Why I Wrote A CEO User Guide — And Why You Should, Too

Writing in the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s blog, Knowledge@Wharton, global communications consultant Walter G. Montgomery explained, “Whether a company succeeds or fails in navigating a crisis, completing a merger, avoiding regulatory blunders, or executing everyday operations depends heavily on skillful communication.”

As a CEO myself, I try every day to not underestimate this truth, and it’s the reason why I adopted the recommendation to create what I call a CEO user guide for employees at Bestmile.

What is a CEO user guide? It’s a personal user manual for how to work best with me. Instead of guessing about how I would like to work, I use it to communicate to everyone how I like to work and why. I started this manual originally for my direct reports, and after witnessing the success of it, I eventually made it available to the entire company.

It’s no secret that most business problems are caused by poor or infrequent communication. It’s critical we communicate well and often — especially in the fast-moving tech industry. Furthermore, employees are often intimidated by CEOs. I’ve been an employee and I know exactly how that feels. I did not want our team members to be afraid to tell me what they think or wonder how I like to be approached.

I didn’t make up the idea of a CEO user guide. In fact, there are many examples of personal user guides out there. I modeled mine after reading about Jay Desai, CEO and co-founder of health care startup PatientPing. He points out that managers want their employees to be successful and happy, and employees want their managers to like and accept them. So they try to please one another but don’t always tell the truth.

The personal user guide, Desai says, sends a clear message: “I know you want to make me happy and I want to make you happy, too, because I really want you to succeed. Let’s just make that easier for each other by drawing a social contract on how we can relate. It helps us feel ok being ourselves without being misunderstood and a powerful tool to scale fast.”

If you’re the founder of a tech startup, the idea of scaling fast should grab your attention. While good communication is important, it is also a means to an end. One of the primary purposes of a CEO user guide should be to increase the velocity of decision making. Bestmile is a startup in the rapidly evolving industry of new mobility services such as ride-hailing and autonomous transportation. The faster we get to know each other and learn how to work together, the better and stronger our relationships will be, and the more we’ll accomplish together.

I took the outline of Desai’s personal manual and expanded it to suit my goal of speed in decision-making. It is divided into the 13 sections listed below:

• Communication — Preferred channels

• Reporting — Regular reports I expect

• One-on-Ones — What we’ll cover

• The First Six Months — A critical time to get this right

• Feedback — Kind of feedback we both want

• My Discipline and Performance — The example I try to set

• Micromanagement — It happens, especially early on

• Myself as a resource — What to expect from me

• Professional development — What I can and can’t offer

• Contribution to strategy — My expectations

• Schedule — I will respect work/life boundaries.

• Speed of decision making — How can we do things sooner?

If you’re interested in creating your own version, keep in mind that it could take a few weeks and several review rounds to draft your user guide (as was the case for me). It’s important to seek candid feedback from your HR team, and have your co-founder or close colleague look closely at it and identify parts that don’t make sense or truly reflect who you are. From there, I recommend sharing it with your direct reports. In my, most of them have been with the company for some time, so the manual served more as a refresher for them. As we are hiring aggressively, I can see it helping build my relationships with new employees.

If you have ever been blindsided by a valued employee quitting in frustration — and you had no idea that he or she was so frustrated — you might need a personal user manual. This is especially important for distributed teams relying on electronic communications that don’t always explain context and tone. The process of writing it all down forced me to think through and articulate my expectations more clearly and to invite others to do the same.

A user manual for a human may seem, well, not-so-human, and I understand this idea may come off as sounding impersonal. That’s not my intention. My aim is to be clear and to make it as easy as possible to work together as quickly as possible. With the goals to reduce friction and move your business forward faster, a personal user manual is an ideal tool to implement. The more we understand each other, trust one another and communicate better, the faster we will be able to grow.

Originally published at forbes.com on September 5, 2018.

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