Over the last 7 years I’ve had the opportunity to build teams (over 80 people) and grow the capability of those that I’ve hired.
With no formal management training a.k.a. learning as you’re doing, I’ve had to learn a lot, quickly.
Some parts went well, some parts could have gone better. I’ve made mistakes yet have also seen people flourish.
I never had the option to choose whether I wanted to be a manager, it’s always managed to be something I’ve been thrust into.
I’ve a varied background having spent time in the military before starting my career in the digital industry. The military helped. Hierarchical in nature with a command structure, it was easy to find yourself in a position of management. It was never something I would shy away from, more so as my impostor syndrome wouldn’t let me.
Even though I’m reserved and an introvert, I always felt managing people was a thing I could do.
This isn’t a story about my beginnings, though.
This is about people-centred management for those that are unsure about it or how to feel less like an impostor when you move into it.
I know that management isn’t for everyone. Some people just want to focus on their core profession or craft which I respect and others avoid management like the plague, I respect you folks too.
I’ve found that if you like people, if you like talking a lot and listening even more then you’re probably well suited to management.
making people feel safe
supporting a person’s professional growth
understanding people on a personal level
supporting people on a personal level
enabling people to do much more than you at a greater scale
creating an environment where people can bring their whole selves their work
asking more questions than telling people what to do
As you can see, in that short list, there’s a lot of people involved in management.
Whether you’re moving in to a new team at any level or are moving into a management position within your existing team there is something important which needs to take place.
You need to understand and know those you’re managing on a different level than before. The people now in your management may have been peers, you also may have never known them before the day you became their manager.
And this brings me on to the famous ‘1–2–1’. Those things you’ve had in the past which may or may not have been valuable but should be one of the most important things you do as a professional.
As a manager you should take pride in these, that you’re providing everything you should in them as well as helping your team member be the best them. Equally as a member of staff you should also get everything out of these as you can.
They take many styles. From 30 minutes to an hour, covering many different details.
The very first 1–2–1 is the most important and can prime your managerial experience to be the most rewarding. From early on I understood that in order to do the best job of management I had to understand the individual on a personal level.
The whole first hour is built around one enquiry…
Let’s start from the beginning, tell me your story from you growing up to through school and your first job.
If I don’t know where the person has come from, what they’ve gone through and the relationships they’ve had with other humans I’d be hard-pressed to understand them enough to support their future personal and professional growth.
I look to understand their family make-up when they were young, what Mum and Dad were like and, ethics the individual may have learned and relationships with siblings. A lot can be unpicked in that and as an adult there are a huge amount of learned behaviours that we pick up form experiences in our youth, both good and bad.
I dig into their education, what they got excited about and what just didn’t click with them and find out the reasons why. Were there blockers in place or were certain decisions wilfully made knowing they would be sent down a specific path?
I like to find out about their working life, how and where they got started. Did they have that hunger to chase their dreams and or did they have a specific plan for how those dreams would unfold?
This method has worked well for me over the years, it’s enabled me to learn far more about the people in my charge to successfully support them and develop them into some of the greatest professionals I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.
Management is about people. Stay people-centred and you’ll do ok.
We’re now a lot more careful of the content we use and how it is designed.
More content design and strategy roles are becoming available than ever before.
Organisations and businesses now understand that designing content in a way that humans understand has a real effect.
Even with all of the work we do on explaining things like the famous Good services are verbs poster above, once something gains a little bit of traction it can be a challenge to slow it down to see if it’s fit for purpose.
One of the most rewarding things I get to do on a weekly basis is travel around our six sites, catching up with the design teams but also speak to delivery directors and product owners. It gives me a good sense of what’s going on and how design can help impact things in a positive way at the right time. I get to communicate with a lot of people and most often than not I listen in and offer advice or guidance where it’s needed.
I pick up on language that’s being used and the way we as a collective are describing things. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been pushing for a change in the way describe a few things to help communicate more effectively and make sure we think about things in a certain way.
Describing things in the right way
The examples below are specific to government, however, may also be heard in your organisation or business. Feel free to muse on them and use them. I’ll try to stay succinct rather than ranting.
