Me: The User's Manual

At a retreat years ago, participants completed a variety of assessments to learn more about each other. Overwhelmed with so much info about my new colleagues, I posed a simple question for each of us to answer:

Six months from now, what would I have learned about working with you that if you told me now would make our working relationship more successful?


I thought of this moment when reading Adam Bryant's March 31 Corner Office interview with Ivar Kroghrud, the lead strategist at QuestBack, an enterprise feedback management company   When Bryant asked about his leadership style, Kroghrud replied "I developed a one-page 'user manual' so people can understand how to work with me."  Two examples of information from his user's manual include (taken verbatim from the NYT column):
  • I am goal-oriented but have a high tolerance for diversity and openness to different viewpoints. So, again, say what you are thinking and don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo.
  • I welcome ideas at any time, but I appreciate that you have real ownership of your idea and that you have thought it through in terms of total business impact. 
Filtering others' behaviors through our own lenses and mental models often results in misunderstanding because of our own biases. Letting people share a one-page User's Manual about themselves seems like a simple, yet highly effective way to head off potential misperceptions and to strengthen working relationships.  It also is a structured opportunity for individuals to engage in some thoughtful reflection and honest self-assessment ... after all, people will start treating you as your User's Manual suggests.

I see immediate application for any group in the forming stage, particularly new boards of directors or committees, but also staff teams.  To increase usefulness, you might collectively generate a common list of categories or questions that individuals' users' manuals should address.  

I'd also suggest a survey every 6-12 months asking: "For each individual listed, what else might you add to their User's Manual based on your interactions with them?"  Responses could be attributed or anonymous, and individuals could decide whether or not to modify their User's Manual document based on the feedback received.  

Ideally this feedback would be shared in person instead of a survey, maybe even in a series of quick one-on-one chats: "Here's what I would add to your User's Manual and why ... " This would allow individuals to probe more in an effort to learn how they are perceived.

What questions would you want colleagues to answer in a User's Manual about themselves?

P.S.  More than 70 of Bryant's columns have been compiled in The Corner Office book, a great plane read or gift book.