Updated Personal User Manual 2020

It’s been about a year and a half since I started sharing the idea of using a personal user manual as a leader. The idea of clearly stating the nuts and bolts of how others should work with you resonated quickly with many other leaders in my organization. I spent most of the summer of 2018 speaking to campus and department leaders about the value, but I don’t think I spoke on the importance of it being a living document.

Like a river, we are changing minute to minute and we can’t expect those on our teams to keep up if we don’t communicate those changes. So, I decided to update my Personal User Manual for 2020 to share with my teams in Round Rock ISD and plan on making it an annual update.


Moving into my third year as the Executive Director of Teaching & Learning I think it’s important for those on my team to better understand how I work and what I’m hoping to get better at in 2020. So, I’m updating my Personal User Manual. Here it is:

Communication:

Email – If you email me, I’ll try to respond on the same workday, even if it’s just to let you know that I’ll give a more detailed response later. If I email you with a question, I expect a response/answer in 24 hours. If there is no question or ask in the email then don’t feel like you need to respond – I’ll assume you got it and are good to go. I’m continuing my practice of not checking my email from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am on workdays and not at all on non-work days. You may rarely get an email from me during these, but I don’t expect you to respond during non-work times. If we need to be in touch outside these times, I’ll call or text your cell phone. You can do the same and I’ll share more about talk/messaging below. 

Messaging/Voice – My cell-phone number is (512) 632-5062. Feel free to call or text during the workday. I’m not promising I’ll pick up, but it’s the quickest way to get in touch. I use Google Chat on my mobile device and the best way to get in touch with a quick question during the day. I like Google Chat because it allows us to capture ongoing work-related conversations in one place. 

Social Media – This is always a moving target for me. For lack of a better way to describe my current thoughts on friending and following colleagues, here is where I stand at the moment. It’s ok to friend/follow your boss, but it’s kind of weird for your boss to friend/follow you first. I don’t know if anyone else agrees with that, but it’s what I do. If you are on one of my teams feel free to friend/follow and I will reciprocate, but I’m not going to make the first move. 

Workplace – I’m excited about using Workplace and believe it can be a valuable tool for organizational communication and learning. Still in the early phase though and I will be focusing on the best way to use this in 2020.

What I’m Working On:

I’m working on getting better at building connections between teams in our organization. So, if I ask you a lot of questions about your job or ask for a brief 1-1 meeting to dig a little deeper, it’s for my own learning, not to put you on the spot.

Potpurri:

  • I’m not in my office much so don’t call my office phone number. Use the number above. 
  • I expect everyone to write professionally. Grammarly is your friend, use it for everything.
  • This video is a little lengthy, but it pretty much sums up how I view Organizational Communication.
  • I’ll share ideas often around your projects or plans. Some ideas may be good, many will be off-base. Please try not to take my ideas/comments as orders and I respect people who disagree. If I want you to do something, I’ll tell you to do it. Those directives, however, will likely be few and far between. 
  • I’m still working on smiling more. I’m happier at this point in my life than I have ever been, but for some reason, it does not always show on my face. Those that don’t know me well often assume that I’m upset or disengaged when I’m happy and fully engaged. If I’m not happy with something you are doing I promise to tell you. If you are curious, ask. 

I’m pretty open and go deeper into thoughts around leadership and education at ryansmith.blog


The Personal User Manual is one of my favorite tools to help teams communicate and cut through some of the assumptions we throw at one another. It’s not your manifesto. It’s the basics to help those you spend your days with better understand why you do what you do.

Questions? Ideas? Connections? Share them below in the comments.


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3 Things I’ve Learned Sharing My User Manual This Summer

In my last post, I shared the idea of creating a personal user manual with your coworkers. Hitendra Wadwha introduced me to this idea at a recent workshop and since I came back and started sharing the idea with my coworkers, it has resonated more than anything I’ve shared over the last five years. And, I often find myself at workshops and share a lot.

The idea of sharing your quirks, beliefs, habits, areas of improvement, and preferred communication methods caught on so much that I then provided semi-weekly sessions throughout Round Rock ISD. From campuses at every level to departments at the administration office, I had the opportunity to share the idea that just being upfront with each other will allow us to give each other grace, get on with the work, and reduce anxiety.

Those experiences taught me a few things:

  1. Choose to be Open and Positive  – Share your struggles and be real. Authenticity is so rare. When I get up in front of a group of long-time colleagues – or strangers as was the case recently with the Texas School Public Relations Association – and tell them I struggle with building deep 1-1 connections, I can physically feel an emotional shift in their connection with me. And at that point I know I’ve captured the room. I know my message will stick. Be real and you will resonate. You are now a leader.
  2. It’s About Sharing – Many folks I’ve worked with have written their manual, but aren’t comfortable sharing it. If that’s you, take out whatever you are uncomfortable with and share the rest with your team. This process is useful as a diary entry, but the power comes in sharing it with those you spend your time with every day. Take baby steps in your vulnerability.
  3. Get Credit for Your Work – If we don’t let others know how we are trying to improve, they are not likely to notice. It is incredibly hard to change someone’s perception of us. But, it’s easier if we tell them how we are trying to improve. So, I’m sharing with my team that I am working this year to be better prepared for my 1-1 meetings. I want to make sure I have done my homework and am crafting more effective listening skills. If my team did not know I had that focus this year then they may start as wondering why I was all of a sudden asking more pointed questions or trying to help them dig deeper on their own goals. And at the same time, selfishly I want them to notice when I get better. Nothing wrong with a pat on the back.

I’m excited to see the idea catching on as I truly believe that reducing our anxiety at work will have a direct effect on improving instruction in classrooms throughout Round Rock ISD. Let me know in the comments if you have any specific questions.

Thanks for the time.