Manager handbooks: a guide to better leadership

With 57% of employees quitting because of their boss, getting management right is a key step in staff retention. We spoke to Nora Jenkins Townson, founder of consultancy Bright + Early, about creating guidelines for being a good supervisor.
The lowdown

Although everybody has their own management style, you need to ensure they're all working from the same playbook. A manager's handbook is a five- to 10-page guide to being a manager at your company, specifically. 

It's different from an employee handbook, because it's less focused on overall culture, policies and how to succeed at the company. It dives deeper into how to enable other people's success. 

With a handbook, you can control quality and make sure each employee has a similar experience. Defining expectations will also save you time in the long run. Without clarity, people will be less engaged and more likely to waste time working on the wrong things. Conflict might surface.

More from Nora: ‘People are the most important thing to do well.’

What to include

The fundamentals

• What are the expectations of you as a manager? How are managers evaluated?

• Guidance on one-to-ones – how often they should take place and a sample agenda. 

• A guide to coaching. 

• How hiring, interviewing and onboarding work.

• Managing time off and absences. 

• Compensation – granting a raise or promotion, or saying ‘no’ to a request for one.

• How to work with the company's systems.

• Reviews – when they should happen and how to do them well.

For a standout handbook

• Your vision for the company and the kind of managers you want to have.

• How to give and receive feedback, and what happens if feedback isn't taken well. 

• How to motivate people, whether high- or low-performing.

• Examples of management frameworks. 

• Dealing with tough issues, from conflict to harassment. 

• What inclusive leadership looks like; how you can recognize and interrupt your bias. 

A great handbook will include specific examples. Instead of writing, ‘We expect you to do one-to-ones every other week’, suggest 20 questions to elicit feedback.

Things to remember

• This should work alongside training, as something you can always refer back to.

• It will differ from company to company, with its structure changing according to your values. 

• You need to re-evaluate it every few months, or as you build out new HR capabilities. 

Next steps

Clearbit has a very detailed example handbook here.

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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