End-to-end service design should be full service design
There’s a lot of service design in government. For whatever reason the phrase ‘end-to-end’ came about when talking about it. It may have came out of people saying “don’t just look at that bit, look at all of it”, and when you say that to a person working on a specific service, ‘all of it’ is that service.
I struggle to think of examples of where services simply end as they simply blend into something else. The blend may be blurry, it may be over an amount of time but if we focus on something being ‘end-to-end’ we’re creating a solidified view on services being silo’d entities.
Full service design on the other hand enables a human brain to think there is more, even if it’s not in their direct remit to work on it. They’ll refrain from sticking a fence around something and support people in thinking about joined up services to fulfil user needs.
Public facing services should be services the public use
I’ve been guilty of using this in the past and now pinch myself when the words even come close. Let’s communicate with normal words and phrases. We work on a lot of services, and guess what, the public use a lot of these services.
Staff facing services should be services our staff use
Guilty on this one too. But you guessed it. Our staff use a lot of services to do their jobs as well.
Internal staff should be our staff
Our staff, no matter which area of the department they’re from do an amazing job. There’s a lot of them too. I’m still not sure what ‘internal staff’ are, I think they’re just ‘our staff’ so that’s an easy one.
Just a few things to describe a little better and more accurately. If you think differently, let’s chat.
I recently gave a talk at Camp Digital on professional progression. I took the attendees through multiple aspects of what they should be doing in their careers in order to progress.
A section of the talk is dedicated to my own working theory about time, skill levels and focus.
This theory depends on a few things. I believe these things have to happen in order for the theory to be correct.
As a human you must;
put the effort in
work hard smart
I present amounts of experience in a time measurement which are linked to skill levels and areas of focus.
In most cases a person should be focusing on three things;
the practice of what they do
The time measurements and skill levels look a bit like this.
What should your focus be in that, in order for you to keep progressing? Remember that you can progress personally, professionally (skill) or in your career (level). You’re aiming for a steady mix of all three.
The first two experience levels (junior and mid-weight) should be focused on 80% working on delivery and the practical side of your role and 20% on personal and professional development.
The third experience level should be focused on 70% on delivery and the practical side of your role, 20% on personal and professional development and 10% community building (support for recruitment / mentoring etc)
The fourth experience level should be 80% on leadership and community building and 20% personal and professional development
The fifth experience level should be 80% strategy and leadership and 20% personal and professional development.
Let’s take a look at the specifics of those percentages.
Junior to senior levels
Not a lot changes from Junior to Senior, you should be focusing a lot on the practitioner side of your role. This is your time to shine in terms of the what and how of the things you do. The personal development in these should be based around communication, listening and getting a mentor. Professional development in these levels should be making you a better practitioner and any learning which may support the business. Community building should be supporting the business in terms of building practices or communities of professions.
Leadership of the profession and making sure it is embedded across the business, leading the community in terms of quality and direction and building the community by leading on the hiring and structure of the team. An additional practical side of this level is working with the different businesses areas to embed user-centred design and identify any problems which could be solved with the support of a user-centred design approach.
Directorship of a business is a larger dynamic shift that other roles. Most of your role, an entire 80% will be focused on strategy. Strategy on capability build, cost-cutting and/or profit building. Leadership of all the professions you look after and director those lead positions in the quality, direction and how to build capability at the right time. Professional development in this level should learning more about those practical outcomes. I’ve found that it usually comes down to mentorships or speaking to as many people who have been there before. Personal development looks like a lot of communicating, prioritisation techniques and sitting down with a counsellor to support you with how to work with clarity as much as you can.
I hope this helps. If you’ve got any questions drop me a tweet or an email.
Time. Thinking and stressing about it took up a lot of my life. It increased panic and guilt ten-fold.
“What if I’m late?”
“What if this isn’t finished by X?”
“People expect this of me.”
“I need to not let people wait.”
“You (whoever you was at the time) need to do something as quick as what I would.”
“Why isn’t this done already?”
