Why Your Company Needs House Rules
As your company grows, one of the first things that gets lost is the culture you established when you were a few people in a single room. When I refer to culture, I mean more than foosball tables, fridges full of happy hour beverages and free snacks. I am referring to a shared set of work values that makes coming to the “studio” (what I call the office) enjoyable and productive. This culture is what keeps the office positive and what contributes to long-term employees.
As you bring on new executives and employees and the company expands, this culture can easily become diluted. I experienced this firsthand as my previous company expanded across several national and international offices. The binding culture slowly dissipated with the growth. We did not have a shared code of conduct and values to assist with hiring decisions or to be continually practiced and reviewed. Although the ultimate business results were successful, the means to the end were not always palatable. I brought some very specific thinking into my new venture. Chiefly, the importance of creating and socializing "House Rules."
Hanging proudly on the front of my office door and displayed prominently throughout the office, you can find our House Rules. This is a working list of shared values and behaviors, originally created when we first opened our doors. With this list, we aim to stay true to the culture and standards that we started with. We don’t want these values to get lost as we expand.
The House Rules cover various aspects of working together including how business decisions are made and accountability assigned, to how employees conduct themselves and work/life balance. It helps drive consistency among employees and avoid conflict based on different interpretations of how work gets done.
My current list of House Rules sits at 23, so I won’t run through all of them. Below are a sample of 10 rules to make sure my team doesn’t forget why they chose and love being part of our team:
We meditate on important decisions.
"Move fast and break things” is the motto for a lot of startups. I think you should move quickly but at a pace that won’t have you cleaning up after yourself frequently. We prefer to consider the options and opportunity costs before we put product to market or make a big decision.
Don’t say you are ok with a decision if you are not.
If you don’t believe in a decision, you’re not going to fully support it in your actions and put your weight behind it. I am not a fan of lip service and instead encourage employees to be honest with their opinions. That’s how people really believe in the mission.
An ounce of loyalty is better than a pound of knowledge.
Loyalty from your employees is one of the most important things to building a team. We’re in the trenches together. I’d want colleagues who believe in what we are doing and support our common goal, as opposed to just the smartest people in the room. That’s how you get the best work.
We have one reputation to keep.
Every employee, no matter the level, represents the company. All of our actions, no matter when and where, should reflect the reputation we desire to uphold.
One leader per task.
Having too many cooks in the kitchen often creates a problem. While we are a team, having one leader per project and one leader per task drives efficiency in decision making and project completion.
Founder and CEO can read and review code at anytime.
This is a rule I learned from my previous company and one that does get harder as you grow. However, having the ability to check in on all of our code, at any time, helps ensure it’s always clean and of the highest quality.
You are hired for 90 days, and then the team votes to see if you are a fit.
I want everyone to feel like they have a hand in our hiring decisions because we have to work together, and we spend the majority of our time with colleagues. We have all experienced people that interview well, but don’t necessarily act as they have projected in their resume or an hour meeting. Team dynamics is critical to achieve our goals.
Speak about our customers as if they are here with us.
We don’t bad mouth our customers. They are the reason why we are here and deserve our respect. At times customers will request needs and desires that are not easy to fulfil -- but we see these opportunities as learning experiences.
We value employees, customers, investors and community -- in that order.
Employees come first. While many companies put a focus on their customers, I am making a huge investment in a person by hiring them and expect them to be loyal even after some customers leave.
Kids are welcome to visit in our offices at all times.
Family is the core of every employee. Our employees are dedicated to Trusona, and I feel it is important that their loved ones are able to see where they work, what they work on and who they work with.
In addition to making sure the company retains the culture we originally established, the House Rules also play a large role in our recruitment efforts. The full list of House Rules is one of the first things we share with potential hires. It provides the potential hires with an opportunity to learn more about the company and to also make sure they are a good fit. This saves time for both sides: if you have a problem with the House Rules, you’re not going to make it far here.
Our House Rules also help us make decisions about new hires quickly and as a team. Look to rule number seven. After three months of employment, the office conducts a vote about the new employee’s future. This isn’t a "Survivor" situation where someone is voted out of the office, nor is someone asked to leave because of one bad vote. Instead, we collectively look at the employee’s attitude and what they have brought to the office, using our House Rules as a bar, and decide as a group if this person is the right fit for our team. I’ve found that this helps make the whole office feel like they have a say in our growth and encourages new employees to really think about our culture before they join.
Whether you are a first time entrepreneur or a seasoned executive, I highly suggest think about the environment and interactions you would like to create for your team and spend time to write down your House Rules, share them and live by them -- regardless of how big you grow.