How to Create a Company Playbook
As a remote-first company, it’s essential to have one place that documents our processes, outlines our values and is continually updated to reflect any changes. But whether you are remote, or not, a company playbook is a great way to keep everyone aligned as your startups grows… and have one “point of truth” that unites everyone.
To give you a sense of what a company playbook looks like in real life, we decided to crack the cover on ours. Below is Avra Talent’s Company Playbook as of June, 2019. Feel free to take whatever you find useful—or drop us a line with suggestions on how to improve!
The Avra Playbook
Our Mission: To positively impact lives by connecting great people, with great work.
Our Vision: At Avra we believe meaningful work is core to the human experience. Meaningful work creates community, builds confidence and can positively impact the world. Every day we are working towards a future where these opportunities are abundant and accessible. We believe that people will always want good work, and companies will always need great people. Avra helps connect the two.
The first step to realizing our massive vision is Avra Talent, founded in January of 2018, we’ve already helped dozens of fast-growing startups hire hundreds of amazing people across a variety of roles and regions.
These values are only effective if we commit to hire, fire, reward and recognize based on them.
Authentic, Candid Communication
Whether communicating with candidates, clients or fellow team members, one of Avra’s most important values is authentic, candid communication. Candor is the quality of being open and honest when expressing yourself while authenticity means bringing your genuine self to the table, every time. We strive to hold true to this value whether it’s dealing with a candidate who won’t be a fit, or being honest when a client has unrealistic expectations. It’s also vital in our communication with each other. Caring candor allows us to have hard conversations, then move forward without resentment or feeling unheard.
Business is often approached like a zero-sum game. It’s all or nothing, you screw or get screwed. This is a huge fallacy; instead, the most fulfilling, and profitable, relationships are built on mutual respect and alignment of goals. This is why we strive for a win-win-win in each interaction; a win for our clients, a win for the candidate and a win for the company.
At Avra each person is encouraged to take extreme ownership of their work, our clients’ experience and the company’s overall success. This requires being clear about the goals (and why) behind every interaction, and fostering an environment where speaking up, even when it’s unpopular, is encouraged.
Strive for Simple
We’re obsessed with the 80/20 Principle (e.g Pareto’s Law) which states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Striving for simple means finding the levers that produce outsized results with less effort and pulling them, it means always asking ourselves “how can we simplify this”.
These are agreed upon standards, or beliefs that we use to help us operate. These are continually tested, improved or disproved.
Why, before what.
We believe in starting with why, getting curious, and drilling down to the purpose behind an action, before jumping in. When assigning a task, or starting a project, spend time understanding and being able to communicate it’s *why*, and how it will fit into the greater goal. if you realize you aren’t 100% clear on why—pause and find out.
Relax. Look around. Make a call
This is a decision making matrix from Navy SEALS. Prioritize all actions—pick most important/urgent—then act.
Small teams of smart people
We believe organizations, teams and groups of people in general operate best this way.
Continuous Learning + Association
- Never stop learning. Set time aside every day, or at least every week, to learn something new about a subject you already know or one you have an interest in.
- Learn to actively associate. While you are learning, pull out a notebook and open it up so you have two pages. On the right page take notes about what you are reading (paraphrases, quotations); on the opposite page take notes about how this relates to other things you know or think of, no matter how loosely.
“5 Whys” is an iterative interrogative technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The primary goal of the technique is to determine the root cause of a defect or problem by repeating the question, “Why?” Each answer forms the basis of the next question. The technique was originally developed by Sakichi Toyoda and was used within the Toyota Motor Corporation during the evolution of its manufacturing methodologies.
- Ask what team/person why we are having an issue? Example: The car is not starting…
- Why? – The battery is dead. (first why)
- Why? – The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
- Why? – The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
- Why? – The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced. (fourth why)
- Why? – The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
This is our organizational chart, and how “departments” roll up into each other.
- Client Success
- Channel Partners
- Acquisition (Hiring)
DRT: Dedicated Recruiting Team
We believe hiring is part art and part science. Our Five Disciplines of Hiring are a result of decades of first-hand experience as well as studying the highest-performing teams and organizations. Each specialist is highly trained in, and passionate about, their particular discipline. Since our team is geographically distributed, we are able to tap into the highest quality specialists who are experts at finding, vetting and closing the best candidates.
- Read more here: https://blog.avratalent.com/the-five-disciplines-of-hiring/
Best Operational Practices (BOPs)
For us to successfully run as a distributed team with properties all over the world—everyone must operate according to certain best practices to maintain alignment and promote efficiency.
- Tools for Success
- General Best Practices
- Leadership Best Practices
- Suggested reading
(1) Tools for Success
*tutorials: written, visual, Google Chrome Help.
