Why Culture?

February 23, 2019


Tell us what comes to mind when you think of employee handbooks - is it similar to root canals, traffic jams, mortgages, and extended visits from in-laws? Is it pain and frustration accompanied with the realization that employee handbooks are a necessary evil? Well, we hear you and have felt the same pain. That’s why it was so inspiring to see how the City of Boise transformed their handbook (affectionately known to City insiders as the “Mini Monty”) into a fun, quirky, yet informative handbook that employees actually read!

Sarah Martin, who penned the handbook and gave it its unique voice, works in the City’s HR department. Sarah said the positive response to the handbook has been overwhelming. She said new employees often stop by just to tell her how much they like it. She added, the biggest surprise however has been the response from outside City Hall. Dozens of companies, both public and private, have reached out to the City to inquire about the handbook. Sarah said an added benefit has been that the City’s handbook has also become a highly effective calling card when recruiting key talent.

So how did the City of Boise come up with the idea for this groundbreaking handbook? Sarah explained that the Mini Monty is the third variation of an employee handbook the City has had since she began working there in the early 2000s. Then, the City’s handbook contained terms that were no longer “PC,” phone numbers and departments that no longer existed, and names of employees that had not worked for the City in years! BTW, who puts employee names in a handbook anyway?! In 2005, with the support of the City’s new HR Director, Sarah and a team of volunteers set out to create a handbook that was a go-to resource for the organization and legally sound. In 2006 the team, thumping their chests with pride, unveiled the new 550-page handbook. Yes, it was 550 pages!

Although the 2006 handbook served its purpose by covering every employment subject known and employee misdeed imaginable, it was difficult to read and was filled with convoluted legal mumbo-jumbo that only Ivy League law graduates could understand. Ouch!

Fast-forward to 2014. The City had begun a campaign to reinvent itself internally. Sarah explained that the organization made an “intentional decision” to change their workplace culture. The starting point for this effort was revising the City’s mission and values by making them genuine to the City and connecting them to the City’s vision. Then, to show that their commitment to culture change was real, the HR team decided to take the lead by transforming the employee handbook. Why the handbook? Well, Sarah explained, “Because the handbook impacts ALL employees and it is one of the first things new employees see – so what better place to start.” After all, you only get one chance to make a first impression, right?

Luckily one of the HR team members had recently stumbled onto a video game company’s (Valve) handbook that was over the top - in a good way. That handbook inspired the City’s HR team so much they decided to follow Valve’s lead. What was so impressive about Valve’s handbook, Sarah noted, was that it was authentic to their culture, what they stand for, and what is important to them. Check it out: Valve Handbook

The City’s HR Director assigned Sarah the task of writing the new handbook. His vision was to have it reflect who the City is as an organization, to celebrate the work the City does, and embody the City’s values. He also asked Sarah to eliminate all the extra &*$# employees don’t care about, and to make it enjoyable to read. Sarah remembers laughing, then asking, “Is that all?” In the end, the City’s handbook went from 550 pages to 51 pages and by writing it in-house, it is truly authentic to them. A copy of the City’s Mini-Monty handbook is at the end of the post, but here are a few Full Monty vs. Mini-Monty comparisons for your reading pleasure:

Excerpt from 2006 Handbook (aka the “Full Monty”)

Dating in the Workplace The City of Boise adopted this policy in recognition of its responsibility to provide guidelines on romantic and sexual relationships between employees and to caution employees about the potential problems posed by such relationships. The City strictly prohibits a supervisor from dating or engaging in a romantic or sexual relationship with an employee that he or she supervises. If this occurs, the supervisor shall disclose the relationship to the Department Director or to the next highest individual in the supervisory chain of command if the supervisor is a Department Director. The Department Director or higher official shall assess the situation and resolve any actual or potential conflict of interest or impropriety created by the relationship and to ensure that the supervisor is prohibited from having any involvement in professional decision-making affecting the non-supervisory employee. The resolution can require one of the involved employees to transfer to an open position, or if a transfer is not consistent with the City’s interests, the involved parties shall decide which individual will resign.

Excerpt from 2015 Handbook (aka the “Mini-Monty”) Dating, Romance & Other Encounters It’s Risky Business Having a romantic or sexual relationship or encounter with a coworker or other work-related colleague is risky business and highly discouraged. However, if you are bold enough to do it anyway and it doesn’t end well, don’t blame us; we told you so. If the mood suddenly changes and your love is now claiming you sexually harassed him, don’t blame us; we told you so. And if you lose your job because all the dirty details of your encounter or break-up played out on social media, creating a daytime drama in your department and disrupting business, don’t blame us; we told you so.

Now, if you are a supervisor, you are not only discouraged from engaging in these relationships or encounters with people you supervise (directly or indirectly), you are absolutely, positively, and without a doubt forbidden from doing so. However, if you are bold enough to do it anyway, we won’t say we told you so. We will simply ask you if that goodnight kiss was worth kissing your job goodbye. SMACK!

2006 Handbook (aka the “Full Monty”) Grooming While it is the intent of the City of Boise that all employees dress for their own comfort during work hours, the professional image of the City is maintained, in part, by the professional appearance that our employees present to customers, vendors, and other visitors. All employees should practice common sense rules of neatness, cleanliness, and comfort. Professional appearance also means that the City expects employees to maintain good hygiene and grooming while working. The decision of whether dress or grooming is appropriate to the City’s business operations shall be left to the reasonable discretion of the Department Director or designee. Certain positions require specific clothing requirements, which will be explained to employees upon placement into those positions.

2015 Handbook (aka the “Mini Monty”) How to Dress One Size Does Not Fit All Positions and duties across departments vary greatly, so a one-size-fits-all dress code doesn’t work. However, there are some basic standards everyone is expected to meet. First, clothes are required at all times. Clothes should be clean and stain free; tear and wrinkle free; not too baggy; not too snug; and must completely cover everything the people you work with should never see. Second, in regard to cleanliness, we believe that it’s important for you to be seen and heard, but not smelled. So please keep yourself clean and free of body odor (BO). Third, if you are fortunate enough to have hair, please keep it clean and combed. If you are the free-spirited type and choose to sport an unusual hair color, we recommend a shade that compliments your skin tone, uniform, and body art. The Last Laugh Sarah gushes that being given the opportunity to write the Mini Monty and the overwhelming response to it has been the highlight of her career. She shared a story with us about a visitor to City Hall that confessed to stealing a copy of the handbook off an employee’s desk because it was so cool, especially for a city government. Sarah said people who just pick up the handbook only to thumb through it, actually go back and read the whole thing from the beginning. She said she has even seen someone sitting on a bench in downtown Boise reading the handbook. THAT’s a tangible AND impressive win for the City of Boise and an ideal demonstration of their values and culture in action.

Sarah painstakingly admits that the Full Monty is still around and distributed in accordance with best practice, but says they now lead with the Mini Monty version that employees actually read and keep. Wow, what a novel idea. Maybe there is a lesson there for the rest of us.
Check it out for yourself. Boise Employee Handbook Here’s to innovation and culture in government!

Check it out for yourself, here is the link to the handbook: https://hr.cityofboise.org/employee-handbook/


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