What I Learned Writing My User Manual

With the fall hiring season upon us and my full-time contract with Iron Mountain ending in December, my brain has entered full scale job search mode. If home is where the heart is, LinkedIn has become my third home after Mark (my significant other) and work.

On LinkedIn this past week, there was some discussion around user manuals for leaders. As self discovery is a huge part of taking a next step in life, I joined many others in completing the prompt.

The Prompt

According to Aaron Hurst, there are five steps to writing your user manual:

  1. Rough Cut – This is the skeleton of your manual. Address these questions:
    • What is your style?
    • When do you like people to approach you and how?
    • What do you value?
    • How do you like people to communicate with you?
    • How do you make decisions?
    • How can people help you?
    • What will you not tolerate in others?
  2. First Draft – Add depth to your rough cut using past self-assessments and performance reviews.
  3. Peer Review – Solicit feedback on your draft from colleagues.
  4. Finalize – Use feedback to polish your manual.
  5. Revise – Update your manual once a year as needed.

For my purposes, I’m focusing on steps one and two.

In the first few hours of one Saturday morning I sat with Hurst’s questions and drafted my manual.

Lauren’s User Manual

My style

  • My approach and recommendations are driven by what I think would create the best possible customer experience.
  • I’m not likely to say “Yes” to a suggestion without discussing it more. By doing this I’m trying to get all the thrashing done early. It also helps me resolve conflicting aspects of the program and prioritize desired aspects and objectives.
  • I think out loud. I ask questions, make suggestions, and give opinions. I do not expect you to act on everything I say, but I would like you to consider my points.
  • I usually respond to messages within one working day. If I exceed three working days, please feel free to follow up.
  • I like to put structure around my programs. Part of that structure is deadlines and milestones. I don’t like to miss my deadlines.

What I value

  • Honest Feedback – I love the give-and-take of an honest critique. Please critique my work, so I can get better. Be prepared for a conversation (see the second bullet under My Style).
  • Complete Ownership – When I say “complete ownership” I mean owning your wins and your misses. Give me your goals, your results and why you think you met or didn’t meet your targets. Be candid, not defensive.
  • Responsiveness – Please respond to my message within three of your working days. Know that I don’t stop working when waiting on a response, so I may send a followup email with updates. Please respond to my most recent message.
  • Clear Direction – I value teams (and their leaders) that have a desire to nurture talent, align to where the business is headed and foster uninhibited collaboration.

How to best communicate with me

  • I like to keep things documented. I prefer to use email or a project management application when exchanging quick facts or updates. I prefer to have meetings and keep meeting notes for more involved collaboration.
  • Be honest, open and accessible. If we are in close partnership on a program, I’ll be in touch often. If I’m communicating too often, let me know. If there is another initiative you need to prioritize, which affects your turn around times for our program, let me know what to expect. The worst thing you could do is fall off the radar right before a hard deadline.
  • If I work with you often or I report to you, please schedule recurring meetings.
    • I like to touch base with my managers regularly. During these meetings I’ll update you on my activities, seek your guidance and ask about possible upcoming projects. I’m not very social when working, so these one-on-one meetings have been the best way for my superiors and I to get to know each other.
    • I also like having regular team meetings. They are a great venue for sharing what projects team members are working on, getting an update from leadership on the movements within the broader organization, and realigning to team goals.

How to help me

  • I can get really into the details as a big program gets closer to launch. Help me pull back to look at the big picture if I get stuck in the weeds.
  • Always be honest with me so I can become a better person and professional.

What people misunderstand about me

  • Casual banter in a work setting doesn’t come naturally to me, especially when I’m focused on an agenda. This might come across as standoffish, but I’m really just focused and eager to move forward with work. Feel free to ping me if you see I’m available on Skype or swing by if I’m eating lunch at my desk.
  • I mentioned this in a previous post: I tend to get louder and animated when I get more invested in a conversation, which could be intimidating. I think I’ve been good about keeping this trait in check, but call me out on it if I get too intense.

After reading through my first draft, it dawned on me that many of the introspective questions in the prompt were similar to the questions I’ve been asked in job interviews.

  • What’s your style?
  • What do you value?
  • How do you make decisions?
  • How can people help you?

In completing the prompt, I drafted better answers to the questions I’ll be asked at job interviews. Whoot!

If you’re thinking about writing your user manual, which I definitely recommend, start with Abby Falik’s LinkedIn article Leaders need “User Manuals” – and what I learned by writing mine.

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