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- More and more workers are creating personal "user manuals" to help their coworkers better get to know them and how they work.
- They’re useful for conveying work preferences and styles as well as building trust among teams.
- Creating a personal user manual requires honest self-reflection. The guide should cover some basic concepts but can be as extensive as you’d like.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
In 2013, businessman Ivar Kroghrud shared one of his essential leadership tips with The New York Times that was inspired by, surprisingly, his time in the Norwegian navy.
Kroghrud, the co-founder, former CEO, and lead strategist of software company QuestBack, creates a one-page personal user manual about himself to help coworkers understand how best to work with him, including his preferred communication style and tolerance for free thinking. During leadership training in the navy, Kroghrud had been tasked with analyzing his work style and how that translates to collaborating with others.
“It made sense to me because I’ve always been struck by this sort of strange approach that people take, where they try the same approach with everybody they work with,” he told The New York Times. “But if you lead people for a while, you realize that it’s striking how different people are — if you use the exact same approach with two different people, you can get very different outcomes.”
Apparently, more and more professionals agree, as many managers today are encouraging their employees to create personal user manuals to foster stronger teams.
Al Dea, a marketing professional and career strategy coach with the blog CareerSchooled, thinks such user manuals are a great idea. He first read about the concept in 2018.
“I thought it was a great idea to help individuals on teams get to know each other, their work styles, and to help them build trust with one another,” he told Business Insider. “These are all key things that are needed in order for teams to be successful.”
And C-suite execs are just as likely to benefit from them, according to Tim Hockey, president and CEO of TD Ameritrade. When stepping into his current role in 2016 — and joining the company for the first time — he wanted to ease the transition for his employees.
“It wasn’t lost on me that the anxiousness I’ve experienced before with new bosses was about to be felt by about 7,000 people who didn’t know me from Adam,” he told Business Insider. “I was a closed book to most of the people I was about to lead. So, I decided to write one — well, not so much a book as a kind of user’s manual that I hoped would help remove some of the mystery of me.”
His five-page “Guide to Tim” outlined “big stuff like leadership principles, my approach to strategy, and the power of a healthy culture as well as some of my biggest gripes, such as monster PowerPoint presentations and showing up late to a meeting,” he said.
He also discussed team expectations, his preferred methods of collaboration, and some of his background. Although a few employees were initially surprised at the unorthodox approach, the overall response was positive.
“[My employees] were ultimately very grateful,” he said. “It’s since been shared more broadly in many ways throughout the company. I like to think it’s helped people be more comfortable around me, but, at the very least, it’s helped make our meetings better and more efficient — and not just the ones I’m part of.”
Personal user manuals not only inform others about you but they build trust
Creating a personal user manual is a smart move for several reasons, the most immediate of which is getting to know someone and how they work.
“When people internalize those user manuals and get to know their fellow employees, the next time they work together, they’ll have a much better understanding of how that individual is working and thinking, and when they know that, they can figure out how to best respond in an effective and productive way,” Dea said.
But user manuals also play another important role: They help develop trust within a team.
“Psychological safety is one of the critical components of a high-performing team, and creating psychologically safe work environments starts with building trust,” Dea said. “I think user manuals are a small but productive step towards building trust as it allows people to assess and share themselves honestly with others.”
While it may be difficult, the very act of opening up in such a manner is also a show of good faith.
“Being able to tell others your strengths and your blind spots definitely shows a bit of honesty, self-awareness, and transparency, which I think typically people appreciate seeing in others,” Dea said.
Creating a user manual requires honest introspection and self-evaluation
When Dea joined a new organization about a year ago, he created a personal user manual by using a template from Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, who has written about the topic. Then, he tweaked it to suit himself.
He suggests starting your user manual with some basic subjects: your work style (like how you approach things and your strengths), what you value (things you respect and prioritize), what you struggle with (things that are challenging for you to handle), how best to communicate with you (tendencies, preferences), and how to help (ways others can help you work more effectively).
Hockey took a more comprehensive approach.
“I tried to imagine everything I ever wanted to know about the bosses I’ve had in my career, both the personal and the professional, and articulate those things about me," he said.
So he included everything from his Myers–Briggs personality assessment and daily routine to his genealogy and politics.
Regardless of which way you approach it, such self-reflection alone is valuable, Dea said, as it encourages you to think deeply and honestly about who you are and how you work.
“By the end of the drafting process, I was struck by the realization that the exercise was just as valuable for me as what I hoped it would be for the people working for me,” he said. “It was cathartic. Where it hadn’t existed before, 30 years of experiences, accomplishments, lessons learned, and the ups and downs of an entire career now existed on paper. In a way, those words serve to keep me honest today.”
Once you have everything down, it’s time for the “sanity check,” Dea said. Show the document to those who know you best to get their feedback, whether colleagues and peers or friends and family.
“While we all perceive ourselves a certain way, and we’re probably right about a lot of it, but we all have blind spots, so getting an outside perspective is helpful,” he said.
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