The Evolution of a Startup’s Employee Handbook

How we adapted to startup growing pains with a team-inspired employee handbook

Many of the startup Cinderella stories that we hear tend to follow the same plot – you know, the tale of two young students collaborating on a napkin sketch over some beers, selling their brainchild for billions two years later. What you don’t hear as much about are the growing pains that every startup goes through on their way from bootstrapped beginnings to profit-turning machine.

As a later stage startup, we’ve already experienced our fair share of organizational change to meet the demands of our growing client base. But one recent update sticks out as a milestone in our growth as a company – the creation of the SnapEngage Employee Handbook.

employee handbook

Fostering an environment of open communication

An official employee handbook wasn’t really in the plans, it just kind of happened. In fact, as a team, we tend to rebel against anything that might suggest a corporate culture, and a book of company policies sounded like the worst kind of overbearing structure that we so outwardly reject. But as we entered a new stage of company growth and ramped up our hiring efforts, conversations around how to attract and retain top talent became daily banter among the team.

While these water cooler discussions could have easily turned into a cesspool of complaints, as they sometimes do when employees get together and opine about what’s working and what’s not, they didn’t. And the reason they didn’t swell into a balloon of negativity is because one of our core values as a company is transparency. We practice transparency at every level of our organization, from open book management and cross-functional teams to product development and client relations.

So, our team leads listened to all the feedback and took it to the management team for review. They listened to all the positives and negatives, commended everyone for the open, constructive communication, and decided to take action. What resulted was the idea to create an employee handbook.

Turning skepticism to optimism

Needless to say, when rumors of this new employee handbook surfaced, there were more than a few whispers around the office. There were fears about the unknown – would new policies be implemented that interfered with our sense of normalcy?

Prior to the idea of an official handbook, most of our ‘policies’ and benefits operated under an umbrella of what was thought to be common knowledge. However, as it turns out, most of the team was unclear, and even unaware of a lot of the great offerings that were available to the team, such as providing resources for continuing education and conference attendance. We also had the added challenge of uniting policies and benefits from two very diverse offices – Boulder, CO and Berlin, Germany.

Change is never easy, but our management team was able to quickly turn skepticism to optimism by creating an open forum for input from all team members. A working draft of the employee handbook was circulated via a shared Google doc, giving everyone a chance to comment. So instead of an environment of uncertainty, there was a buzz of excitement around the new employee handbook.

Perks don’t create perky employees

office kegeratorThe competitive landscape of perk offerings has become a defining characteristic of startup culture. From daily catered lunches and kegerators to ski passes and paid-paid vacations, the battle to be the perkiest company is real! But perks only go so far. In the end, positive workplaces are defined by the people who make them. Office culture should be focused on building synergies between talented people from diverse backgrounds.

While we definitely incorporated our fair share of awesome benefits into the new employee handbook – 2 months paid maternity leave, one month paid sabbatical in your 5th year of employment, even a pet bereavement policy, to name a few – it’s not the perks that create happy employees. Our shiny, happy people are the result of relationships built on mutual respect, dependability and making each other laugh every day.

It will always be a work in progress

The best part about our new employee handbook is the understanding that there will always be room for improvement. We don’t expect to get it right the first time around. In fact, the opening paragraph states, Your suggestions, questions or comments are welcome at all times and will help us to improve as we grow.” This clear statement at the beginning reinforces our overarching core value of transparency for current team members, as well as new employees during the onboarding process. It also gives a voice to each team member, easing any perceived barriers to communicate new ideas and foster ongoing discussion towards continued growth as a company.