If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have been tolling on creating an employee handbook for Half Off Depot. Mostly on Saturday mornings. And I told some people that I would publish it when I finished. Well I can't do that.
As it turns out section 6.2 of the Half Off Depot Employee Handbook addresses the issue of confidenitality. And it states restricted documents can not be given to a person outside of the company. The Half Off Depot Employee Handbook is marked confidential. I can not share it without violating the provisions of a handbook I wrote. Go figure. I guess the next best thing would be to tell you how I went about creating the 30 page beast.
So when I started at Half Off Depot I was employee number 21. We had an employee handbook. It was designed for a company with about 20 employees. The big driver of the project was that we were quickly going to be approaching 70 or so employees. They needed some rules. I started with that designed for 20 people handbook. But I needed more, much more. So our corporate counsel provided a very legal cover every base handbook that was just way too serious. Way.
But it was a good outline. I just had to move all the super legal cover your bases to the back. Employees don't care about EEOC BS (and BTW I guess at this point I should state that I am a big believer in acceptance and diversity). Employees want to know work hours, vacation, and holidays.
So started asking folks that I know at similar sized companies about their handbooks. Three people that know and trust me quite well offered to provide me with copies of their handbooks as long as I never ever shared them with anyone else. While I would like to publicly thank them I fear that might even break a confidence. Thanks boys and girls. You know who you are.
Well it took me a little while to realize this but it just so happens one of the folks that provided me with their company handbook share the same corporate counsel that we use at Half Off Depot. It was way less stuffy and boring but covered the important topics. I took those two handbooks and combined them in a way that Half Off Depot actually operates on a day to day basis. When I was finished with that I compared the result with the other three I had at my disposal. Filled in a few potholes. Thing of beauty. All in it took me about 40 hours to get it together.
So the way to create an employee handbook is to get your hands on some and adapt them to the way you operate your business. It really is as easy as that.
One of my favorite bloggers is Fred Wilson. I don't have tons of time to read blogs these days but I still try to make my way to A VC once or twice a week. Some time ago Fred started a series called MBA Mondays. There are about 100 articles in the series now.
As a guy with an MBA and a bit of startup experience I found much of the early content not very interesting (though I suspect it is highly interesting to someone with no formal business education). More recently Fred has been writing about the management team during various stages of startup growth. The last post was on management while building the business. There is a great quote in there:
"The people side of the business is harder and way more complicated than building a product is."
It is. People are messy. But not many entrepreneurs think about this. Perhaps because few get to the growth stage. At Half Off Depot I am right in it. After revenue it is the most important thing I do every day.
After he wrapped up his last post in the subject Fred did something that was brilliant. He had a series of guest posts on management. They are really good, with nuggets of wisdom throughout. Below is a favorite thought from each guest blogger. Something that I personally believe. Anyone that aspires to lead or be a part of a successful startup should take the time to read these guest posts. Because after you build the product and initial user base it really is all about management.
Jerry Colonna "Surrendering to the demons that torment your organization does not mean abdicating your responsibilities to manage. You are still responsible for dealing with the reality of what is. In some cases, the demon is the wrong vision for the company. In others, it might be that you’ve hired the wrong people. In still others, it might be your own failings—like an inability to admit that you’re wrong."
Joel Spolsky "Stop thinking of the management team at the top of the organization. Start thinking of the software developers, the designers, the product managers, and the front line sales people as the top of the organization."
Phil Sugar "I go on as many sales calls and customer visits as I can. I’ve been told that once I hire a Head of Sales, I should stay out of the process. I totally disagree. I am not going to be the one managing the process, but I want to hear what the market is saying directly."
JLM "Bad news --- your generation did not invent sex. It does not have to invent the crafting of companies either. Someone else has also done this before."
Matt Blumberg “Management teams never scale intact as you grow the business. Someone always breaks.”
So about a week ago I posted an article about the eight qualities of remarkable employees. It was inspired by an article by Jeff Haden and he is back at it again with the five qualities of remarkable bosses. I try to live by some of the qualities that Jeff points out like never asking an employee to do something that I would not do myself. But his last point really hit home.
Always remember where you came from.
To some of your employees, especially new employees, you are at least slightly famous. You’re in charge. You’re the boss.
That's why an employee who wants to talk about something that seems inconsequential may just want to spend a few moments with you.
When that happens, you have a choice. You can blow the employee off... or you can see the moment for its true importance: A chance to inspire, reassure, motivate, and even give someone hope for greater things in their life. The higher you rise the greater the impact you can make—and the greater your responsibility to make that impact.
