How to Use a User’s Manual

We just bought a treadmill to add to our home gym, and of course, it came with a user’s manual (via an app). It also had a few quick-start guidelines on the screen so we could get up and running (or in my case walking) in just a few minutes. Sure, I could have figured it all out on my own through a bit of trial and error, but it was a hell of a lot faster (and probably less damaging to the treadmill) to read the manual and do as instructed.

While I by no means intend to equate a human to a treadmill, when it comes to getting a little help getting the relationship started, I’m all for it! Enter the User’s Manual.

The User’s Manual is a quick start guide for how others can best work with you. It is great if others know what you do and even how you can help them. It is equally important for those you work closely with to understand your strengths, weaknesses, quirks, how you approach problems, etc. The User’s Manual covers the following categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Quirks, Values, Expectations, and How You Work. Download a copy of the User’s Manual worksheet here.

A User’s Manual is a great communication and relationship building tool that we implement in several different ways across our company. Whether you have a new team member joining your company, have worked with someone for a decade, or need to bring the team together in more understanding and cohesive way, the User’s Manual is there to help.

How to Complete Your Own User’s Manual

Obviously, the best place to start is by creating your own User’s Manual. Take some time to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, your communication style, and any other things that you would like current or future team members to know about you. Be honest and vulnerable. Keep your ego out of this worksheet. If you really want to have better relationships and stronger partnerships with others, you will have be honest about who you are and what you want.

Using a User’s Manual with a New Employee

As a leader or hiring manager, it could be helpful to share the a User’s Manual with a candidate before they are even hired. This is something we typically do because we don’t want there to be any surprises for people when they join our company. In The Founder & The Force Multiplier, Adam Hergenrother wrote, “I am a hard-driving, obsessively growth-oriented, high-standards, results-not-stories, push-you-until-you-almost-break-because-I-want-you-to-reach-your-potential kind of guy. For example, I’m not going to sit around with my team and chit chat with them about their weekend, but I will be their biggest ally in their personal and professional growth. Ultimately, I care more about my team’s success than I do about being their friend. Not everyone is going to like that. And that’s OK.” Those are really important things for new team members to know, even before they join the team.

If the User’s Manual isn’t shared prior to a team member joining your company, I recommend you share their direct team’s User’s Manual with them right away. It will help them get acquainted with their new supervisors and co-workers quickly to start the relationship off right and answer any questions they may have about how best to communicate with their new team.

In addition, I recommend you have your new employee complete their own User’s Manual within the first week. It’s a quick way for you to get to know them. And it’s a great reference to look back at when needed, especially over those first 90 days.

Using a User’s Manual with a Current Employee

If you haven’t done the User’s Manual exercise in a while (or ever!) there is no time like the present. People change and grow. It allows your current employee time to reflect and communicate to you anything new that they would like for you to know.

Even if a current team member doesn’t have anything to update, you, as the leader, should revisit the User’s Manuals periodically. At the very least, on your own. However, it can be even more impactful to bring the leadership team or division together to review. Everyone needs a refresher every once in a while, especially when tension is high or you’re just not quite on the same page. By knowing where everyone stands, you can all move forward together, faster, without allowing your perception to warp the facts in front of you. 

Using the User’s Manual as a Team Activity

Let your team members know, about a week in advance, that you are going to be having a team User’s Manual conversation. This allows everyone to have enough time to either complete or refresh their User’s Manual.

Depending on the size of your team, schedule a one to two hour block of time to come back together and discuss. Go through each section one by one and allow each team member to read their section aloud. Inevitably there will be a few comments or “aha’s” about what each person is sharing. Once one section is complete, move on to the next. After all six sections are complete, open it up for discussion. What did people notice? Did any patterns emerge? What similarities seem to exist among the group? Where might there be challenges in the future? What did they learn about themselves or their team members?

Regardless of how similar or different you are from your co-workers, the User’s Manuals provide valuable information. You may be holding on to a lot of assumptions about another team member and meanwhile, they have drastically different expectations than you do. Now you know! Or you may have the exact opposite strengths and weaknesses from one of the VPs. Now you know! No one is right or wrong. Starting with this common framework facilitates a necessary conversation about how you can all work better together and ultimately achieve more.

Again, the team activity is great to do if your team is going through some internal changes, restructuring, or other challenges. It also helps to do this exercise when a new team member joins.

Bottom line, a User’s Manual is designed to help people get into constructive and productive partnerships faster with a higher degree of success. Communication is the cornerstone of any successful relationship, and the User’s Manual is a great tool to help you build that bridge of understanding.

Have some questions on how to get started with your User’s Manual? Drop them in our community! We’d love to hear what experiences you’ve had while implementing them and any quirks or “aha’s” you discovered about yourself while filling yours out!

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