“Sometimes the best solutions are home-baked from the feedback you get from your own people.”

A few years ago, after I acquired two companies, we needed to make some decisions about which policies from each company we would embrace, in order to create the blended culture that would drive future growth. The existing cultures within our three companies were about as different as they come. One had a very structured culture, with firm business hours (8 am–6 pm) and perks directly tied to performance. Another had no standardized office hours, which meant that staff could come in whenever they wanted, but often burned the midnight oil to complete projects. The third was somewhere in the middle, with published 9-5 hours, but ample flexibility at the individual level and perks like year-end bonuses and the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. The only way to make everyone happy would have been to cherry pick all the best policies offered at each company and standardize that across the company. Because that was neither practical nor scalable, we needed to find a middle ground, and that always creates a challenging transition period no matter how well-intentioned management is in their decisions.

So many things needed to be evaluated and decided. Should we tie closing over Christmas to hitting company goals? Are bonuses automatic or do they depend on revenue targets? Do people earn an extra week of vacation after a certain number of years? Do we allow half-days? Can people work from home? Do we want part-time employees? On which holidays should we close? How many sick days and personal days should we offer? And let’s not even start the discussion on standardizing titles to align with the company vision, normalizing compensation, and deciding who gets an office and who gets a cube. Policies need to be analyzed from every angle. The cause-effect relationship has a significant impact on employee retention during periods of transition, so the stakes are high to get this right as quickly as possible.

After a few years of experimenting with policies about when the offices are closed, and to meet the needs that were consistently shared with the leadership team about the desire to have more quality personal time, I decided to write our own rules. In addition to granting paid days off to observe the traditional holidays, I threw in several unexpected days like Columbus, President’s and MLK Day, specifically to ease the burden on our team members with kids. Finding one-off childcare is always a point of stress on working parents. These paid holidays accounted for 12 days off. In addition, I created a “Dim the Lights” policy. There are certain days of the year when our clients tend to be less needy, typically surrounding long holiday weekends, because so many of them take those days off work. Our inboxes stay pretty empty the Fridays before Memorial and Labor Day, and practically zero business gets done on New Year’s Eve. I decided to give our staff the option to work remotely on certain days, being more reactive than proactive in their activities. They were expected to be highly available, responsive, and be willing to work diligently on anything that comes up that day. This allowed people more quality time with their families, especially those on teams who live far away from their families. They can add a day to their trip and even save money on airfare by avoiding expensive peak travel periods. These 8 Dim the Lights days brought the total number of PTo and flex days to 20, in addition to individual vacation.

The results were fantastic. Team members shared how this extra flexibility allowed them to enjoy more time with loved ones and reduced their stress by not having to commute into the office on busy holiday weeks. Many expressed their appreciation for being trusted to do their jobs outside the office. Our clients continued to receive the attention they needed when the lights were dimmed, so there was no downside from their perspective.

Company policy and company cultures are the chicken and the egg. Policy impacts culture, but the desired culture leads to policy. Finding the perfect balance of corporate policy that produces the culture you want is sometimes easier said than done, especially with ever-changing business dynamics.

While there are plenty of third parties that talk about company culture, managing mergers, and setting policies that keep people happy, sometimes, the best solutions are home-baked from the feedback you get from your own people. Don’t be afraid to go off-script and course-correct along the way, until you find the perfect recipe that works for your own unique organization.