- What it is: a web browser that incorporates searching, Google Drive, browser extensions, incognito windows and more.
- Why we use this: to keep everything in one place for seamless integration with all of our tools.
*tutorials: written, visual, Grammarly FAQ.
- What it is: an extension for Chrome that makes sure messages, documents, and social media posts are clear, without mistakes, and impactful – always ensuring that your spelling and grammar will be checked on nearly every place you write on the web. Grammarly also detects correctly spelled words used in the incorrect context and can fix hundreds of grammatical errors.
- Why we use this: clear and professional communication within our team is essential but clear and professional communication with clients and candidates is vital. AVRA depends on this and it is expected of each member of the AVRA Team.
*tutorials: written, visual, visual, Slack Help.
- What it is: a place for teams to collaborate.
- Why we use this: Slack serves as our Break Room and our avenue for all lines of communication with the whole team, groups, and/or individual members and smaller teams within AVRA. It helps us to cultivate and keep a healthy culture across our Team. It also serves as a central location where we can integrate other tools such as Trello and Asana, etc.
*tutorials: written, visual, Google Drive Support.
- What it is: Google Drive is a cloud-based storage service that enables users to store and access files online. Google Drive syncs stored documents, photos and more across all of the user’s devices.
- Why we use this: AVRA uses Google Drive to house all of our documents, spreadsheets, and other files. We are constantly updating these and using Google Drive to make notes (comments) to each other, assign tasks, create protocols and processes, track time and other essential data for ourselves and our clients.
*tutorials: written, visual, LastPass Support.
- What it is: an online password manager (including plugins and apps for various browsers and devices) that stores encrypted passwords.
- Why we use this: to ensure that all of our logins are encrypted and our passwords are effective. This is also a place for us to safely and easily share all of our logins within our Team.
*tutorials: written, visual, Calendly Help Center.
- What it is: a simple and powerful scheduling software, which saves time and streamlines the scheduling process. It eliminates the old-school way of using email and phone tags for scheduling appointments, calls, interviews, demos, and more.
- Why we use this: to easily help candidates schedule a phone screen with AVRA’s Interviewers. We also, at times, use Calendly to schedule certain meetings within the AVRA Team.
*tutorials: written, visual, Zoom Help Center.
- What it is: communication software that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration.
- Why we use this: AVRA uses Zoom for those meetings when we want to see each other and chit-chat/get to know each other a bit better. We also use Zoom for meetings that require a screenshare. We also use it to record different processes and protocols for our own training.
*tutorials: written, visual, Asana Help Center.
- What it is: a collaborative project and task management platform to hit goals and meet deadlines
- Why we use this: AVRA uses Asana to organize the tasks of the DRT’s for each client, as well as for internal projects. It allows us to easily collaborate, share projects, assign tasks, set due dates and remain efficient. Project management all in one place.
*tutorials: written, visual, ask for support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What it is: Time tracking software.
- Why we use this: We use TimeCamp to record all Client (billable) and Non-Client (non-billable – admin, operations, marketing, etc;) time. It’s vital that all time is tracked properly and meticulously so we can bill clients accordingly, get paid accordingly, and evaluate where our time is spent, or where it needs to be spent, especially as a start-up.
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)
- What it is: Applicant Tracking System used to manage open reqs and candidates.
- Why we use this: Applicant Tracking System we use for clients without one. Allows us to manage searches for each role we are responsible for.
- What it is: Applicant Tracking System used to manage open reqs and candidates.
- Why we use this: Only use when client already has this setup as their ATS.
(2) General Best Practices
Making it Work––Remotely
When working remotely be sure to:
- Over-communicate. Sadly, no one here is psychic, and since we’re all working remotely it’s vital that we communicate all needed information up, down and sideways. Clients will trust us more if they don’t ever have to wonder what we are up to or the status on a candidate. End of week reports are great for this, as well as keeping your team abreast of status updates via Slack.
- Escalate medium, but not message. When you need to reach a client, or manager and he or she’s not responding to email, try Slack/Skype, text, then lastly a good old fashioned phone call.
In terms of in-person, or virtual (phone/hang-out/zoom) meetings the rules of the game are as follows:
- Being on-time (meeting starts at 9:30am, you get on at 9:30am) is just cutting it… ?
- Being early (meeting starts at 9:30am, you get on at 9:28am) is the way to go ?
- Being actually late (meeting starts at 9:30am, you get on at 9:35am) is NO bueno ?
We track our time, and bill our time, in 6 minute chunks using TimeCamp. Each client has their own project, marked by each separate engagement (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc.). Each project will have at least 4 subtasks: Onboarding, Offboarding, General, and one subtask for each role assigned by the client. During onboarding all team members will track their hours using the Onboarding subtask.
