Create a “How to Use Me” Guide

Jay Desai has FOMU. As a first-time founder and CEO of health technology startup PatientPing, he’s got a healthy fear of messing up. This anxiety especially bubbles to the surface when it has to do with his team — now over 100 employees — and particularly the seven who report directly to him. He’s seen too many immensely talented and productive teams stall because of a subtle misunderstanding on how to best work with each other. After consecutive year-long searches for his Head of Product and Head of Operations, he didn’t want to squander that investment because he couldn’t figure out how to work with them.

So what did Desai do? He penned a user guide — similar to the kind that’d accompany a rice cooker or bassinet — but this one deconstructed how he operated optimally, when he might malfunction, and how others could use him to their greatest success. To create and the compile the guide took an intense self-reflection, drawing both from his early management mistakes at leading PatientPing and a career in finance.

The goal of a user guide is to set blindingly clear expectations on how to collaborate without extra second guessing. The reality is that we all could use some level of assurance, regardless of how well we think we read people. “There’s upside even with the small first step of agreeing to create a user guide for your team. It’s an act of empathy, an acknowledgement of implicit power dynamics between managers and employees, and recognition that the group is made up of different people with distinct styles,” says Desai. “Then when you write one, the act speaks for itself. It says, ‘I know you want to make me happy and I want to make you happy, too, because I really want you to succeed. Let’s just make that easier for each other by drawing a social contract on how we can relate. It helps us feel OK being ourselves without being misunderstood and a powerful tool to scale fast.’”

Some topics to consider when getting started: communication, reporting, the first 6 months, contributions to strategy, and separate sections for feedback (feedback from me to you, feedback from you to me).

NOTE: Adam Grant thinks it’s even better to have the people who know you well write your user manual for you.

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