Companies need a culture every bit as much as society does. Culture determines behavior. It does this by setting out the acceptable norms in an organization. It might be OK to kick back on a beanbag in one job, but this kind of informality could mean disciplinary action in another.
How do you know what’s acceptable and where? This is where company culture documents come in. In truth, every company document found in any part of the company can shape its culture. This is as true of an expense form as it is of a waiver agreement template.
However, HR is in an especially pivotal role when it comes to company culture. It issues standards that dictate the way everybody acts during their working day. So it’s to HR that we now turn, as custodians of decency and decorum. Well, near enough.
It makes perfect sense for HR to take the lead role in building and protecting company culture.
Why? Culture depends on buy-in. Without everybody agreeing and adhering to its provisions, a culture becomes undemocratic.
To get this buy-in, there has to be engagement with staff. This means right the way through their work journey, from appointment to departure. Who’s with the staff every step of the way? HR, of course.
Having an unwritten culture is all well and good but there can be the risk of culture drift. There has to be something unchanging at the center of things to maintain stability. This is what documents provide. They are for people to refer to in times of conflict, doubt, or confusion.
More than this, documents can provide evidence of a correct decision. Say a promotion is granted and then there are questions about its legitimacy. Having the reasoning written down will help defend against accusations of impropriety.
Documents also provide evidence that employees have completed programs of training and instruction. In this way, they are a convenient and uniform way of monitoring compliance with the rules.
There’s one more factor in the importance of documents: the rise of remote working. When an organization’s employees have geographical spread it can be difficult. The culture is more prone to distortion or losing relevance altogether.
The organization can combat this by preserving its culture in documents. This helps to ensure that it flourishes despite the far-flung nature of the workforce.
A document has permanence. It usually has a more lasting impact than a conversation. This is why a welcome card will always mean more than a simple handshake. So, let’s go through six of the most important documents HR can use to ensure the company culture’s a good one.
1. Job description
When a position needs filling, there has to be an objective description of the job's duties. This is a joint creative effort between the department, HR, and senior management. Everyone has to be happy that the description is accurate.
It's crucial to get a job description right, for all kinds of reasons. One is that a poorly written one will put some applicants off.
Image sourced from Indeed.com
The job description is also where the company can paint a picture of itself in whatever terms it prefers. If it wants to promote its culture as one in which results matter more than dress code, then now’s a good time to do it.
By characterizing itself in a certain way, it’s more likely that job applicants of a similar bent will apply.
A company with traditional values, uniforms, and shiny shoes will attract similar types. It will also repel those who like a more relaxed vibe. Therefore, new recruits will lean in the established company direction. This preserves the character of the company culture.
One final thing to say about job descriptions. They need to evolve with the job itself.
Changes in technology, the company, the industry, or the economy can affect a job’s key features. These then need to be updated in the job description. An out-of-date job description is useless.
2. Contract of employment
So, there’s a job description, so everyone knows what’s expected. And the new postholder is committed to the task of fitting that role to perfection. Well, not quite. We can’t rely on a vague undertaking to get with the program and make the boss proud.
There has to be evidence that the postholder understands what’s required and is happy to commit. A signature is needed, and the space for it is at the bottom of the contract.
If there are remote employees, provision needs to be made for this. In these situations, organizations need to work electronic signature software cost into overall business costs.
But it’s not just about employee responsibilities of course. There has to be a record of what the company is delivering. This includes annual leave, sickness provisions, pay reviews, etc.
This is why this same document has a signature from the employer too. The contract of employment is thus a two-way agreement that binds both parties to a behavior standard.
This behavior standard then contributes to and is shaped by, the company culture.
The final role of the contract is to flag up what happens if either party breaks any conditions. Remedial activity or punitive measures are laid out. This could mean things will get legal, but hopefully not.
3. Employee handbook
What’s this? Surely the employee has all they need regarding their position, don’t they?