During offboarding all team members will track their hours using the Offboarding subtask. In between onboarding and offboarding, Strategists and Coordinators will track their hours using the General subtask, while Interviewers and Sourcers will track their hours according to the role they are assigned. For example, for the weekly team meetings Strategists and Coordinators will log the entire time of the meeting as General. However, Interviewers and Sourcers will divide the time of the meeting evenly by the number of roles they are assigned, and then log that amount of time for each role.
- @Everyone: be sure to add all of your hours, in a timely manner, by the end of each week. If you do not submit your hours by the end of each week, completion of personal payment submissions may be delayed.
- Resources: Manual Time Entry Video 1, Manual Time Entry Video 2, Manual Time Entry Document 1
Anytime you are working on something not associated with a client, e.g. any operations projects, or new team member onboarding/offboarding/certifications, please track time separately as “Non-Client Time” using one of the appropriate subtasks (Ops, People/HR, Marketing/Sales).
- This work should only be assigned by Maren on a contingency basis.
- If you are working on hiring for any internal roles you will track that time under the Internal Hiring project (no subtasks).
Personal Time Tracking
For personal time tracking and invoicing for payment, invoices should be submitted through email at the conclusion of each bi-monthly pay period. Payment should be sent to Maren and Henderson, with the total hours, rate of pay and amount owed. In addition, an attached PDF summary of your hours report for the pay period should be included on this email.
- Pay Period 1: Day 1 – 15 of month
- Pay Period 2: Day 16 – end of month
You can use the links below and view the videos to understand how we do each.
Inbox Zero: nothing feels as good as an empty inbox
There is never an excuse to “miss” an email or fall behind on a communication in your inbox, especially from clients, when you follow Inbox Zero. Here are three hacks to make it happen:
- Set “blocks” to deal with your inbox: Best practices is to set aside 30 minutes one-two hours into your day (always best to leave the first hour for your creative time block before you get dragged down by emails.
- Treat it like a real mailbox: You don’t open letters, read half of them, and leave them for later in a physical mailbox. Instead you deal with them as they come in, and throw away the rest. Use this practice within your email inbox as well.
- Use the GTD process
“I believe that the key to success lies in knowing how to both strive for a lot and fail well. By failing well, I mean being able to experience painful failures that provide big learnings without failing badly enough to get knocked out of the game.” — Ray Dalio (aka Maren’s celebrity crush)
- If something went badly, you had to put it in the log, characterize its severity and make clear who was responsible for it.
- If a mistake happened and you logged it, you were okay.
- If you didn’t log it, you would be in deep trouble. This way managers had problems brought to them, which was worlds better than having to seek them out.
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
Set up a time every morning to focus on the most important project your team is working on, brainstorm a problem, or do creative writing. You can use Google Drive & Docs but do not open your email or chat windows until this period is done.
Setup time, at minimal once a week, for a few hours of creative brainstorming. No phones, no computers, just a pen and paper and things that stimulate your brain—this could be taking a walk, enjoying nature or getting your toes done. Some of our best ideas spring from periods of mental down-time.
RP: “Responsible Party”
- For every project or task, there must be a single Responsible Party assigned. This is the “neck to choke” if a ball gets drops. Even with multiple stakeholders, there is only one RP.
- When an RP is assigned, the RP is responsible for providing a due date, following up, and pushing projects to execution.
- If there is a delay, roadblock, or unforeseen event, the RP will communicate that immediately with stakeholders (e.g., their manager, direct report, team members, etc).
Google Docs Best Practices
It may seem redundant, because Google docs track changes, but from a visual perspective when looking through many docs this is critically important. Whenever you create a document, spreadsheet, or anything that will live in Drive be sure to format like so:
- Format: File title (YYYY-MM, your 3 initials)
- Example: Job Description (2016-08, MKD)
The date format is the international format, sans the day since that matters less, so for August 2016 it would be (2016-08, MKD) this only needs to be done once by the person who created the document + the time they created it.
To keep our Team Drive neat and tidy, all docs should be organized in the appropriate folder. Check out AVRA’s Google Drive Table of Contents for guidelines on where to place your newly created docs.
- When sharing a doc, always follow the “Principle of Least Privilege” — in other words, err on the side of restricting access to sensitive information — do not over-share.
- Rule: internal documents should never, ever be shared openly outside of YourCompany.co domain.
- Never allowed: On – Public on the web; On – Anyone with the link.
- Acceptable: Published documents (e.g., this “Principles” doc): On – YourCompany, On – People at YourCompany with the link.
