Knowing the type of culture you want to create from the beginning is crucial for any company.
There are many things to properly document for a startup, and one of the most important is the employee handbook. When I decided to leave my previous startup and move on to a totally new idea, I put everything in writing before anyone was on my payroll, and for good reason.
Just rules aren’t the only thing that your core team needs to understand
I came to my new company after 15 years at my old company. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to create and how I wanted it to work. So I took the manual from my old company, Sunbelt Software, and adjusted it to reflect what I had learned and what I wanted for the future. This allowed me to send the updated manual to the two people already on board at my new company, KnowBe4, ensuring that we were immediately on the same page in terms of the game plan, right from the start.
By doing this in advance, the people who were interested in joining the new company with me were very clear on what the rules were. From the beginning they knew exactly what they were getting into, what was going to be acceptable and what was not. All the “must-have” information about things like sick leave, FMLA, etc., was there.
But it wasn’t just about setting black and white standards that said yes or no to different things. It was also about properly introducing the first team members and getting them on board with the idea of the company. Between the lines was the tone of the company. I was able to convey more important behavioral concepts, such as the fact that we were going to operate with data, not opinions. That we like to be calm, quiet and cordial. That we look for the root cause of problems, rather than shooting from the hip.
From the very beginning, they understood that the company I wanted to build was different from any other. They had an idea of culture, not just procedures. They could see that, even when I was describing serious responsibilities and big goals, it was going to be a place where the fun factor was important.
When you start a company, you are responsible for shaping the culture of the company. And that responsibility doesn’t start when employees walk in the door. It starts from day one, from the moment you say to yourself that yes, you’re going to make the company happen.
From the perspective of making your employees happy, it’s really stressful to walk into a company not knowing if you fit in. If you can show someone both the rules and the culture, then they will know from the beginning if the company is going to be attractive and satisfying for them. This is very important in a startup, because when you start to get off the ground, you need brand advocates more than ever. It’s right at the beginning when you need people to be more involved and fiercely promote and believe in you. If they really have a picture of what the company is going to be like, then it’s much easier to do that and be genuine.
Two main things to think about before writing something down
Of course, there are some important considerations that go along with creating your handbook in advance. The first thing is: are you bringing in people you can really trust from the start? Seeing a handbook can expose someone to a lot of your “secret sauce,” so it’s something that’s going to appeal to and indoctrinate your core team, not just everyone.
Second, like everything else in business, a handbook has to be adapted: it’s just a start. Once you’ve put it together, the next step is to make sure you have more specific policies or procedures for each sector or department of the company. And you need to review and update everything regularly to reflect changes in the company and the marketplace. We choose to do this with HR once a year, but you can find a calendar that is ideal for your own situation.
Laying the foundation for a successful culture and competency from the start
A good employee handbook sets the company’s standards. But it’s also important for creating a vision of the culture that will shape and set the tone for the company. It makes it clear to those first crucial people who join you what you want and how you expect everyone to behave and believe. So, if you’re serious about starting a company, put this document together from the beginning. The extra clarity you’ll get will be exactly the confidence boost you need to hit the ground running and get on a more competitive footing.