New Year & New Handbook?

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

2022 is well underway and the FT section on Flexible Working has gotten a fair few people riled up with the recent article:

Why modern managers are reviving old-school staff handbooks

Corporate leaders are rewriting the rules of the workplace in response to the challenges of remote working – Emma Jacobs in the Financial Times 6 January 2022 (Paywall)

Sharing examples from a range of modern digitally driven businesses, the heckling in the comments section includes questions on why the examples aren’t from manufacturing – to the virtue and vice of banning email. And then some more random comments. There’s a reason for the old “don’t read the comments” meme in other words.

But let’s set the trolling aside and focus on the key development identified: the shift from the staff handbook of yore (largely fixed in time, covering mostly policies and rarely updated) to a more dynamic and iterative approach. And in some cases, as the example of GitLab from the article: these are made available directly on the web for all stakeholders to see – and I am encouraged to see that they’ve thought about ethics and values. And I am concerned others have not.

And as they explain:

Having a “handbook first” mentality ensures there is no duplication; the handbook is always up to date, and others are better able to contribute.

And they’re clear about the pro / cons – and how it ties into existing organisational practice – arguably making the approach accessible:

Documenting in the handbook before taking an action may require more time initially because you have to think about where to make the change, integrate it with the existing content, and then possibly add to or refactor the handbook to have a proper foundation. But, it saves time in the long run, and this communication is essential to our ability to continue scaling and adapting our organization.

This process is not unlike writing tests for your software. Only communicate a (proposed) change via a change to the handbook; don’t use a presentation, email, chat message, or another medium to communicate the components of the change. These other forms of communication might be more convenient for the presenter, but they make it harder for the audience to understand the context and the implications for other potentially affected processes.

Time to reflect

As you kick off the new year, here are some timely questions for reflection – whether you’re a General Counsel, Chief Risk/Ethics/Compliance Officer or Chairperson:

  • When did you last check out your own handbook?
  • Are you sure your employees actually read it?
  • Is it consistent with your Ethics/Compliance Code?
  • Does it match up to the needs for a rapidly changing environment?
  • And specifically, does it enable, or perhaps even hinder Ethical Business Practice?

Get in touch if you’d like to discuss this topic in more depth.


Cover photo by Sigmund on Unsplash