What’s The First Rule of Startups? There Are No Rules!

Early this year at STORM, we began building a competency framework for use in the company.  This is one of the tools large firms use to align everything towards their vision. The logic was, as we got bigger, we would need these structures to guide us. Building a framework like this is massive work, and our HR guy, Dino, was assigned to work on quarterbacking the project.

Around two months ago, we were laying the finishing touches on the framework. We had our core competencies (behaviors everyone in the company should follow), and were finishing with the functional (behaviors everyone in a specific function/department should follow) ones.

Then, I recalled the “big” employee handbook project we did the previous year – something NO ONE EVER BOTHERED TO OPEN. I then thought “What the hell are we doing?!”

So I quickly called everyone to our conference room to say I wanted the project scrapped ASAP. Bewildered, Dino asked me why. I apologized and told him that I knew he was working hard on it (I probably assigned it to him in the first place), but that we have to scratch it out as soon as we can.

It was a distraction.

We’re fifteen freaking people, I don’t need a complicated list of behavioral indicators to ensure everyone is “aligned.” I know exactly what each person is doing.  If something were amiss, I don’t need a complicated report to give me the details. I’d rather look at you straight in the eye and talk about it openly and transparently.

So we scrapped it. I made sure any form of “job description” was also scrapped as well.

I hate job descriptions.

The lesser the rules there are in a startup, the better.  

Don’t concentrate on creating rules. Concentrate on creating culture. It is culture that should drive your startup. And I don’t mean the culture that you supposedly create from drafting those useless “Vision-Mission” statements that no one really cares about (Guy Kawasaki talks about this in the video below). Culture will emanate from you – how you act, what you say, what you stand for. If you are always late in the office, then that is the culture you will create. If you continually ask people opinions on what they think and encourage risk, then that is the culture you will create. If you hold people accountable – then that is the culture you create.

Rules in a startup are oftentimes unnecessary, and all most them do is constrict and distract. The time you spend crafting that 40-page employee policy manual is time you could’ve spent talking and learning from your clients. And guess what, NO ONE WILL READ your manual 40-page masterpiece anyway.

So what do you do? Aim to create as less rules / policies as possible. There will be policies  you should hang on to  – mostly policies on pay and benefits. But the rest? Scrap ’em.

Manage each person in your team personally and uniquely instead. Talk to them. Connect. Lead.

So if your question is,”what about HR policy in my new firm?” Take it from someone who used to make a living crafting those rules. Forget about taking care of HR policy, just take care of your people.

(Like what you’re reading? Spread the word! Let’s all encourage people to take Juan Great Leap!)

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