Well, yes, kind of. But it's good for an employee to have insight into the culture of the company as a whole. For this, they need a set of rules that govern everybody, not just those in their department. Otherwise, they’re just getting to know their department’s culture.
It should clearly lay out who’s responsible for what. It should also indicate where responsibility doesn’t lie. While not exactly a release of liability template, it does show who and who not to take grievances to.
The employee handbook should be given to the new employee on their first day in their new job. If they’re an internal migration, then they probably won’t need it. But there are exceptions. The employee might need a refresher. Or the handbook might have seen some recent changes.
4. Appraisal documents
Employees should have their performance regularly appraised by their line managers. The documents used in this process form a record of the employee’s standards of work and behavior. These are measured firstly against contractual objectives. Secondly, they are judged against the provisions of the company culture.
For example, Brad works in a contact center. His supervisor is pleased to be able to tell him that his work performance is ticking all the KPI boxes. His call rate is great, his call length is spot on and his first call resolution is to die for. So, his contractual objectives are all good.
However, when it comes to certain aspects of company culture, he could do better. He ignores his colleagues a lot of the time and refuses to clean up after himself in the break room.
It’s great that Brad performs well. But, for an organization to flourish, it needs employees to respect the culture of cooperation that most businesses try to promote.
Having a written appraisal available for his subsequent scrutiny will help Brad. He will have a clear idea in front of him of what behaviors he can work on. Consequently, there will be a chance for Brad to improve his attitude toward the workplace.
Appraisal documents should be used for both office-based and remote workers. All employees everywhere should observe the same rules and stick to the same culture. The same standards should apply no matter what the work model, whether office-based, fully remote, or hybrid in nature.
5. Warning letters
When things get hairy, there has to be a certain way of keeping wayward employees on track. After all, you can’t go around summarily dismissing everyone. You’ll run out of staff and all you’ll have instead is lawsuits piling up in your inbox. There has to be due process, and one of the steps in this is the issuing of warning letters.
These documents follow a set form of words that HR will generate and be responsible for. The reason for this is that the letter needs to be phrased in a particular way. Otherwise, confusion and possible legal ramifications might follow.
The warning must be a cool unemotive appraisal of the situation. It should describe where behavior strayed from what’s required. It must then cover what the employee might face should there be no improvement in behavior.
Warning letters are as much about company culture as any other HR document. They may not be the kind of positive affirmation we’d like to issue in an ideal world, but they are vitally important.
They are of course issued in response to a break with the company’s expected behaviors. But they also act to underline company culture.
This can happen in two ways. First, language. Although the wording will be formal, the phraseology used may reflect the culture. Second, appearance. There will be a key aspect of company culture present there in the shape of the letterhead and the font. It all contributes.
6. Exit letters
OK, so the warnings haven’t worked and the employee’s facing the chop. As with all the other areas we’ve covered, there are rules that apply to the documentation here. These govern the wording of the letter that informs the hapless employee of their imminent enforced departure.
With legal matters uppermost in the mind, the letter must follow a certain path. Again, no sensationalizing, but a clear, calm indication of what’s happening and why. It will also cover what conditions apply. Is there a notice period or is it instantly applicable?
Of course, it might not be such an unhappy ending. It might be that the employee’s moving on to another position, with the blessings of everyone involved. If this happens, there still needs to be a letter setting out the situation in terms of timeframes and residual benefits applying. And don’t forget to organize a farewell card, of course.
The manner in which a company treats its outgoers is a vital part of company culture. Everybody deserves a certain standard of treatment. This is what the company culture is supposed to deliver. If a leaver is seen to experience substandard treatment, it can affect the morale of the remaining workforce.
We’ve really just scratched the surface of the documents HR can use to nurture company culture. Every document they issue represents a chance to reinforce the character and direction of the company.
Using documents, HR does a huge amount to protect and promote a company's culture. It’s a big responsibility. But they’re up to it.
Yauhen Zaremba - Director of Demand Generation
Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc, all-in-one document management tool for almost all types of documents including this PandaDoc rental lease agreement template. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.