What’s the first thing that happens when you start a new job? Usually, someone from HR welcomes you with the employee handbook and a bunch of papers to sign.
The employee manual – the collection of policies and procedures every new employee gets when they start a job. It is thought to be a critical document for setting clear expectations: what to wear (or not), how to behave (or not), and how to earn and use your time off. Organizations take much time, effort, and care into crafting this tome of rules. It is often missing an exploration of one of the most critical pieces of content that will help your employees grow your business.
Today, I want to talk about the employee manual. Depending on where you work, that could be one card or a book rivaling War & Peace. The number of pages wouldn’t be proof of the value of the writing to your company even if you took weeks and months putting it together, getting it past legal and proofers. Many employee manuals are missing the most critical piece of content – one that can help employees grow your business.
What is this resource? Brand insight and how they, as brand ambassadors, fit into it. YES, your employees can do more than their jobs. They can be the key to improving your business if armed with the resources they need.
If the purpose of the employee manual is to create a sense of stability and avoid failure, you must do more than welcome employees with a dress code. To improve your culture and increase productivity, employees must be invested in your brand. You must create and maintain a culture that is inextricably tied to your brand so that how it is perceived on the outside matches the experience on the inside.
To do this, you need first to understand your core values and your brand purpose. These will help guide the overall the development of an innovative employee manual, both in how it is created and communicated and perhaps even in how it is delivered.
Then, you must understand the purpose of the employee manual. If indeed, it is only to contain the behavior of employees, you can stop reading now. This month’s column will be of no interest to you. If, however, the purpose of this exercise is to build a strong foundation that inspires your employees to create brand experiences your guests will want time and time again, then you want this document to be so much more than the usual.
Assess the existing alignment of your stated mission and your brand purpose
While many manuals include a company mission statement, it can often appear reduced down to an elevator speech. Alternatively, worse, it could be a dream from many years ago that has changed and morphed due to ongoing operations and may no longer be valid or useful. Ask and answer specific questions which describe your organization in ways it is known today, what it should be doing, as well as how everyone thinks and behaves. How do you have to operate and work together differently to achieve the purpose? What must you start doing (or stop doing) to make your brand values a core part of how you do business?
Adopt a single vision for the organization
Rather than relying on a typical corporate mission statement – which is usually focused on the company’s goals – describe your mission as a brand essence statement and the purpose or role the brand plays in the life of the guest. As guests are faced with ever-growing options for their entertainment dollars, it is imperative that your brand plays an irreplaceable role in their lives. A brand purpose statement helps to set and maintain a singular focus for employees.
Adopting this single vision can be tricky for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Most businesses adopt a mission or purpose that outlines what the company does, produces or sells, and then sets a goal to achieve some target (typically financial). Then, they go about establishing a brand purpose – or what they want to be known for. Your purpose, however, should be seamlessly integrated as one. Traditionalists separate a company’s mission (the reason for being), vision (the desired future) and mission (how it goes about fulfilling the vision), but it’s not necessary to have three different statements. A simple yet clear purpose statement can engage even the most skeptical or apathetic employees by making their work meaningful.
Express your singular and unique brand values and purpose
It is not unusual for companies to adopt a set of behaviors and values to internally guide decisions and employee actions and then a separate set of values and practices for the guest experience. An example I typically point to is the company that wants to be industry leading in profitability yet promises as a brand to be generous in service. This sort of incongruence can confuse at best and create employee turmoil at worst. Bridging these two and creating a core set of values, will resonate with employees and create an alignment of the view of the brand that anyone can follow. Valve’s employee manual has set a standard for walking employees through the WHAT of the brand that it went viral a few years ago. It’s a great example to look at.
Focus on the expectation and not on platitudes
Years ago, a wise man taught me the concept of “developer speak.” He said that operators who don’t have the experience to sell would rely on the things that make up their product – 800 thread count sheet and luxurious soaking tubs. Are you starting to get the picture? Are you using meaningful language in your employee manual? Because employee manuals are traditionally one of the first documents given to new hires, the brand voice and values should be introduced if it has not been through the recruitment process. Additionally, because so many employee manuals can often feel the same, the language you use can be an opportunity to create a distinct impression in the mind of employees.
Develop mindsets and behaviors that will guide employees to create on-brand guest experiences
Nordstrom’s one page one simple rule employee manual is a single card, yet one of the best examples of what we typically understand to be an employee manual. One side reads, “Our number one goal is to provide outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them, so our employee handbook is very simple. We have only one rule…” The other side? “Our One Rule. Use good judgment in all situations. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or Human Resources any questions at any time.” With this simple almost non-existent employee manual, Nordstrom puts the focus on the employee’s role in creating and growing the brand.
Get more people involved
Most employee manuals are created within the human resources department with little to no assistance from marketing. If your goal is for all employees to understand the brand purpose and truly live the brand, you should consider getting involved in more than just a layout and design capacity. Launch and distribution are marketing specialties and could create a memorable brand experience for employees. This partnership could also create new avenues for the way the manual and its contents become a part of the day-to-day culture. Technology has opened up multiple platforms for creating, hosting, and distributing employee information such as video, slide shows, even cartoon illustrations that entertain and teach proper brand behaviors.
Walk the walk
There are some great examples of company employee manuals that are indeed a reflection of the brand. Tech company Trello uses its platform to deliver its manual to employees. Even the first entry is a nod to their brand: Dust off the age-old employee manual for today’s modern workforce. Hubspot’s employee manual also warrants a mention because it manages to communicate a great deal through a simple PowerPoint and posting it to SlideShare further cements their commitment to transparency – a principal brand value.
Most of the listeners of this podcast will have spent little more than reading time with an employee manual but designing one that is not only useful, but purposeful is ultimately worthwhile. Your employee manual can and should be an extension of your brand materials. So, I encourage all of you to take a look at your current manual and evaluate how it is assisting employees in creating the brand experiences that are necessary to grow your business. A human resources/marketing partnership is key to building and empowering brand ambassadors.