“Why is this thing taking longer than it should?”
One thing would lead to another and stress and anxiety would turn in to some undesirable traits. I’d get frustrated either with myself or someone else. Internalising it all.
The above used to happen in the past, before the last 12-18 months.
And then something changed.
You see, I’ve been quite open in the fact that I see a counsellor and I’ve been seeing one for quite some time. And whilst a lot of magic happens in those sessions, there was also magic happening on the outside.
As he and I have discussed. I like to self-mentally-medicate myself. And whilst that sounds a little odd. I give myself the capacity to think about me, the things around me and the people that mean the most to me.
Like my two beautiful daughters.
The thing that changed, was my ability to think about time. What it was, what it meant and how it made me and others feel. I realised that I seemed to always be in a rush. I always used terminology like “we’re in a rush” or “we’re going to be late” or “this needs to be done now”.
There is no peace in those three statements. And then your two little daughters in-turn pick up on the fact that they also might be in a rush. There’s no happiness in being in a rush, there’s no happiness in your life when it’s dictated by a measurement of time.
So I have a new theory and one which I’ve been living my life around for a little while now.
You will never be happy if your life is run time-bound.
The most minor of elements of stress, when caught up with others create a larger sense of discourse.
Eradicating these will increase your level of happiness.
So now, I care less about time. I care less about seconds, minutes and hours.
I do the things I need to do. I do the things that need more brain capacity when I’m feeling great. If I’m feeling tired, sad or lethargic I do the easy things.
I would rather get somewhere with enough time rather than run the last hundred yards. But even if time has gotten the best of me, I’m still not running a hundred yards. If it causes me to be ‘late’ in other peoples eyes. I’ll apologise. They’ll thank me for not adding to my stress by running that hundred yards at some point.
One of the questions I put to people is “No one died, did they?” I wish the answer is always no…
And with that, everything is now at peace again.
The changes I’ve noticed in my life have been incredible. Things get done and there is no more rushing around.
We put far too much of a focus on the measurement of time.
These days I spend my time fulfilling my role as Head of Interaction Design within DWP Digital. Specifically making sure things are joined up and consistent across services.
There’s a lot going on*.
The approach to consistency
We follow an agile method of working. By that I’m describing the real agile, the being agile *not* doing agile.
If you follow government design, you’ll know that we work through stages. These are discovery, alpha, private and public beta and live. They are stages through a services life-cycle.
The theory is;
discovery – finding user needs (heavy amount of user research)
alpha – as many approaches to fulfil the user needs (heavy amount of user research and prototyping)
private beta – focused approach which meets user needs (invited user groups and a heavy amount of user research)
public beta – the approach and researching hypotheses (heavy amount of user research)
live – the approach and researching very precise hypotheses
This higher level approach is tried and tested. It works.
Yet, I find the more granular areas are where it becomes unstuck. This is mainly down to process and team set-up.
The Nitty Gritty
A multi-disciplinary team is just that. Your team must have the correct complement of professions to achieve its goal. Each role should know their responsibilities. Each role in the team needs to have empathy for the other roles. If your team hasn’t had a session on describing the work they do to each other then take this advice, do it as soon as you can.
Because a good iterative approach is a team sport.
Imagine empathy being the oil that helps everything run smoothly. It causes relationships between the team to be like smooth gear changes in a car or the way a pianist moves their fingers across keys.
Working in sprints
We work in two-week sprints. Having done this for a lot of years it is a natural amount of time.
The best way to break a two-week sprint down is to use a process wheel. This will get you going and then everything else becomes natural.
You can mark out your ‘wheel’ with the 10 days you have available (two weeks minus weekends). Include the following (in no order);
backlog planning (and scoring if its development work)
creating a prototype
organising user research (this can increase depending on the type/place/audience for research)
Work with your product owner to prioritise what goes into a sprint. This means you can create your prototype and do your user research. Then run your analysis, play the information back and keep iterating.
During this, the other members of the team may be doing other tasks. These could be stakeholder management, future planning or development.
