Right, so there is this item called an employee handbook or policy manual and it should be on your radar because it is the document of ethics and standards that drive the organization forward and insulate it from any actions or behaviors that block progress. And if your current manual is in a format that that falls short of engaging, enlightening or even excite your staff, then you’re in a situation where change is definitely due.
Company leaders today have different motivations for confronting this issue. Some have reached the headcount number that they feel warrants a more formal publication. Others have heard some incredible horror stories about what other business owners have had to confront in their camps. You may have already pushed the project into motion by harvesting some relevant content from your network of helpful advisors and/or the wonderful world of websites (WWW). Your next move with all of this is a crucial, and it has nothing to do with legal jargon or state employment law. It has to do with how well you package this material and how well it is received and understood by a very important target audience, your staff.
There are two basic purposes to keep in mind when creating a new employee manual or handbook. We already know about your intention to clear the air about things like vacation time, cell phone expenses and vehicle and company property. And of course there are the rules and regulations governing employee behavior (or lack thereof at times), conduct, ethics and so on, all of which add up to a document aimed at delivering some form of legal protection to the organization. Yet the other major purpose for an employee manual is to engage and enfranchise your staff. So the manual should be viewed as a resource for your business and its employees as well, and to do that you really need to breathe some life into the document and treat it well.
Here are a few thoughts to get that process on the right track:
Change It! Workplace rules don’t even sound creative, so get out of the standard practice of cobbling up a long, dry series of text pages in default Times Roman font with a cover sheet that looks like something you did for your middle school book report. No offense, but that homework assignment didn’t look all that interesting then, so why would an even thicker stack of paper be any more appealing to review much less digest? Typography, layout and design are wonderful tools and with a professional eye and handler, they can be applied to a publication that puts your company image in a far greater light among your own people.
Be Creative. Employee handbooks go through one of the three scenarios once they are released. They may sit in a desk drawer without seeing another day’s worth of fluorescent light. They could gather dust on a shelf alongside some old unused coffee mugs and family portraits. And if they are digital, well that’s a realm of desktop icons we can’t even begin to imagine. Many employers have escaped this outcome by putting some creativity into their policy manuals with a conversational writing style that can make a policy booklet fresh, readable and engaging. Other firms are using video or digital formats with page-to-page navigation and graphics that can bring real creativity to the piece. I have seen interesting examples in which the format borrowed the charm and “fun” of a children’s book in order to integrate a goal-oriented theme. So being creative is not out of line at all.
Spot Check Your Staff. Now THIS is where the fun can really take shape, especially if you have the personality and sense of gamesmanship needed to be a leader. Employee manuals can be loaded with terminology that pleases lawyers and labor court judges while leaving your typical staff member in a perpetual state of yawn. No one does well when they encounter a term, phrase or symbol they do not understand, or something they have a partial understanding of at best. So once in a while, walk over to one of your employees and ask them to pull out their copy of the company manual. Open up any random page, pick a word and ask that staffer for its definition. Ask them to use it in a sentence. Do this for a few words throughout the booklet. If they falter, hem or haw for any reason you should take this as a sign of a misunderstood word. When you spot this, have the employee look it up in a dictionary and go through each available definition of the word until they have complete understanding of the term and how it is used in the context of the policy manual. Back this up by having your employees create sentences that demonstrate they can apply what they know. This little practice, when done right with the right spirit of play, will create amazing effects among your team and it is very likely they will keep the manuals in a better place in their minds moving ahead.
Tim Votapka is the Director of Marketing Services at Prosperity Plus. He may be reached at 631.382.7762 or by email.
Creativity is becoming a Matter of Policy
in Company Manuals
By Tim Votapka
Prosperity Plus Management Consulting, Inc.
P.O. Box 85
Smithtown, NY 11787
Employee policy manuals are intended to be read, so make them more readable with professional editing and layout as seen in the example below.