If You Want Them To Survive Give Them A Survival Manual They’d Read

What is the purpose of an employee handbook? Is it to inform employees about the ways of the company they’re joining? Is it to create a safety net of sorts for the company to guard itself against potential lawsuits?

Or, should it be to encourage employees to use their best judgments; to act according to common sense; and to be brave enough to bend or break rules when following them would only compound the situation?

The More There’s To Read, The Less It Gets Read

It’s not unusual to see most large organizations, their leaders and employees getting obsessed with their rulebooks. The need to consistently maintain the highest levels of productivity and efficiency have given birth to tomes of rules and rigid corporate cultures.

And when there’s a transgression, such companies unravel fast into chaos that gets irrevocably magnified by social media. However, the way in which a company reacts to such transgressions will have a huge impact on how customers perceive them.

This isn’t to say that rules and rulebooks are entirely useless either. But, rulebooks that guide people towards actions that make the most sense, in a given situation, will help companies stay nimble, make good calls and resolve problems fast.

Voluminous company dictates that edify conventional laws of governance won’t work in the fast-paced and social media savvy market of today. Besides, employees are hardly going to read or internalize a rulebook that spans several pages and appears to be overloaded with text.

New Ideas For A New Handbook

A few years after Ricardo Semler democratized the management style at Semco, the teams had mastered all the new practices introduced. They had become an integral part of the culture at Semco. It was then that the management saw a need to organize the practices in a way that was easy for new employees to assimilate.

Beyond a point, the need to create a new employee handbook became unignorable and the management began looking for ways in which they could inform new employees about Semco’s highly unique culture. They knew it had to be very different from the usual handbooks if they expected new recruits to actually understand how to navigate and survive their new work environment.

So it was decided that the handbook they’d create would be accessible, fun and welcoming. Particularly, it was decided that the manual would be more visual, less wordy and have hints of humor - even if they were talking about serious aspects and values of the Semco culture. They hoped to create a manual that could be read within minutes; one that represented the essence of the company and its values; and made clear the company’s expectations from employees.

The Masterstroke

The main challenge in creating such a unique employee handbook was coming up with a format that was informal and fun, while at the same time, supported a step-by-step explanation of the core practices at Semco. In a stroke of genius, the management decided to invite Brazil’s most popular cartoonist, Miguel Pavia, to create the manual.

Pavia is a household name in Brazil, thanks to his regular comic strip column in one of Brazil’s largest newspapers. When new employees found his highly-recognizable style of cartoons in Semco’s employee handbook, it created an immediate sense of connection.

True to its aim, the management created a highly effective manual within just 50 pages. With the help of Pavia’s cartoons and the informal, humorous text that accompanied them, the manual was able to easily explain some very complex concepts to new recruits.

Break It Down Like A Teacher

In essence, an employee handbook needs to be a simple survival manual that people can come back to whenever they’re in doubt. Crafting a manual that’s visual and simple to understand helps people to quickly find what they’re looking for without having to comb through pages of rules.

Rulebooks need to be like teachers who walk their students through serious aspects of the business in a step-by-step manner. Semco found that infusing the content with some well-placed humor can greatly impact how employees connect with the handbook and recall it when necessary.


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