What do major tech companies like Slack, Shopify, Invision and HubSpot have in common? Manager READMEs.
Earlier this year, SoapBox CEO and Co-Founder, Brennan McEachran shared 12 “Manager READMEs” from some of Silicon Valley’s top tech companies. Since then, there’s been a lot of chatter about the benefits of manager READMEs, but also the negative consequences that can come from them (when done wrong).
Before we dive into the pros and cons of manager READMEs, it’s important to know what they are.
What are manager READMEs?
Also known as a “How I like to work doc”, manager READMEs are a document that managers create and share with their direct reports, covering things like:
- What the document is and the goal of it
- Your principles and values
- How you have one-on-ones (even though this should be decided between you and the direct report)
- How you prefer to communicate (slack vs. email vs. in-person)
- What work requires your input (and what doesn’t)
The list goes on.
If you’re an engineer, you’re familiar with ReadMEs when diving into someone else’s code. Manager READMEs are exactly that, except you swap code for management.
9 Manager README pros and cons
✅PRO: It’s a great way to skip the whole ‘get to know you’ phase and jump right into a productive working relationship.
✅PRO: It’s easy to set expectations between you and your direct reports. For example, if you say you’re very open and inviting to feedback, the expectation is that your direct report will provide you with that feedback.
✅PRO: It’s a great opportunity to share your personality traits with your direct reports, which can help avoid misunderstandings. For example, in Michael Lopp’s Manager README (Former VP, Product Engineering at Slack), he says: “I am an introvert […] Do not confuse my quiet with lack of engagement.”s
*It’s important to note here that if your personality trait is “rude” or “mean”, a manager README is not a scapegoat for bad behavior.
✅PRO: It can help build transparent, two-way communication with your team. Heather Foeh, former VP of CX at PathFactory (also a remote manager) uses this document to let her direct reports know that she’s never too busy for them and encourages them to reach out when they need her.
✅PRO: It’s a great tool for self-reflection and goal-setting for managers. This process gives managers a space to reflect on how they manage, as well as how they would like to manage.
🛑CON: If what you’ve written isn’t an accurate depiction of yourself, it can really hurt your relationship with your direct reports. If it’s not accurate, don’t share it with your team. Instead, use it as a goal-setting tool for yourself. In an interview with Camille Fournier, Former CTO of Rent The Runway, she said:
🛑CON: Adding in a “quirks” section can be used as an excuse to always behave that way. It’s good to share your quirks, but be sure to work on improving on them as well. For example, in my manager’s README, she states that she’s very forgetful. She appreciates reminders and doesn’t find them annoying. Since we’ve started working together she’s created processes and found tools to ensure that she’s less forgetful. She’s working on her quirks.
🛑CON: They can be used as a substitute to meeting frequently with your team (one-on-ones, team meetings, etc). Don’t wait for your team to come to you with problems or concerns, be proactive and continue to spend time with your team frequently. That’s what’s going to help build trust over time.
🛑CON: It can come off self-righteous or pompous. To combat this, don’t just send the README in an email, sit down with your direct report and walk them through why you created it and how you hope it can help improve your working relationship.
Overall, manager READMEs can be a powerful tool for managers to onboard new team members and self-reflect on who they are (and who they want to be) as a manager. Try out the exercise for yourself. If you feel you’ve done a good and accurate job, share it with your team—or better yet, share it with another manager and ask them for feedback.