A “How to Work with Me”​ Document

Senia talking about the “How to Work with Me” Document

How do you let your colleagues know the way you work best, particularly when you’re starting a new job? How do you let your direct reports know how you best receive good news and bad news? How do you help your manager know the best way to use your talents?

In a recent broadcast, I described writing a “How to Work with Me” document. It’s like a personal user’s manual that can be shared with managers, colleagues, and even some customers.

For the full conversation, watch here or start the video below.

The “How to Work with Me” document does not need to be long. It might be a single page. It might even be a few sentences.

A Lightbulb Moment

I was assigned to a study cohort in a Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program. There were four of us, all business people. We had been given a topic to brainstorm together and then report out to the whole class. David J. Pollay, another Silicon Valley Change coach, was one of my cohort members.

When we first met up, instead of going right into the assignment, David asked, “How would each of you like to work together? Do you like to throw a lot of ideas out? Do you like everyone to take turns giving an idea? Do you like to ask some questions?”

I had never had somebody ask me how I like to work. It was utterly foreign to me, but I had a really good experience with it.

Now when I coach leaders, I advise them to have conversations like this. Why? Because it’s a way of being direct and transparent. It’s a way to get the best out of the people.

The One-Page “How to Work with Me” Document and Beyond

You may be familiar with Adam Bryant and his column The Corner Office for the New York Times. In 2013, he published an interview of the lead strategist at Questback, Ivar Kroghrud.

Bryant asked, “How do people know your approach to leadership?”

Kroghrud responded, “I developed a one-page user manual so people know how to work with me.”

This is back in 2013. Other people have been doing it too. Marko Saric wrote a Medium piece about Claire Hughes Johnson. When Claire Hughes Johnson joined Stripe as an executive, she created a short document about how to work with her. For example, her document said,

“I’m not a micro-manager and I won’t sweat your details *unless* I think things are off track and if I do, I’ll tell you my concern.”

Creating Your Own “How to Work with Me” Document

In what format? Some people create their “How to Work with Me” document as a short Word document. Others put the information in an email that they send around to the people they work with and for. Some people create beautiful Powerpoint presentations. Others produce elegant works of design. Just remember it doesn’t have to be long, and the simpler the better.

Now I’ll give you some questions that you might want to answer. For more ideas, you can go online and find templates. Here’s a template you can download. Use the most basic words possible. Keep it very, very simple.

Here’s how I phrase the three main components of a personal user manual:

  • What would be amazing?
  • How do I like to operate and communicate?
  • What would be lousy?

1) What Would Be Amazing?

Think of this as explaining what you do and what the people around you do in an ideal world. Pick questions to answer that resonate with you. Some examples include:

  • What’s important to me? What is my ideal? What do I see as success?
  • What do I expect of team members?
  • What do I do in the ideal world?
  • What do I most want to share with people about me and how I lead?

Here are some example statements that people have made in their personal user’s manuals.

“In an ideal world, I give you direction every Monday; I check in with you every Wednesday.”

“I give you the big picture, and we discuss the details together. You then go and do.”

It’s not only your vision of the ideal that is important. It’s also the management of energy so that your team operates with massive positive energy.

2) How Do I Prefer to Operate?

Being clear about how you like to operate can make life easier for you. So ask yourself and then answer in your document:

  • How do I best process information? For example, do I like to get the big picture and ask for details if I need them, or do I like the whole scenario explained from the ground up?
  • How do I think?
  • What are the best ways to communicate with me? For example, do I prefer email? Zoom or phone?
  • What is the best way to give me information? For example, give me a summary and let me ask questions, or build up the complete picture?
  • How do I prefer hearing about emergencies? For example, do I prefer hearing about them by text before I hear by email?
  • Do I have certain times of the day when I’m more reachable or prefer to be reached?

Here’s an example that shows up in some of the examples I’ve seen:

“Bring me information before there’s a real problem.”

3) What Would Be Lousy?

Be clear about things that might not go so well. The first question to ask yourself is

  • What might I need your help on? This is a chance to be clear about things that you don’t do as well. For example, you might say, “I tend to be big picture. You may need to keep after me to get me down to concrete actions.” When you show a willingness to share your blind spots, others on the team can help.
  • How might I annoy you?
  • How might you annoy me? What are some things that are triggers for me?

For example, it’s a trigger of mine to have somebody on my team say after something goes wrong, “I didn’t want to bother you, but then this happened.” I am not a fan of “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”

Start Simple.

You can always add more.

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Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.

Senia Maymin is the CEO of Silicon Valley Change Executive coaching and the co-author of Profit from the Positive.