A User’s Manual For YOU

I ran across an interesting concept, creating a user’s manual for how you operate. This can be very simple, or very elaborate, but the idea is to create a document for your co-workers that informs that about how you operate, what your issues are, what’s expected of them, and even your own short-comings. This is obviously most useful to people who report to you, especially new hires that will feel like they’re struggling to catch up and fit in, but could also be insightful for your peers and those you report to.

When I first heard about it from an article posted by FirstRound.com [note]FirstRound.com: The Indispensable Document For The Modern Manager[/note], I was intrigued. It turns out this isn’t an original idea. In 2003, there was an article from The Wall Street Journal [note] The Wall Street Journal: Job Candidates Get a Manual From Boss[/note], in 2010 a presentation from Dattner Consulting [note]Dattner Consulting: Do you have a user manual[/note], and another article on The Military Leader [note]The Military Leader: How To Write Your Own User Manual[/note].

I think this idea is genius on several levels. Most obviously it will help anyone reporting to you to work and communicate most effectively with you, while avoiding hot-buttons. Think about the difficult bosses you’ve had, and how much time and energy a document like this would have saved in figuring them out.  But, there are some side benefits:

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  • It makes you examine yourself in some ways that most of us aren’t accustomed to. The key is being honest with yourself.  If you’re not prepared for honest self-assessment, then this isn’t the exercise for you.
  • It encourages feedback. You never know how people really experience your actions, this encourages people to say “you should add this to the manual”, or “that’s not what you put in the manual”. Encourage people to call you out right in the manual.
  • It fosters accountability. If you put it in the manual, you’re more likely to follow-through.
  • It creates continuous improvement. You’ll start to say to yourself, “that’s something that needs to go in the manual” or “I have to work on this so I can take it out”.
  • It can create a closer team. If done right, you’ll be sharing not just your good points, but also some things that maybe you don’t like so much. Does someone not answering your Emails within an hour make you literally scream? That’s extremely important for people to know, but maybe it’s not your proudest moment.
  • Knowing some of these intimate details in your behavior could make you more relatable and less intimidating.


It’s a concept that’s infinitely flexible. Put whatever you like in it.  But, I recommend you try to keep it concise. Your manual may get out of control and need to be re-organized, or pruned, as it grows. Depending on your level and responsibilities, maybe some things can be taken out or added. Here are some ideas:

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  • Communication – How do you communicate? How do you prefer others to communicate with you. What expectations are there on how often and what form communication takes?
  • First 90 days – What should someone expect from their onboarding?
  • First 6 months – What should someone expect from the “new hire” period.
  • Work Style – How do you like to work, do you like to have worked knocked out ahead of schedule? What don’t you like? Do you dislike when someone comes to you with problems without looking at possible solutions?
  • Feedback – How you like to give and get feedback.
  • Team expectations – What ground-rules do you have for your teams, and how they interact with each-other and the customers?
  • Professional development – How can you help people develop, what development plans do you have for yourself?
  • Personal quirks or issues – Are you grumpy if interrupted before you’ve had your first cup of coffee and read your Email?


I personally think this is a document that you may never finish. It’s something that could be reviewed and updated often, a tool for continuous self-discovery and growth.







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