I’ve been through plenty of organizational restructurings in my career and they are always stressful. Whether you are a leader or an individual contributor, change can be tough. Especially if you are getting a new boss. There is always the concern of the unknown.
What will they be like to work with? What will their expectations be?
About a year ago I was flying back from a meeting and had a four-hour layover. Fortunately, I had a travel credit card that gave me access to one of the lounges in the airport. At the time my team was growing rapidly and I was concerned that the amazing culture our small team had built would fall apart as we onboarded new folks.
But, I wasn’t just concerned about the new people’s impact on us. I was conscious of the fact that the changes would be tough on the new people. After all, they had no way of knowing if working for me would be an improvement or worse than their previous boss.
One particular team member and I had spent some time on the phone talking about the prospect of her coming to work for me. Her previous boss had been okay, but he hadn’t gone out of his way to help her in her career. I told her my goal was for her to look back after six months on my time and realize that it had been the best move for her. I meant it.
Sitting in that airport lounge, I decided to draft a “How to work with me” manual.
The idea of that document is to provide new team members with a manual for what they can expect when working with you and what you will expect of them. It allows you to set expectations early on, so there are no surprises.
I’m going to do something crazy. I’m going to share my “How to work with JP” content. Below is exactly what is in mine.
How to work with JP
This document is meant to give you an idea of what it’s like to be on my team.
After you read this, I’d love to get a similar document from you that outlines what you believe it’s like to work with you.
- You are my main priority at work. Nothing else matters other than ensuring you are as content as reasonable and that I am helping you accomplish what you want. This includes pay raises, title promotions, or even finding a different role in the company if that is what you want. We will often talk about your future. I will have ideas that I think make sense for your career path, but you need to take charge of what you want in your career.
- I believe business is personal. I like to build relationships with the people I work with. I understand that there is a fine line that shouldn’t be crossed. Still, I work best with people where we can have both professional and personal relationships. We aren’t family, but hopefully, we can build a friendship. This means that our 1:1s could be as much about us catching up as they are about business.
- I want my team to always be the group that other people love to work with because we get things done and are fun to work with.
- I don’t tolerate drama. Period. If I see it/hear it/smell it I’ll call it out.
- Use email when you want to share something with me but can wait for a response. Use messaging when you need a quicker response. Call me or text my cellphone when you need an immediate response.
- Here are my expectations regarding emails you send me: I will read every email I get in a day but I don’t respond just so you know I read it — I’ll only respond if you ask me something directly or I have a question. Thus, assume I did read the email within 18 hours, but if you think I owe you a response please resend or ping me and I won’t be offended. Your emails to me should include: 1) What happened; 2) Why it happened; 3) What you will do about it.
- My calendar is always yours when you need time with me. Don’t ask if you can book a meeting. Just send an invite. I’ll decline if the meeting doesn’t make sense. That said, if you book a meeting with me I expect the invitation to include the following: 1) the topic of discussion; 2) what you need from me around the topic or what outcome you are hoping for; 3) if you are bringing me a challenge be prepared to make a recommendation for how to solve that issue; 4) any action items should come with a due date, and you should deliver an update to me by that date without being prompted.
- For 1:1s, this is how I expect the flow of information to go: 1) Here’s what I am doing, FYI; 2) Here’s what I want to do that may need your approval; 3) I can’t decide between options. Can you help me think through that decision?; 4) We agreed on this; here’s the outcome.
- Being a high performer, accomplishing your goals, and then some, earns you all kinds of flexibility. My past teams have claimed my favorite saying is, “I don’t care.” If you want to work from a coffee shop, I don’t care. I generally won’t care how you conduct your work as long as it is ethical, legal, and moral, and you perform well. Which leads me to…
- You own your schedule. If you need/want to take a long break/lunch, just take it. If you want to take PTO, just tell me when you will take it. Don’t ask for permission. Just ensure I know you won't be around and that you aren’t missing critical meetings, delivery dates, etc. I don’t worry about these things because if you abuse this flexibility, it will show up in your work.
- I am very transparent. I will always tell you what’s on my mind. If you don’t like direct conversations, just let me know, and I’ll handle things more softly. You are welcome to do the same.
- Similarly, I hate confrontation. So, we need a relationship where we can both say what’s on our minds. For example, if you have done something negative worth pointing out or aren’t performing, I will just cut to the chase and say it as kindly as possible. I’d rather we never have to get to that point in the first place. The inverse is true. I need to know if I do something or say something you don’t like.
- I value loyalty. I will go to bat for you if you are willing to do the same.
- I expect my team to run their roles like they are running their own business. Don’t bring me problems without having solutions in mind already.
- When disputes arise, particularly with other teams, I will likely default to assuming our team can do better. I’m not taking someone else’s side. I believe the truth is usually “somewhere in the middle.” For example, if someone complains about your performance, I will likely assume their perception is reality and call to discuss things with you to get your side. This doesn’t mean I will hold that person’s opinion against you. I will likely have defended you as much as is reasonable.
- I am not in my role because I am smarter than you. I am in my role because I bring something else to the table.
- My personality has highs and lows. There are very few “fair” days. I’ll either be happy-go-lucky or frustrated. You’ll know because it will 1) show on my face; 2) I’ll just say I’m frustrated about something.
A few things you should notice from my document.
I am very candid. Probably too candid.
Also, the tone may sound firm. That isn’t my intention. I’m simply doing my best to make sure there is no confusion about how I think/what I feel/etc.
I recommend that they, the team member, complete their own document. This is super impactful. For example, I had one team member whom I had spent about one-and-one-half years mentoring on a nearly daily basis. When she moved on to a new role our time together almost disappeared. That was tough for me because I felt like I wasn’t there for her as much anymore. But, after reading her “How to work with me” document I realized that is how she liked things. It was clear that if she needed me she was going to reach out.
If you haven't done a "How to work with me" document, I highly recommend it. Not only will you learn a lot about yourself, but you will learn a ton about each other.
Just know that there is no perfect template for the document. In fact, trying to be too structured with what is and isn't included may be too restrictive for folks.
Let it come from the heart. Let it be authentic. That's when you will get the most out of the exercise.