There is increasing interest in the business world in “onboarding”, the process by which managers and executives are oriented to, and integrated into, an organization. Books like The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins have become bestsellers, and organizations of all sizes are more mindful than ever about the importance of the first three months at a new job.

One tool that I have found effective in working with new managers and executives is a “Managerial User’s Manual,” a document in which a new leader describes his or her preferences and style to his or her new staff. The benefit of a User’s Manual is that it provides a basis for accelerating the “getting to know you” process. Writing a User’s Manual greatly diminishes the possibility that misunderstandings will cause your new staff to view you as a “toxic” boss.

The content of a User’s Manual should include what you value, what you are motivated by, and areas for potential misunderstanding. For example, a client of mine wrote a User’s Manual in which he let his team know that just because he asks many questions, doesn’t mean that he is skeptical about their capabilities, it is simply his style.

In a sense, any interaction between a new leader and his or her team can be thought of as a cross-cultural communication. After all, the new leader comes from another organizational culture, and possibly also a different national culture as well.

By writing a “User’s Manual” in which you convey valuable information about yourself, the risk that misunderstandings will occur can be greatly reduced. For example, another client wrote in his User’s Manual that he was a morning person, and he requested that his new team approach him with issues in the morning rather than in the afternoon. If he had not conveyed that preference, his staff might have approached him in the afternoon and concluded that he did not really want to interact with them or focus on the issues that they were trying to bring to his attention. With many people in career transition these days due to the challenging economy, writing a User’s Manual can be a good use of time. For one, when you find your next job the User’s Manual can be a useful tool to introduce yourself to your new colleagues. Secondly, taking time to reflect on your style and preferences can make it easier to prepare for interviews in which prospective employers may assess self-awareness and potential leadership skills.

All in all, a User’s Manual can cut out office dysfunction. By letting your staff know how you operate, you can teach them how to deal with you and avoid conflict. Below is a sample manual to use as a template.

How I work: Knowing what makes me tick will help both of us avoid a major meltdown.
My style: When I’m under pressure, I get serious. Be ready to answer “why” five times.
When to approach me: Please don’t bring important issues to my attention if you run into me in the break room.
Values: I value loyalty to our company’s values. The CEO gets the same treatment as the janitor.
Communicating with me: Have conviction for your point of view. I respect people who push back. Be prepared.
What I will not tolerate: I am very unforgiving of people who don’t admit to or cover up mistakes.
Feedback: I don’t give much feedback. Assume I’m satisfied with you unless I tell you otherwise.
How to help me: I have a tendency to do things myself. Please suggest things you can take off my plate.

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