People management practices

Posted in

Leadership

on

Oct 10, 2022

I received formal training for the profession I have. I was lucky enough to have had a good education, including 4 years dedicated to studying Graphic Design, which taught me the principles of my work for many years coming out of university.

Moving to the digital domain, adjusting and adapting to what we now call Product Design (or UX/UI design as some still prefer), I added a bunch of technical learnings to my arsenal as new tools and technologies emerged. I loved being on top of the game of something; from my perspective, it was just a matter of learning by seeing how others did it (thank you, Youtube and the internet for that).

But things changed. Managing people. The path that my career took, a bit unintentionally, was to work with something that I did not have formal training on. Neither was I able to simply find books and online courses that would, effectively at least, teach me how to do it.

I've always liked to be part of a team and supporting the people working with me, listening to them, and sometimes giving them some tips or advice was something that made me happy. I had the chance, a few years ago, to do that as my integral work. Managing others' though is much harder than I thought it'd be. This thing I liked became my responsibility, and I had the duty to enable people to succeed. Which was a terrifying idea while, at least while it was sinking in.

Being a good leader and manager is a life-long pursuit, but since I've learned so much these past years, mainly through trial and error (big thanks to all my former reports for coping with me), I wanted to share some of what worked for me:

Career progression

Design, more specifically, Product Design, is a relatively new discipline. Because of its intangible nature (compared to more pragmatic fields such as programming, for example), people (and companies) might have different interpretations of what Design is, what it does and how Designers should be compensated.

I was lucky to have had the chance to define Designer's career frameworks in my previous jobs, and here are the most essential parts of it.

Find a healthy balance between hard skills (a.k.a, the craft) and soft skills (e.g., communication, collaboration, openness to feedback, etc.).Expect one to be outstanding at only some criteria. Look for building T-shaped professionalsFrom Associate to Senior levels, it's about honing the craft; from Senior and above, it's about communication, relationships, influencing people and business decisions, etc.Mentorship is a skill that Designers can start developing early in their careers. Start from the ones which show potential in educating and influencing others and give them tools for honing that skill. There are so many advantages to this, such as: improving the Design culture, developing future leaders, speeding up the process of leveling up the team, and more

Work and personal development

Whether you have a team of one or 30, Designers must have time to develop their skills further. Companies should encourage a share of employees' time for self-improvement. There's plenty of evidence that this strategy pays off sooner than later.

The way I approach this is through personal OKRs. They should be a clear, measurable way to allow Designers to pick a topic to focus their learning. It should be somehow beneficial to either/or the team or the company, meaning. The new skills can be pragmatically applied to their day-to-day practice.

A suggested period for personal development is around 10% of their weekly time. This can vary depending on how much the team and business can leverage the newly acquired skills (e.g., having someone learning motion design might be directly tied to saving costs with freelancers. This holds even truer if the skills are transferable and if it's a known knowledge gap of the team as a whole)

The curse of the middle-level manager

Middle managers are the tier of managers who oversee at least two lower levels of junior staff and report upwards to the executive team. Their role in the business is to connect the executive management with the individual contributors at the bottom of the organizational chart*

Middle managers need to be connected with the intricacies of day-to-day business and a higher-level strategy. At the same time, developing talent, staffing teams, hiring new joiners, and, most times, continuing to contribute on an individual level. That's a lot, and it's definitely not for the faint of heart. We don't own a team budget or are solely responsible for promotion cases or compensation changes. At the same time, middle managers have a lot of power since their approach can directly affect changes at the bottom of the Organization.

Some companies don't have them. Some see them as superfluous and a representation of hierarchical waste. Many "flat" companies out there have fewer managerial figures. For Design, all this is new. Even 5 years ago, the number of administrative roles, not to mention executive roles for designers, was close to none. As with many other things, Designers have to once more reinvent themselves and use their flexibility skills to find ways to build strong Design organizations.

Setting up the pace

A manager should be a great leader every time. They should be the person that brings energy to the team and reminds people of the bigger picture and the meaning behind all the Figma files and brainstorming boards Designers are building day in and day out.

People, managers, and leaders set up the pace of the team. They help shape the balance between quality and speed. If you don't see yourself acting like a steward to the team, you should consider not taking the managerial path.

Organization

If you're not organized as a manager, you very likely won't succeed in getting others to be. Organization means clarity and transparency. You need to remember that your job is to influence people, starting from how you set up your calendar to how you run 1:1s.

Documentation

I used to say to my reports that any documentation is better than none. The fluidity of our organizations demands us to leave some paper trail. You are still determining when someone else will pick up the Work you're producing now. And don't trust your memory for Documentation, do the minimal, but record things as they happen. You'll thank me later.

Sometimes, all you need to be is a good pairing buddy

People management sometimes, especially for Designers, is not about discussing career progression, project updates, and setting up meetings. You must be there when someone needs to pair up and solve problems together. That is an excellent way to build empathy for your colleague's difficulties, keep yourself sharp with Design skills, tools, and trends, and also understand in real life the things that your report is struggling and thriving at.


* Source: BizFluent

Contact

Based in

🇩🇪 Berlin/Germany

Phone/Whatsapp

+49 0174 7815236

Email

minasdesign@gmail.com

Social

Work experience

2022 (current)

Senior Product Design Manager @ Moonfare

2018-2022

Product Design Manager @ HelloFresh

Now reading

Contact

Based in

🇩🇪 Berlin/Germany

Phone/Whatsapp

+49 0174 7815236

Email

minasdesign@gmail.com

Social

Work experience

2022 (current)

Senior Product Design Manager @ Moonfare

2018-2022

Product Design Manager @ HelloFresh

Now reading

Contact

Based in

🇩🇪 Berlin/Germany

Phone/Whatsapp

+49 0174 7815236

Email

minasdesign@gmail.com

Social

Work experience

2022 (current)

Senior Product Design Manager @ Moonfare

2018-2022

Product Design Manager @ HelloFresh

Now reading