The Key to the Aligned Team? The Manager Handbook.

By: Shivani Persad, July 09 2024

people at work, collaborating on a project

By: Nora Jenkins Townson

In our work designing great workplaces at Bright + Early, a common issue at startups and scaleups is a lack of consistency in how different teams are managed. Under one manager, team members might be getting regular reviews, 1:1s and career planning sessions. Under a different leader, others may not be getting the same support. It’s not that the second manager didn’t care, usually. The problem was a lack of standards set on how to manage at that particular company. Enter the manager handbook, the easiest (yet still uncommon) way to get leaders on the same page regarding growing people.

Whether they were taught a different set of management practices elsewhere or were brand new to it, the difference was that no one had set any expectations. It’s true that one should develop their own management style, but it shouldn’t be an entirely different experience to work under one person versus another while at the same organization. Your leadership team is a team, and the way they practice should have a unified set of practices. Formal manager training is a great way to kick things off, but without a written guide to go back and consult, it can go stale quickly.

A well-designed manager handbook lays out what’s expected from managers at work and how to do those things successfully, how those managers will be evaluated, and the core values that guide these decisions. Overall, it should give managers the tools they need to be great at their jobs. Here’s an overview of what we’d typically include in a decent manager handbook. Feel free to copy and adjust it to fit your own organization.

Management Philosophy

What do you want management to mean in your organization? Are managers at your organization seen as mentors? Coaches? Servant leaders? Authoritative? Think of how you want team members to feel. Supported? Coached? Moving in unison towards a common goal? Each organization is unique. If you have inspiration like books, manifestos, or a particular methodology you subscribe to, you can talk about it here.

This is also a great place to reiterate your values and the behaviours you want to encourage (and discourage) on your team.

Adjusting to Your Role

Many managers are doing the job for the first time. In this section, we usually provide some information and resources to help them find their own style and preferences. Topics might include adjusting to leadership from the individual contributor stage and tips for productivity, which often feel different at this career stage. You may also want to encourage managers to create something like a manager readme to share with their team.


Do you expect your managers to have 1:1s with their reports? What about performance reviews or career planning conversations? In this section, set clear expectations for how often these meetings should happen, how to do them well, and the steps in your internal processes for each. We like to include a guide to how performance reviews work, what tools your organization uses for them, scripts, tips, and templates for great 1:1s, etc.


In this section, you’ll cover things like how to make a new hire request and how the interview process works. You may also want to include any tools or software you use and any particular interview methodologies you use. Some teams include how things like negotiation or references work from a manager’s perspective. This is highly customized depending on the company.


After new team members are hired, what role do managers play in their onboarding process? Here, we’ll lay out the steps and expectations for a smooth first start, as well as any steps we expect the managers to facilitate. Then, they can know what to expect from the organization’s generalized onboarding and what they are expected to prepare themselves. 

Time Off

Team members will often go to their managers about taking time off, whether for a vacation, a sick day, or something like parental or medical leave. Here, we’ll cover things like the company’s allotment for different types of time off and how those request tools and approvals work. You’ll also want to include whether you have any rules for things like overlapping vacations on teams and whether you’ll roll over any unused vacation. The idea is to make sure managers are informed and able to answer front-line questions.


Even if they aren’t 100% responsible for it, managers need to be able to discuss pay. Whether in the hiring process, reviews, or an employee-initiated raise request, salary discussions will come up in their day-to-day. Here, we generally provide company-specific guidance on what is and isn’t confidential, how to respond to negotiation or raise requests, and how to get changes and increases approved. We also provide an overview of the company’s compensation cadence (when and how do increases happen?) and how to navigate and utilize any salary bands that might be in place.

Growth and Expectations

In this section of a manager handbook, we’ll include information about how to use the company’s career paths or advancement system, as well as tips for discussing career growth and development on their team. If you have formal career paths, managers should know how and when employees can move up, how it is assessed, and how it links to pay bands. This is a great place to link back to learning and development budgets or provide some ideas on how managers can utilize mentorship, courses and advocacy to help their reports learn and grow.

This is also a great place to include any company policies on things like remote work, collaboration, and asynchronous practices. Are team members expected to stick to certain core hours? Do hourly staff need to clock in five minutes before a shift starts? Or do you care more about output than time (and how is that output measured)?  Ensure expectations are crystal clear for managers so that they can be for team members as well.


One of the most challenging things to adjust to in people management is giving and receiving feedback. To foster a culture of growth, teams must also have a culture of continuous feedback. We often include tips on how and when to deliver both praise and constructive feedback. However, managers also need to be receptive to it, and they need to know how to receive it.

Many of these tips can be found in our Guide to Giving and Receiving Feedback

Performance Management

Inevitably, each manager on your team will face the dreaded low-performance conversation. How do you want them to handle it? In this section of a manager handbook, we often cover the basics of how to have those tough conversations. We also include tips on keeping high performers engaged. If your company uses performance improvement plans or any other formal processes, you can outline them here.


What happens when someone quits? What if we need to let someone go? It is important to outline the philosophy, processes, and checklists (including who is responsible for what) here.


Ideally, each organization strives to be inclusive in all areas of management. Whether you’re recruiting, onboarding, measuring performance, or giving feedback, managers need to understand how different types of bias might show up. It’s worth having a section to call out how these different types of bias can influence different areas of management decision-making. Try to provide a few worthy resources to help managers be more inclusive in their practice.

Tough Issues

Sometimes, difficult things happen, and managers are often on the front line. Here, we cover important topics like how to respond to reports of violence and harassment or other major violations of the organization’s code of conduct and policies. Generally, they’ll want to partner with HR on these challenges, but they should be aware of the company’s policies and how to handle challenges in real time. 

How to Work With HR

Every company’s HR team, if they have one, operates a little bit differently. In this section, you’ll outline how managers can get the best use from yours. As HR practitioners, we love it when managers come to us for advice on dealing with a difficult situation, practicing a tough conversation, or giving feedback on a process we made. 

How They’ll be Evaluated

Everyone deserves clear expectations in their role, leaders included. Is there a career path or role guide for how managers are evaluated? Will feedback be solicited from their team? Will it connect to their team’s performance metrics? Being clear about what you’re evaluating (and ensuring those evaluations connect to your management vibe and philosophy) is key to getting everyone aligned.


Great managers aren’t born; management requires lots of coaching and practice, but it can be learned. As you make your own manager handbook, include a number of resources for leaders to read further and level up. Do you have a Slack channel or manager’s circle/meetup group where leaders can lean on each other? Do you offer access to any coaching or training programs? You can also include some links for those who want to sharpen their skills.

Here are some of our favourites:

Managing people isn’t easy, and having a variety of leadership styles at the table can complicate things even further. But, by setting up your team with an incredible manager handbook, they’ll all be reading from the same page.