User Manuals Are Not Just for Cars and Appliances

Updated: Nov 16

A C-Suite executive who was starting a new role asked for my support on making a good first impression. I asked her to describe her user manual, and she looked at me quizzically. On my first day at Fast Company, I was ushered into the conference room to meet my new team. A team that had been without a leader for some time. We were all a bit uneasy for this first meet and greet. This is what I told them:

  • I’m direct (read this post), sometimes to a fault.

  • My values are rooted in family, exceptional service, passion, and hard work.

  • I believe we should learn something new every day and go teach it to someone.

  • Expect feedback both good and bad frequently.

  • I like to over-communicate and expect the same from my team.

  • Mistakes can always be handled once responsibility is taken.

  • Always over-deliver for your teammates and for your business.

  • Know your facts, deliver them without the fluff.

  • I’m at my best when I’m thinking big and pushing boundaries.

  • My biggest weakness is in planning ahead and the details.

  • I’m a single mom (at the time) with three kids, and they are my first priority.

I wanted to set the stage. I wanted them to know me. Not just what could be read in my LinkedIn profile, but the real stuff. Know what to expect from me and of me. By knowing how I work, we’d move beyond the relationship ‘warm up’ and get to the work. This was my user manual for the brand of me at work. The concept of a user manual isn’t mine. I believe it originated in the New York Times' Corner Office column. It suggests that creating a user manual reduces anxiety and uncertainty allowing people to get down to business. Removing the ‘trial and error’ of getting to know how to work well with someone. With deep transparency, you save time and energy and boost productivity. No one likes conflict. Reduce it right away with this exercise to foster alignment, create understanding, reduce potential communication issues with establishing preferences and minimize surprises. A user manual shortens the learning curve removing many of the uncertainties of a new relationship. Sharing your user manual will help people work better for you and with you, especially in the hybrid work environment. I now recommend creating a user manual as an exercise for each team member that is rolled up into one mutually agreed user manual for the full team. This will help establish the rules of engagement and connect team members on a deeper level. The team user manual can also allow for faster identification of when individuals or the entire team has veered off course. Today, I would have gone a step further as I described my user manual. I would have added it to my list.

  • My values

  • Communication preferences

  • Leadership expectations

  • When I’m at my best.

  • When I’m not.

  • My strengths.

  • My weaknesses

  • Where I can use the most help.

  • Which activities give me energy.

  • Which do not.

  • What I don’t have patience for

  • How I handle conflict

  • How to best communicate with me

  • How to help me

  • What people misunderstand about me

Since there is no one like us, why do we try to work with everyone the same way? The better a team knows one other, the easier it will be for them to navigate conflict, empathize with one another, help each other out to feel more comfortable when sharing new ideas. Let me help you facilitate creating your user manual and for the team in a workshop that is designed to be collaborative and interactive. Shoot me an email, and let’s get it on the calendar.

One last thing...if you want to build trust, you have to have each other's back. For more, read here.


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