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Writing a Manager’s User Manual

Xun Tang

Engineering Manager at Reddit

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Problem

Something that I’ve adopted as a manager: the manager’s user manual. It documents how to best work with me.

A bit of background on me: I came to the States from China after grad school. My cultural heritage is quite different than many of those who I manage. On top of that, we move fast and our teams evolve often, resulting in constantly working with new colleagues as a norm.  

This has led me on this mission to figure out how to connect with those around me more directly. How can I make people understand me? How can I make working with me as clear and as simple as possible?

Actions taken

I found a template of a Manager's Manual online. The purpose of writing the manual is to carve out how I define success as a manager. In my own manual, I bring up the following:

  • How do I view success?
  • How do I best communicate?
  • The things that I do that may annoy you or that may be misunderstood.
  • The things that cause me to gain or to lose trust.
  • My own personal strengths and weaknesses.
  • My expectations for my direct reports.
  • How I carry out my one-on-ones.
  • My most direct channels of communication.
  • How I prefer to give and receive feedback.

This is my current list, but when I started, I really only had a few points. I have collected each point from feedback that I’ve received over the years. Some people thought that I was too direct. Some found that I was not direct enough. I have been told that my communication is much more clear in writing than in person. I have also learned to be more forthcoming with positive feedback, not just focusing on what needs to be improved.

Sometimes, I can be prone to jumping to conclusions myself. There have been times when communication did not go as well as I had hoped it would. I have reflected upon these experiences and summarized them in the Manual as well. I have a caveat justifying my reasoning for sometimes not answering every question immediately. I explain that this is me respecting my employee’s autonomy, specifying only when necessary for them.

I keep this document on my internal company profile on our own personal social networking platform. This way, whenever somebody tries to set up a meeting with me, they will see it immediately. I have separate sections for my reports and for cross-functional teams as well.

Lessons learned

  • I created this when I first started as a manager. I realized that it became this living document that changed with me. I am able to see how I change every quarter and every year.
  • Now, when I am working with somebody new, they come to our first meeting very prepared. They are able to help me more directly with this additional source of context. This is especially useful in a post-COVID world. It has significantly scaled how I serve as the manager of a now remote team.
  • Being transparent in how I communicate has benefited me both in the short term and in the long term. It has led to stronger relationships between myself and everybody who I work with.

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Xun Tang

Engineering Manager at Reddit


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