Unlocking Growth: How Design Managers Can Empower their Team’s Success

In the dynamic world of design management, the responsibility of nurturing and growing design professionals falls squarely on the shoulders of managers and executives. A skilled design manager understands that fostering the potential of each team member not only leads to a happier and more fulfilled workforce but also contributes to better business outcomes. However, not all design managers embrace this crucial aspect of their role, and the potential for growth often remains untapped or underutilized.

The Impact of Generosity

Legendary CEO Jack Welch, known for his tenure at General Electric, attributed much of his managerial success to what he called the “generosity gene.” He believed that being generous with support, guidance, and opportunities for growth was the key to building strong and successful teams. His reports consistently acknowledged the positive difference he made in their careers, highlighting the power of generosity as a leadership trait.

Growing Designers: A Deliberate Journey

For design managers and executives, guiding their team members along a growth trajectory should be a deliberate and intentional process. Drawing from experiences in co-founding startups, building design teams, and managing designers, there are valuable insights to be gleaned. The key is to create an environment where designers are nurtured, challenged, and supported to reach their full potential.

Tips for Fostering Growth in Designers

  1. A Level Above: Encourage your team to perform at a level slightly higher than their current designation. This not only pushes them to excel but also sets the stage for timely promotions when deserved.
  2. Staffing for Growth: Assign designers to projects that offer growth opportunities and stretch their capabilities, helping them develop new skills and perspectives.
  3. Upleveling Craft and Product Thinking: Foster improvement in design craft and product thinking through regular design reviews, critiques, mentorship, and collaboration.
  4. Impact Focus: Encourage your team to seek higher impact with their work, emphasizing the importance of creating value at various levels.
  5. Effective 1:1s: Conduct constructive and insightful one-on-one sessions with each team member, providing feedback and seeking insights to support their growth.
  6. Tailored Growth Plan: Develop individualized growth plans that align personal goals with the career opportunities available within the organization.
  7. Co-Learning: Foster a culture of co-learning, where designers of all levels share expertise and learn from one another.
  8. Healthy Atmosphere: Cultivate a supportive and psychologically safe environment that encourages teamwork, mentorship, and personal growth.
  9. Coaching in Tough Situations: Offer coaching and guidance to designers facing challenges, intervening only when necessary and taking responsibility for any issues.
  10. Advocate for Your Team: Champion your team’s achievements beyond internal interactions, praising their work to key stakeholders and leadership to promote recognition and prevent valuable talents from leaving the organization.

The Power of Deliberate Growth

Design managers who prioritize the growth and success of each team member unlock the full potential of their workforce. By providing opportunities for development, fostering a healthy work environment, and advocating for their team, managers can create a thriving community of designers eager to contribute their best to the organization.

Being deliberate about helping each team member succeed, in ways that resonate with their aspirations, is the key to not only growing their skills but also to retaining top talent. In the end, the growth of designers translates to the growth of the organization as a whole. The true measure of a successful design manager lies in their ability to empower their team’s success and create a legacy of impactful and fulfilled design professionals.

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