The design team should be pulling information from all corners of the team. Discussing things with developers, business analysts, data analysts and more.
Design and research must be communicated to the product owner. Help them understand where the design is meeting user needs. Communicate where it isn’t and any hypotheses which have arisen from findings.
At the end of every sprint, the team should document their work. Everyone has been in the position of trying to remember why something was done a certain way 6 months ago.
If a new piece of design is created and becomes a pattern, this should be shared. This could become part of your organisation’s design system.
Good product development
If you follow the advice above, if you use a process wheel, your service team will start working in a more joined up way.
All parts of the team will be working in parallel. Hitting sprint goals and delivering over and over again.
This article will be one of the most important you’ve read about impostor syndrome and mental health in our industry.
It will cover several points;
mental health support
what we can do to recognise it
how it plays into our personal and professional lives
how to deal with it
how to begin overcome it
A recent report published by the Varkey Foundation suggested young people in the UK have some of the poorest mental well-being in the world.
Funding on mental health has dropped over recent years in the UK. Currently, it takes 5 weeks or longer to get a referral to see a mental health professional. Taking that into account, it’s not just our young people who are being affected by the lack of funding and support.
We don’t talk about mental health. Mental health is still stigmatised. stigmatization of mental health challenges is a clear catalyst for a negative impact to a persons well-being.
The topic of mental health is very broad, but there’s one area which affects our industry more than any other. Impostor Syndrome.
The persistent fear of “being found out” or of “being exposed as a fraud” in the workplace
I believe that Impostor Syndrome is one of the largest and most damaging challenges we face in our professional lives.
Whilst Impostor Syndrome is not classified as a mental illness or disorder, it is often recognised as a reaction to certain situations – those situations are often amplified in our line of work.
We do nothing to combat it because we end up in a perpetual cycle of fear of not being able to see a way out.
Some of us know exactly what it is.
Some people recognise and suffer from the feelings associated with it.
Some people simply haven’t recognised that it’s a thing as it may be just one or two symptoms that they’re affected by.
I’ve met a lot of people in my time in the industry and there are but a few who don’t suffer from impostor syndrome. Even those that seem like they’re the most confident, once you get them behind closed doors, they’re quick to break down the facade.
Recognising Impostor Syndrome
There are several traits and behaviour associated with impostor syndrome. If you recognise any of them, I provide a little help to get you through them later in the article.
You have difficulty accepting praise
Ever been praised for doing a piece of work only to completely discount the praise you’ve been given? It’s not about being modest with ‘the impostor’, as ‘the impostor genuinely feels unworthy.
You discount your success
You may have heard yourself say “it wasn’t really me who managed to do something successfully, it was everyone around me”. You push your successes away in fear that it might open the fraud door.
You’re an overworker
You overwork to prove to everyone around you that you’re good enough or your work is good enough. Working longer hours and running yourself into the ground obviously, means that you’re amazing.
You forget that working smarter is better than working harder.
You have to be the best
The impostor will not let you be anything less than the best. Now imagine the perpetual cycle of trying to be the best in a world where everyone else also thinks they’re supposed to be the best?
You’re a perfectionist
You hold yourself to impossible, unbelievable and often unachievable high-standards.
Everything has to be flawless, anything less is a mark that you’re a fraud.
A mistake makes you feel worthless.
You avoid showing confidence
One of the most common traits that I’ve seen in those that suffer from impostor syndrome.
There’s a fear of showing confidence, in that doing so could come off as cocky or in-turn you’re asked questions that you may not know the answer to which then perpetuates the cycle once more.
Everyone else is doing fine
The voice in the back of your head is telling you that everyone else is doing perfectly fine in life, thus everything is wrong with you. You’re not that good and everyone else is better than you are.
You’re never enough
Impostor guilt is multi-pronged.
You feel like you’re ever doing enough and you believe everyone else around you is thinking bad of you for that reason.
You’re a fraud
When all of these things are mixed together, you’ve got the result of being convinced that you’re not enough and you are that fraud.
What do I know?
I wouldn’t be able to go into this much detail about something so personal if I didn’t feel like I could add value somewhere in your lives without any experience. I’ve been through it.
