Know what “tickles” each person. I like to have an initial chat when I start working with new hires in order to learn their goals and find out how you can help to achieve them. It can vary from trying out a new tool, or improving certain skills.
I’ve also found (both as a manager and someone being managed) that I do my best work when I’m encouraged to pursue the particular aspect of design that most interests me in the moment. Knowing what these are for your team also allows you to hire to fill the gaps in interest, not just the gaps in need.
Give designers proper exposure and credit. Designers have to sell their work and persona all the time, help them to present their work internally, online, and to clients. By increasing the designers exposure the will feel more accountable for the results of their work.
Not only will designers feel more accountable for their results, they’ll also feel appreciated when their individual contributions are celebrated. Failing to acknowledge their work by taking credit as the manager or as the organization will make for bitter designers, particularly on projects where one person clearly ran the show.
Own the culture. Agencies need a statement their employees can refer to and identify with. An agency without a statement is like a coworking space filled with freelancers. Make sure the mission statement is clear and you hire people that believe in it. Agencies need to invest back in their employees. Pizza and offsites will only take you so far. Get back to what tickles each person and make sure you dedicate resources to it.
I love this idea. We don’t yet have a defined mission statement for SproutVideo, but this has inspired me to create one.
Don’t sugar coat the facts, but keep it constructive. Be transparent when something has gone wrong and be equally as transparent when something has gone great. In my experience, knowing where you have failed will simply help you next time you see yourself in the same situation.
Damn, if this isn’t the hardest part of being a design manager (or a person working with other people). Being honest about what could be better without causing people to be defensive, and finding ways to be supportive while still challenging people to improve, is a very delicate balance. In my experience having a relationship built on trust and respect will help make feedback sessions more productive.
Finally, as a creative director, make yourself dispensable. Help your team to step up so they can drive themselves and the project without your help. Being extremely busy only means you are not empowering people enough therefore you are creating dependencies around yourself.
This is maybe the second hardest part of managing a design team: I really struggle to cede control on a project I care about, and the feeling that I could do it better and faster if I did it myself is a seductive one. Obviously that’s not sustainable (or usually even true!), so this reminder to delegate and trust your team really resonated with me.