When Claire Hughes Johnson joined Stripe she shared an open document with the company and sent it personally to the people working closely with her.
But this was not just any type of corporate presentation.
Claire announced: “I’m not a micro-manager and I won’t sweat your details *unless* I think things are off track and if I do, I’ll tell you my concern.”
Further down, it read: “*Your* job is to get my sense of something and argue it out with me. I love a good fight to a better outcome.”
There was a request too: “I am often overly generous with my time and say yes too often to things. If you see this, please flag it to me.”
The document Claire shared was a guide she had written about how it is to be working with her.
Just over 2,000 words in total.
And this unorthodox guide was a big hit.
Confusion, miscommunication and disappointment
Picture this common situation:
You’ve joined a new company or a new executive is now in charge of the team you’re working in.
You may get a face to face introductory meeting but it will take weeks (or even months) of working closely together to get to know each other and truly understand the best way to work with each other.
There will be ups and downs. There will be confusion, miscommunication, unmet expectations and disappointment.
The relationship might never really work out. And you and your company might be worse off for it.
But is there a better way?
Meet Claire Hughes Johnson, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Stripe.
What’s the intention with the guide?
Claire joined in 2014 when the company had 165 employees and helped Stripe grow to over 1,000 as of now. Previously she worked at Google.
I learned about Claire reading Elad Gil’s High Growth Handbook.
Here’s what she said about the impact her guide had on Stripe:
“It spread quite quickly through the organization. It made sense, because I was new, I was in a leadership role, people wanted to understand me. And then people started asking, “Well, why don’t we have more of these?”. I’ve even had folks who are not managers but are on my team write me these guides to them. And it’s been super insightful. So I’m a huge fan.”
Claire thinks that founders and other leaders and managers should write a guide to working with them.
That this should become a best practice at more companies.
The intention with the guide is to clarify your role, the interaction approaches that work best for you and the way it’s best to work with you.
This way people know what to do and expect without needing to learn it all the hard way. “Because the problem is, people learn it in the moment, and by then it’s too late.”
These are the types of questions your guide should answer:
- What do I want to be involved in?
- When do I want to hear from you?
- What are my preferred communication modes?
- What makes me impatient?
- Don’t surprise me with X
What does Claire’s guide look like?
Claire’s guide starts with the “operating approach” where she explains the way she likes to deal with one on one chats, team meetings and other planning sessions.
This is one of the things she tells her reports:
“We’ll do a career session at some point in our first few months of working together—your history, why you’ve made choices you have made, what your ambitions are for the future, etc. These help me know where you are in terms of personal development interests and ambitions with respect to longer-term plans.”
I don’t like chasing deadlines but I do notice when things slip
Next up, she shares details on her management style. On topics such as action items and deadlines:
“I take action items really seriously and I expect you to know what yours are, when they are due, and get them done. I don’t like chasing them but I do notice when things slip—it’s fine to renegotiate deadlines but I’ll be annoyed if it’s the day after the deadline….”.
And her strategic approach:
“I try to think about where things will end up and the straightest line to get there but I’m pretty flexible along the way. If there is swirl I usually think to myself: “What’s the big lever here?” “What problem are we trying to solve?” “Why do we need to solve it?” “When do we need to solve it?” “What information do we need and when will we get it?” and I expect you to do the same.”
FYI = no response required
There’s also a section on emails:
“I will read every email I get in a day but I don’t respond just so you know I read it—I’ll only respond if you ask me something directly or I have a question. Thus, assume I did read the email within 18 hours, but if you think I owe you a response please resend or ping me and I won’t be offended.”
Which further clarifies:
“I *love* fyi emails when you send me something you saw, a customer anecdote, an article, some data, or something someone on your team did and if you write fyi in the subject or in the fwd I’ll know it’s for my information but *not* requiring response or urgent reading and I’ll do the same for you. FYI = no response required.”
You get the idea.
What would the guide to working with you be like?
This type of doc seems like a very useful way to get to know someone quicker, minimize misunderstandings and miscommunication. And it could help you run a better team and a better organization.
So when you find yourself in a new workplace or managing a new team, think about doing the same.
What would your guide to working with you be like?