Once upon a time, I received an important email in my inbox that alerted me to some distressing news.
Every six months, our company ran a wide-scale anonymous satisfaction survey that pretty much every single employee answered. If your team was big enough, you’d get your own breakout of the results for how your immediate team was feeling. I always looked forward to diving in and seeing what was going well and what wasn’t.
As my eyes scanned the various questions, graphs, and answers, one result in particular stopped me in my tracks.
Under the question “How often does your manager show care for you?” the chart that displayed the responses from my team was a mass of red. I had to read it a few times to ensure I wasn’t misunderstanding: the majority of my team thought I didn’t show care for them?!
This was hard to process because of course I cared. I cared a lot! I took pride in helping my reports grow and thrive. I gave them challenging projects and frequent feedback because I wanted to see them succeed. And if there were ways in which I could help them—by hiring for their team, advocating for issues on their behalf, or pitching in on a tough project—I always showed up. How could they possibly think that I didn’t care?!
That night, I met a manager friend for dinner and poured my heart out to him. He listened and then gave me a diagnosis. “Julie,” he said, “Have you ever told your reports that you care about them? Or asked them how they’d like to be cared for?”
I searched my memories and came up short. He had a point. “Everyone’s wired differently,” he said. “So sometimes we struggle to understand each other. Maybe the way you show care and the way your reports perceive care are different. Everyone has their own preferences for how they like to operate and be treated.”
He was absolutely right. I took the feedback to better understand what “being cared for” meant to my reports. And I would learn this lesson time and time again--that even if you’re a good, experienced manager, even if you show up to work every day with confidence, you’re still going to fail to connect with others from time to time. You’ll still have misunderstandings or talk past each other. Some of this will be due to cultural differences, or contrasting personalities, or because we simply have different perspectives and life experiences. Whatever the source, the more I understood about what mattered to my reports, the better of a manager I’d be. Similarly, the more my reports understood about how I worked, the fewer misunderstandings we’d have.
That’s where the exercise of creating a user manual comes in.
When you buy a new camera, it comes with a user manual that teaches you all about the specifics of the gadget—what each button means, how to select the appropriate lighting for the situation, how to access the images.
A user guide to your management style works in a similar way. It creates clarity for how you work—what you value, how you look at problems, what your blind spots or areas of growth are, and how to build trust with you.
It’s something you can give to every new report who joins your team, and it’s something you can encourage your reports to create as well, so everyone ends up with a better understanding of each other.
The user guide template and example I’ve included below is just a starting point—feel free to modify this to best suit your needs, and to continue to change and adapt it as you learn more about what makes your particular user manual more effective.