for open source software code, launched its manual in 2013 and is making it publicly available. Under the heading feedback, for example, he explains: “Giving feedback is a challenge, but it is important to provide it effectively. When providing feedback, always deal with the work itself; focus on the business impact, not the person. According to Wendy Nice Barnes, Director of Human Resources, transparency means the company is better able to recruit people “who care about our values”, encourages rapid feedback from “people outside the company and facilitates collaboration. with them. This allows the world at large to replicate the processes and make suggestions for improvement, and it makes it easier to share our processes with external stakeholders.

She emphasizes that transparency must be “responsible [requiring] deliberate context. Information shared with minimal or no context can be misunderstood or distorted. Transparency for transparency could have unintended consequences such as inefficiency, more meetings on a project than necessary, or duplication of work.

The GitLab manual ensures that processes and values ​​are easily shared across time zones and geographies for the fully remote workforce. “It creates efficiency in shared understanding. It also creates a more welcoming environment for applicants and new hires.

The company believes it can create a more equal workforce, allowing everyone to have access to the same information. The manual is the key to its culture alongside work practices, values ​​and camaraderie, created and maintained through informal communication.

“Everything that was implicit must be made explicit,” says Nice Barnes, which requires effort. “There is a very real fear that committing to a textbook and instilling a culture of documentation is too difficult a task to actually accomplish. The goal should not be to complete the manual before announcing its existence to the company [but rather] iteration. Set up the right infrastructure and start documenting process by process, one at a time.

In the long term, it’s effective, she argues. “An organization that doesn’t make a concerted effort into structured documentation has no choice but to watch its team members request and re-request the same data in perpetuity, creating an inefficient loop of interruptions. [and] meetings. “

Raphael Crawford-Marks, Founder and CEO of Bonusly, an employee engagement platform, says they’ve had to change the way they change their “One-Manual” as the business grows. “In the creation phase, when we were a little over 20 people, we had a one-day event and had a facilitator. Now we’re over 100 people and we can’t get everyone in the room to do it. Instead, they invite comments, then create a poll with a list of suggested edits to share and review.

While the emphasis on transparency can help ensure accountability across an organization, not everyone likes this approach. Textbooks can offer many benefits, but according to Lovegrove at Georgetown University, “There is the question of whether employees like the notion of formula. [for their work practices]. Or do they rather want to be trusted? “

This article has been modified since publication to clarify that GitLab is not owned by Microsoft


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