People Management: Communicating the Vision
By: Johnny Duncan
As a business owner, it is understood that without the right people in the right places, the business suffers. Communicating the vision and mission of the business to both existing stars as well as to future top performers takes a lot of time and energy. Fortunately, one of the best tools (and probably one of the most overlooked) for getting the message clearly to everyone on the team is the employee handbook.
This jewel in the rough is often feared and avoided, but only because it is misunderstood. The employee handbook in a nutshell, is a tool that presents the philosophy of the organization, explains the strategic plan, conveys employee information, and reveals the culture or working environment. When constructed using a writing style that is positive, inviting, and is representative of the organization, the employee handbook can serve as a friendly resource for seasoned veteran employees as well as new hires.
If you’ve always considered an employee handbook something that is fine for ‘large’ companies, you are not alone. Many small business owners believe that an employee handbook is required only after you’ve hired a certain number of employees. While it is true that certain government mandated policies apply after reaching a specific number of employees (e.g. Family Medical Leave Act – 50 employees), the employee handbook is more than a book of rules and can be helpful in guiding businesses with even one employee.
The dilemma of not having time to write or research policies is a concern for most small and start-up businesses. Most business owners are busy putting out fires elsewhere and believe the employee handbook to be a waste of time. But, like many good foundational stones that you’ve set to build your business, the employee handbook is one that is worth the effort. There are many good products online, including some you can download that provides templates and ready-made employee handbooks specific to your industry.
However, use caution when purchasing off-the-shelf policies and handbooks. You want to make sure that your company's policies are customized to reflect your business philosophies. One policy does not fit all businesses and some employment laws vary by industry. Perhaps the most critical factor in policy development is your company's culture. Look at the employee handbook as an instrument that helps your employees understand your perspective.
Of course, regardless of your distinctive culture, there are certain policies that should be included in your employee handbook so as to limit liability. Included should be an Equal Employment Opportunity policy, antidiscrimination policy, and employment at will. Additionally, you should state that either party can end employment at any time and that no policy constitutes a contractual obligation to employees on the part of the company, and that the company reserves the right to change any policy at any time.
In order to get the most out of your employee handbook, well… people need to read it. For that to happen, you must communicate the handbook to your team. How you deliver the message is as important as the message itself. Allow time for employees to read the handbook, and just as important, to offer feedback. Let them tell you what is missing from the handbook, what is too harsh, as well as if the handbook captures what your business is all about.
Begin constructing your employee handbook today. Don’t put off implementing this essential tool that explains where the company is going and why. Bring everyone on board so that all are steering in the same direction.
Johnny Duncan is President of Duncan Consulting, Inc., a human resources consulting service. Contact him with people challenges and small business questions at Johnny@DuncanConsult.com or by calling 407-739-0718