- Best: Off – Specific people. It’s easy to add your work group (e.g. share directly with Shirley@avratalent.com or Bill@avratalent.com)
Style: Use Google Headings (default) for best UI, style, and ease of reading.
Tagging: assigning work: When assigning work, use someone’s email alias to remove any ambiguity to who you are addressing.
- Correct: “@joe.jones”
- Incorrect: “Joe from tech team”
We exchange a lot of emails in our virtual workplace. Using effective email etiquette not only shows kindness and respect to your recipient, it saves employees thousands of productivity hours per year.
Subject headings: harness the power: Email headings are a very powerful signal. Use a subject that tells the recipient what the email is actually about, as well as how timely.
- Bad subject heading: hey check this out
- Mediocre subject heading: security article
- Great subject heading: Security best practices from Matasano security blog, a 15 min read, not urgent.
Put [Urgent] preceding any urgent message subject.
- Example. [Urgent] Google docs giving a 500 internal server error message – should be back up in 20min.
Keep emails short & to the point
- Rule of thumb:
- keep it short
- provide only relevant contextual information
- email only the relevant parties
- if escalating a decision, boil it down to a “yes or no” or “A or B” question.
- If possible, reformat your message into bullet points rather than free-form paragraphs.
- Add a TL;DR when sending an announcement email (over 200 words), or emailing 10 or more people.
Closing the loop
- Closing an open email loop is a critical component of keeping our email process healthy. Loops should be closed (or updated) ideally within 24 hrs. 5 days is the maximum (unless plainly stated otherwise).
- The responsible party (RP) for closing the loop is whoever opened the loop, typically whoever sent the first email.
- Note the same rules apply to other platforms: text, calls, chats, docs comments, etc.
If there is ever even slightly sensitive information—pick up the phone. DO NOT share it across email, slack, etc.
How to send an EoW report
End of week (EoW) reports allow our clients to “see” exactly what we are doing. It creates accountability and improves responsiveness which helps us get feedback faster.
Please check out this video to see how to create one: https://www.useloom.com/share/54c19c43e13b4eed851767a60d448129
(3) Leadership Best Practices
Leadership Stand Up
The Company Secretary, or L-team EA, is responsible for facilitating this stand-up and documenting information into a doc which is stored in the appropriate Google docs folder.
Priorities for the week: What three specific *big* priorities do you have?
- Are you blocked by anyone/team, and if so who? (For example, if I’m trying to work out a new hiring flow for Engineering hires, I would be blocked by your team and we’d need to setup a time to chat after the call to figure out a strategy for how to execute on a big change like this. You don’t resolve the blocking issue in the call, you just acknowledge it. The resolution should happen after the call (this way only the relevant parties are there).
- Problems I need to tackle
- Progress I’ve made / my team has made
- Progress evaluated against monthly KPIs (or OKRs)
- Discussion topic(s)
Team Lead Weekly Updates
Please use the format below to submit a weekly update to me/your direct supervisor by EoD every Friday. This should take no longer than 15 minutes of your time.
Title: [Department] Weekly Update for [Date]
- What we did this week:
—What is the ONE thing we think was our most valuable accomplishment?
—Top 3 things accomplished by team
- What we’re planning on doing next week:
—What is the ONE big accomplishment we want to achieve next week?
- Our metrics:
- My questions.
- Any problems/roadblocks.
- My observations.
Intensive Daily Updates for Performance Improvement
Intensive daily updates are deployed for teams or individuals when you want a better grasp of the day-to-day workflow and/or to outline a new hire’s role.
*This should take 5-10 minutes at the end of each day, please send to direct supervisor at EoD.
Title: [Department] Daily Update for [Date]
- What I did today: with allocation in %
- What I am planning on doing tomorrow: 3-5 bullet points
- My questions
Template for assigning projects/tasks
RP: responsible parties name
Quarterly Leadership Offsite
- Review goals & growth from previous quarter
- Review core values & refine for upcoming quarter
- submit additions to BoPs
- Set strategy & specific goals per team that feed into company’s goals next quarter, for the year.
- Invite an advisor or investor to “guest” each time
(3) Suggested (e.g.I’m-so-lucky-I-get-to-read-all-this-goodness) Reading
Because we are so blessed to live in an age where information is easily accessible and ideas can be shared via ebooks, audiobooks, or my personal favorite — real books — we’ve put together a list of suggest reading. Based on your role (or your appetite for knowledge) this list makes it easy to find reading materials to help you excel.
For keeping efficient, effective and organized
- Manage your Day-to-Day by 99U
- Summary of Getting Things Done by David Allen (the actual book is gnarly long, for the brave or bored you can find the full text here)
- The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less
- The One Thing summary here
For leadership (and those of you who are looking to grow)
- Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization
- The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age
- The Tao of Leadership