In the eyes of his or her employees, a remarkable boss is a star.
The pressures of trying to grow a startup make it so so easy to blow off an employee that wants to chat for a few minutes. A manager's most important job is to help their employee's do theirs. Doing that means being available for them when they need you, not just when it is convenient for you.
So I week or so I tweet out that I was looking for a receptionist. Entry level college grad was the gist of it. I got four potentials on short order but I also got a few questions. College grad to be a receptionist? Really?
While I am looking for a receptionist, and about five other gigs for that matter, it is really a bit more than that. I am looking for smart people that can grow and contribute in a startup environment. Two of the things it takes to do so is smarts and drive. Rightly or wrongly having the gumption to go get yourself a degree can serve as an indicator of those two things. It's a screen. A proxy of some sort. It is why Google only hires from top tier universities.
A gotta add that one of the people that questioned me is one of the smartest technologists that I know. A Georiga Tech drop out to play CTO for a hyper growth startup. About four successful ones at this point. Sometimes a degree just slows you down.
Not to long ago a nice article (regardless of the title) made its way to my inbox. It was called "Three Types of People to Fire Immediately" by G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Viton. It kicked off with this:
“I wanted a happy culture. So I fired all the unhappy people.”
—A very successful CEO (who asked not to be named)
Lots of detail in the article but the gist of it is if you have tried to change people and they won't adapt they need to go away. Below are the three types of people to fire immediately.
1. The Victims; people looking for problems not opportunities.
2. The Nonbelievers; the difference between winning and losing is desire.
3. The Know It Alls; they will snuff out any sparks of change.
While the job of management is to improve people's performance sometimes they just won't change. You don't want these types of people in your organization. They will stifle innovation and growth.
So one of the things that I am doing these days is having at least one breakfast/lunch/drink a week with an advisor/business partner/friend/mentor to catch up and talk about what is going on in our day to day worlds. It's just so easy to get too heads down and overly involved in a startup. I am sure that I am not alone in my tendency to do that. Startups can be all consuming. So it's good to get out and hear some fresh perspective.
I was recently having such a lunch. Part of the conversation went like this.
Me: "So I went and talked to the devs..."
She (interrupting): "Always talk to the devs, they know everything that is going on."
True. The geeky guys (and much more often than not they are guys) somehow or the other seem to know everything that is going on in the company. Kinda surprising from a bunch of staring at screens and not talking much dudes, but I have seen it in startup after startup.
Interesting article over on the 37signals blog on why they don't hire programmers based on puzzles or math riddles got me to thinking about how I hire sales people. I have been a little hesitant to write about this as it could potentially change the entire game for anyone bright enough to do a little research and read this blog.
But the gist of it is that I hire sales people that can close me on their ability to close. People that can take me down the sales process. Ask probing questions to determine needs, take control of the meeting, talk about how their skills and experience will meet the needs they uncovered, throw in some trial closes, and ask for the order (in this case the job). Over the past seven months or so I have interviewed hundreds of sales people. Less than a 20 have asked for the order. Half that amount actually led me through the sales process on their ability to do the job.
If sales people can't sell and close you on their ability to do the job there is no way they can actually do it. Don't hire them. Hire closers. And if appropriate ask for their previous years W2s. They are sales people, not everything they say will be 100% true.
So October turned out to be another record month for Half Off Depot. Our more established markets showed some nice growth and our expansion markets came up to speed nicely, most of them exceeding rather aggressive growth plans.
But this week I had to let two people go. That's always tough to do. Hard saddening decisions. Every time a team member fails to perform to expectation disappointment abounds. While I am sure the folks departing will rebound nicely it is a major life occurrence. Something that they will always remember. It is something that I will always remember as well. Because regardless of the reason when somebody does not perform to expectation it is always a bit the fault of leadership. You hired the wrong person, did not manage them well, or did not provide them with the attention and support they needed to succeed. It hurts.
But in a startup people really do need to make their own way. They have to figure it out. There is not a lot of time for counseling or nurturing.
As a leader you have to do what is best for the company. Startups are leaving breathing things. For a startup the size of Half Off letting go two people is akin to cutting off 4% of your body. It's like losing the use of a hand or a foot. But it will heal. The scars will go away. We will be stronger for the challenge.
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The opinions expressed here are mine and mine alone (with the exception of comments by others of course). They do not represent the opinion or position of any other person or entity. All postings adhere to my personal values.