At SmartFile, we’ve always prided ourselves on being a company that was agile and forward thinking. We weren’t afraid to challenge the “it’s the way it’s always been done” system. This philosophy helped us entice potential employees, because they wouldn’t be bogged down by bureaucratic red tape and policy that didn’t apply to most of them.

Small Team Versus Growing Company

This idealism worked great for the first ten people. These original ten were entrepreneurial in spirit and felt just as invested in the company as I did. As the CEO, I looked at each of these people as partners, not just as employees. I invested in them as they did in me. I felt that if we just continue to hire great people our seemingly radical way of thinking would prove to be a huge success.

Then these idealistic views were put to the test. We started hiring more people, and with more people came new personalities, with different perspectives. These new hires weren’t bad people, but individuals who saw the company as it was from the day they started, and not as what it once was. These people loved the idea of what we were doing, but didn’t have an understanding of what it took to get here.

A Failed Approach

So we did what everyone does in a potentially out-of-control situation, we panicked. We resorted back to our experiences in the corporate world to develop processes to help us correct these potentially bad situations.

To avoid legal costs, a colleague and I went on a mission to find an employee handbook we could model. What started with 30 pages was whittled down to 15. We thought we were startup heroes that showed corporate America that you could be more effective with less.

The next step was to get the leadership to buy in. So I sent the 15 essential pages to my team and asked for their suggestions. Most were fine with my legal masterpiece, but one individual challenged me on the content of the book. The question was, “Did it align with who we are, what we tell our current employees, and how we present our business to potential employees?”

Moving Away From Fear and Toward Culture

So I went back to drawing board and I was able to get it down to 7 pages. However, when I sent it back for their review, they felt it was an improvement but still did not have the same spirit as our culture.

Then the question arose, do we really need an employee handbook? Why were we driving so hard to put this in place? Did it make us feel bigger, or create a perception of being a “grown up” company?

Upon further discussion and analysis it boiled down to fear. Fear was driving us to come up with a plan. Which makes sense, right? Lawyers write the rules and HR enforces them. These are the two groups of people that are the most risk averse.

Did we need a book to tell our people not to sexually harass a co-worker? Probably not anymore than we need language that said don’t wear a shirt that has inappropriate language. What we really needed was better communication and that started with our onboarding process.

A Fresh and New Approach

Each new hire spends time with every employee. This task isn’t so the new hire can understand what each of us does, but more to understand the SmartFile employee’s story. Stories like how they ended up at SmartFile, what they are most proud of, and what they liked to do when they are not working.

The final meeting is with me. I like to ask them questions about their new colleagues and then answer any questions they have about me. Then I talk to them about the vision. I feel it’s important to cast the vision early on and explain how they are going to help us get there.

The Replacement for An Employee Handbook

We also implemented our own version of the employee start up guide. It walks new employees through our ideas and how these ideas pertain to them (More about that on another post). Once all that is complete, we ask new hires to sign our version of an employee handbook, and here is how it reads:

  1. Always try to hire the right person
  2. Always use your best judgment
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail
  4. Never forget who owns the product
  5. Always be improving yourself
  6. Be true to yourself and fair to the people around you

I _________________ will always do my best to adhere to these standards as long as I am gainfully employed at SmartFile.

Unfortunately, even with this improved process, there are always going to be people that do not fit into this environment of freedom and personal responsibility. Fortunately for them, we provide great severance packages.

I don’t know if this right for every business, but for us it aligns with all six of the core values as mentioned above.

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About John Hurley

I am the CEO and Co-Founder of SmartFile. My role is to find the right people and give them the right tools and resources needed to grow both professionally and personally.

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