Growth is my job. Well, management is my job, but growth is mostly what I think about. I’m tasked to care for the growth of the company/product, the growth of my discipline in the company/industry-wide, and, my favourite, the growth of my reports.
The management team I’m a part of (us three amigos; Darrin Henein, Ilia Larionov, and I) stress to our reports the importance of continued growth. We hire them for their talent, but we expect them to change drastically and frequently.
Our team would suffer if our reports didn’t put in the time for personal and career growth and it puts our wider team at a disadvantage if they didn’t (we’re doubling in employees every year). A stagnant team threatens both the product and your talent pipeline.
Below is the approach we’re taking with our team, but first, I’d like to discuss ownership. I briefly touched upon this last week but we can afford to go a little deeper.
We say to our reports that we only care as much as they care. We firmly believe that outside help must be paired with intrinsic motivation and effort. We have hired for this personality, self-starters, but we’re happy to meet anyone halfway.
Along with our efforts, there are company resources which are available. They’re either run company-wide or offered by other departments. Our User Research team, for example, runs workshops for Designers to learn how to self-direct user research interviews if resources aren’t available.
To help with this workload, our Senior Designers are leaned on to spread best practices and teach the other designers how to more effectively use certain design tools. Our senior team has run Design Sprint workshops, software-specific workshops, and written supportive documentation on how to properly define problems.
So, who owns growth? The whole company does. Glad we got that out of the way. We’re ultimately responsible for guiding them though.
Each Design Lead is typically embedded into at least one project (picked generally based on need of support) and manages a few other Designers on other projects.
We ultimately take the responsibility for the output of these projects, so we keep up-to-date with the project briefs, any Design work the designers do, and bigger strategic decisions made which may impact the Designer’s day-to-day work. The goal is not to micro-manage or make decisions, but to alleviate any blocks which may come up along the way.
Designers participate in:
Fresh Eyes; a group of Designers they see weekly for presentation and feedback. The designers are re-assigned to new groups per quarter and each group has a mixture of designers from different departments so they can get a variety of feedback.
Product Round-table; our weekly sync-up amongst the Product Designers. This is a mixture of showcases we run on our team as part of the feedback cycle for other team activities or to ensure everyone is aware of what’s going on.
Freedom Fridays; our weekly 1.5h booked off time-slot in which our Designers can learn whatever they want and it doesn’t need to be related to their assigned project. They present what they’ve learned in Product Round-table every few weeks.
I do a weekly-sync with my reports to go over their design deliverables. This ensures I always know where they are in the process and can connect them with the resources they need at the right time or can help mitigate any communications issues they may be having. Again, no decisions are made by me.
Any positive feedback I receive about my reports gets sent immediately on the compliment train through Slack or in-person. I’m dorky that way and I like doing this.
Since I am close to my reports on a day-to-day basis, I don’t do many things on a monthly cadence except 1:1s.
During our 1:1s we discuss how they’re feeling on their current project, what I’ve been hearing about their progress/work (filtered, within reason), and if there’s any need to immediately course correct on anything they’re doing. Notes are taken from the 1:1s with what we discussed along with any action items (for either of us) that need to occur before the next meeting.
For me, the 1:1 is the pulse into my team’s general happiness and has more to do with retention than it does anything else. While growth gets discussed, this is a less impactful vehicle.
I tend to ask my reports to think of growth within a year’s timeframe and break the goal down into skills which can be learned over quarters. Quarters are long enough to prove competency and consistency in a new skill but short enough not to overwhelm and leave room for course correction.
We review their progress every third 1:1, on what they said they’d like to get better at. This is all documented in the 1:1 notes and we adjust/get ready for the next quarter.
Twice a year we chart their progress using the four frames I described last week as a guide.
A round of 360 reviews are done with their day-to-day teammates, all feedback received in the last six months from peers is compiled, and the leads discuss any impact they’ve been noticing about each report. This ensures the assessment is not manager-biased and the Designers receive more feedback to work with.
Once that is done, I will write up the assessment for them to reference later. Each assessment gives them a list of “Continue Doing,” “Improve Upon,” and “Stretch Goals” notes for each frame; Craft, Ownership, Team, and Influence.
We go over each section together and discuss the assessment. The item (one per category) on the “Stretch Goals” list are recommended for their quarterly goals but there is no expectation for them to tackle all four.
If everyone is as invested as we expect along the way, the bi-annual assessments never reveal surprises.
What I’ve written above is our general process for our design practice but mileage will vary. I, myself, vary from report to report.
Design problems with people are just like design problems with pixels; no solution fits all. I feel privileged to have been able to watch our team grow for the past two years and I’ve learned that a blanket approach doesn’t work. Learning is a unique process and should be treated with the same care as any other design problem.
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