User Manual

Create a User Manual

Creating a “user manual” has made my life much easier over the years.  Basically, it’s a document that describes your personal preferences at work, how you like to operate, and how you like to communicate.

You share and discuss this document with your team, and ask them to do likewise. Sharing each other’s user manuals helps to build trust and understanding, clarify expectations, and improve communication.

I learned about user manuals early in my management career from Adam Bryant, author of the book, “The Corner Office”. I’ve taken the basic concept and built a template of what I think a “Manager User Manual” should contain, and encourage all my executive coaching clients to create their own version.

The goal is to give your team clarity about your personal preferences so colleagues and direct reports don’t have to guess what pleases you, and you can work more effectively together.

Here are the key components of my “Manager User Manual”. Write your answers to these questions:

  • What are your goals, and what impact do you want to make in your current role?
  • What honest, unfiltered things should your team know about working with you?
  • What behaviors do you expect team members to exhibit?
  • What results or level of performance do you expect team members to achieve?
  • How do you prefer to communicate?
  • What is your policy on communication response times?
  • What is your policy on after-hours communication?
  • What is your policy on working from home vs. face time at the office (if relevant)?
  • What is the best way to persuade you to try a new approach?
  • If you were feeling stressed, frustrated, or under pressure, what behaviors would team members observe? How can they best support you at these times?

The questions are designed to make you think deeply about who you really are as a manager and bring your (often unspoken) personal preferences to the surface. Don’t skimp on this. Provide plenty of detail and examples to illustrate your preferences.

Here is my user manual as a reference. Treat it as a living document that you share a link to, and continually tweak as you become more self-aware and self-assured.

I also recommend you ask your direct reports to create their own scaled-down version of the user manual (just remove the questions that aren’t relevant to them). Then you share and discuss this information in a 1  on 1 meeting to clarify and negotiate how you can accommodate each other’s preferences to form a productive working relationship.

What will you include in your User Manual?


Until next time…