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Editorial

Experience Designers: Are You Management Material?

6 minute read
Himanshu Sharma avatar
Three criteria to assess before taking the plunge into a manager role.

As a passionate experience designer, working in top companies like IBM, Michelin and HSBC, I often asked a lot of my fellow designers about their next career move. Some would say they would like to take up managerial roles and some say they enjoy what they do and would probably be designing for the rest of their life. 

As designers fall into the creative realm where they enjoy long hours of deep work, uninterrupted focus and mindfulness, stepping up towards a leadership role like manager can be quite cumbersome. It requires a complete mindshift that even the experienced ones find it difficult to manage.

So, how does a designer grow?

This made me curious as to whether becoming a manager is the only next step in a designer’s career. So, I set out to investigate and collect other’s views, and combine it with my own experience. I often spend time reading articles and books. I stumbled upon Julie Zhuo’s book — "The Making of the Manager" — and immediately it struck a chord with me. It just focused on the same thing I faced while I was working in a startup managing a team of designers. 

Having managed a team of designers earlier in my career, I felt a few things that I would like to share in this article. Why do people set out to take up a manager's role? What does a manager do? What are some criteria to assess if you are a right fit for a manager's role?

Why Do People Set Out to Take Up a Manager’s Role?

Before we deliberate on whether you are fit to take up a manager’s role, let’s see why people set out for a managerial role in the first place. 

I Like the Freedom to Make My Own Decisions

Most of us feel like becoming a manager and leading a team gives a sense of freedom and control. The amount of influence a manager has on people is something to feel proud of. 

While managers do get to make most of the decisions, it comes at the cost of the team. If the decisions are not in the interest of the team, a manager may lose trust and accountability. This would be  a dig in a manager’s effectiveness.

It’s far wiser to inspire people to take some action rather than tell them what to do. 

Related Article: Most Prominent Psychological Principles That Govern Product Design

I Feel Becoming a Manager Is the Next Thing in My Career Growth

Getting promoted to being a manager means different things to different people. Some see it in the light of getting a “promotion,” some see it as having more influence in others, some see it as a climb to corporate ladder that would reward them with more power, compensation and recognition, while some see it as an opportunity to take on challenging task and pushing oneself to get the most. 

While all these are true, what we must also bear in mind is the fact that things are changing now. Today companies reward people for their ability to produce value which can be greater than what managers get. As Cal Newport writes in his book "Deep Work — Two Core Abilities for Thriving in the New Economy":

  1. The ability to quickly master hard things.
  2. The ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.

These two things have more rewards than being in a managerial role. Not to mention, in Silicon Valley there are “10X Engineers” who command more compensation than being a director or VP. 

The Managerial Role Was Entrusted to Me

Of all the reasons one wants to become a manager, this one is different. Once a team is growing, you might be asked to share some part of the responsibility to manage a few people. Don’t feel obligated to say “yes” every time. If you really enjoy managing people then go for it. Otherwise, have a talk with your manager and ask him to help. 

A good start to get a feel of being a manager is to talk to other managers who recently transitioned to a manager's role and find out what the experience is like. Mentor other members in your team most likely juniors who are curious or hire an intern and coach to set him up for success as a pilot project.

Related Article: My Top 3 Lessons Learned as a CX Leader

Learning Opportunities

What Do Managers Do?

In one line, a manager’s role is to bring the best outcome from a team of people working toward achieving a goal. In other words, as Julie puts it, it is managing the people, purpose and process side of the things in an organization.

Here are three criteria to check if you are fit for the manager's role:

Criteria 1: Do I Have a General Liking for Interacting With People?

As a manager, the majority of your time would focus on helping your team thrive and hence talking and listening to them becomes your day-to-day activities. Do you like to spend a lot of time interacting with people or do you prefer long hours of uninterrupted focus? If you are the latter, chances are you won’t enjoy your day-to-day responsibilities of being a manager. If you are one of those who enjoy meetings and think you can use productive use of people skills then you are the right fit.

Criteria 2: Organizational Mission or Personal Goals: What's More Motivating?

Do you care more about your personal goals that come from designing great products or are you ready to adapt to the organization's mission? Adaptability is a key trait of a manager. Adaptability to what? Adaptability to an organization's mission and goals. 

As a manager since you are responsible for the team's outcome, the majority of the task you undertake is unglamourous like managing conflicts, coaching and training employees where there are skill gaps or managing hiring and firing. Suppose you love designing the product and would like to only play a product designers’ role; your goals would then be at odds with organizational goals. Chances are you would not be a right fit for the manager’s role. 

Criteria 3: Can I Provide Emotional Stability in a Challenging Situation?

If you are someone on whom your friends or known ones leans on during difficult times to gather support and courage then you are the ones who are gonna be the right fit. 

As managers, you have to deal with a lot of personalities and as humans everyone comes with a different experience, fears, strengths and perspectives. You need to have a high empathy and leadership to manage tough situations. 

Can you tell a person that he or she is fired or that they are not performing well? 

Can you handle a situation where a person shares his personal tragedies and that he is not able to perform? Can you provide shoulder to an employee who is going through a rough patch? Being a manager is about being human yet adhering to organization goals. If you can handle these gracefully then you are the right fit.

I hope these criteria help you decide if you're suitable for the role.

About the author

Himanshu Sharma

Himanshu Sharma is currently working in HSBC as product design lead. He is focused on holistic human-centered design practices to bring together design, business and tech to deliver innovative experiences that transform services and products.