Mar 082012

People Should Come with an Instruction Manual

People Should Come with an Instruction Manual

Almost any time we humans buy or rent a big-ticket item, the item comes with an instruction manual.  Why are people any different?

No one is perfect.  We all have faults and issues.  We all have personal and professional development plans.  And most of those things are LONG-TERM and surface in one form or another in every single performance review or 360 we receive over the years.  So shouldn’t we, when we enter into a long-term personal or professional employment relationship, just present our development plans as instruction manuals on how to best work with, live with, manage, us?

The traditional interview process, and even reference check questions around weaknesses tend to be focused on the wrong things, and asked in the wrong ways.  They usually lead to lame answers like “my greatest weakness is that I work too hard and care too much,” or “No comment.”

The traditional onboarding process also doesn’t get into this.  It’s much more about orientation — here’s a pile of stuff you need to know to be successful here — as opposed to true onboarding — here’s how we’re going to get you ramped up, productive, integrated, and successful working here.

It’s quite disarming to insist that a candidate, or even a new employee, write out their instruction manual, but I can’t recommend it highly enough as part of one or both of the above two processes.  Since everyone at Return Path has a 360/Development Plan, I ask candidates in final interviews what theirs looks like in that context (so it’s clear that I’m not trying to pull a gotcha on them).  Failure to give an intellectually honest answer is a HUGE RED FLAG that this person either lacks self-confidence or self-awareness.  And in the onboarding process, I literally make new employees write out a development plan in the format we use and present it to the rest of my staff, while the rest of my staff shares their plans with the new employee.

As I’ve written in the past, hiring  new senior people into an organization is a little like doing an organ transplant.  Sometimes you just have to wait a while to see if the body rejects the organ or not.  As we get better at asking this “where’s your instruction manual?” question in the interview process, we are mitigating this risk considerably.  I’m sure there’s a whole parallel track on this same topic about personal relationships as opposed to professional ones, but I’ll leave that to someone else to write up!

  • Giff

    Matt, would you share your template for what new employees fill out?

    • Matt Blumberg

      There’s not much of a template.  It’s “Area,” “Specific Examples,” and “Tactics” or something like that.  The meat is in identifying high level areas that require work, and not having it be a laundry list of small operational tactics.Matt

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