I believe I suffered from impostor syndrome, not just slightly, but I was completely overcome by it. It still sometimes niggles in the background, but far less than it ever did.
To tell you more about my impostor, I asked a number of people to add 3 different words to describe me to an anonymous form. These were people who I’ve known for many years. At some point, they’ve been colleagues or personal friends.
This is what happened.
The results made me smile. Of course, they would.
But let me tell you about my impostor’s view on those words.
My impostor would fixate on the words in white. Let me take you through what my impostor would do.
Calm To the outside world, I would be calm, wouldn’t break a sweat. On the inside, my imposter would be in an absolute panic and be getting uptight and agitated.
To the outside world, I would be fearless. My imposter would hold me back every step of the way “You can’t do that, Gav. You’re not strong enough or good enough to do that.” You would not believe the amount of strength it took me to do some things. It was exhausting.
To the outside world, I would be strong. On the inside, I’d be an emotional wreck which manifested itself in the worst of ways. You’re acting strong, but you’re actually very sad, there are only one of two ways that can go and both are bad.
Of course, I was dependable. If I was anything less than I was a failure. I was worthless to the people I was working with or for. I focused on being too dependable, at work to prove a point and at home for the completely wrong thing.
A yes guy. I had to portray that I was determined, again, anything less and there wasn’t any point in me being around.
My impostor laughed really hard at this one. My imposter told me every minute of every day that I wasn’t experienced enough. I wasn’t allowed a voice, I wasn’t allowed to offer help or advice.
On the outside I was together, I could hold my own. My impostor had me running around chasing my own tail. My to-do list was 19 pages long and I could only put a line through 3 things in a day.
I had to show I was busy. My impostor told me I had to. If I wasn’t busy then I wasn’t good enough. I had to always do more, no matter if I was on my death-bed, fresh out of an operation or even when my Dad passed away in early 2016. The guilt I felt for not working days after my Dad had died was catastrophic.
Combating Impostor Syndrome
But why should WE attempt to combat impostor syndrome, especially in the workplace?
In our industry, our teams are made up of the most intelligent and talented professionals we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I don’t want any of us to do ourselves a disservice in thinking we’re not good enough to be there. I want to provide us all with the confidence we rightly deserve.
Combating impostor syndrome will benefit our personal and professional development, providing us with a higher degree of confidence and the ability to communicate more effectively.
Here’s how to start…
Yep, I said it. That’s the one that people say “oh, fluffy bullshit…” too.
Well let me tell you something. If I hadn’t found self-awareness, I wouldn’t be alive today. Things got to a very dark place and without a support network and self-awareness, the mornings wouldn’t have been light anymore.
Self-awareness is having the conscious knowledge of your own character and feelings. This is the one thing that will enable you to tell every impostor syndrome trait to go away. Once you’ve figured out ‘you’, that’s all that matters.
We need to provide ourselves with the time for introspection, the time to assess ourselves.
By providing ourselves the time, we can start recognising our shortcomings.
We need to recognise our shortcomings. We need to start the process. Don’t forget this next bit… EVERYONE has shortcomings, but we can reframe our thinking because shortcomings are fine to have. As soon as we begin to recognise our shortcomings, our strengths shine through.
If you’re finding it hard to start, here’s an idea. If you work in a company or organisation you may do mid-year or end of year reviews. As part of this, you may do peer reviews. If you do, give those peers the permission to give you all kinds of feedback, including the feedback that is hard to hear. By doing this, we can get valuable insights into our own behaviours. Let your guard down, invite the feedback in, give people the permission to do so.
Figure out who we are, don’t apologise for who we are, then become even greater at who we naturally are.
Large organisations are often found reacting to the needs of their users or business.
A reason but not an excuse for this is that legacy systems need maintaining. Anything ‘new’ is bolted to them which creates significant challenges over time.
By doing this they end up in a journey of reactive product development which is almost impossible to get out of.
Rarely are they seen being proactive by working towards future needs or innovation.
Reactive product development
A large organisation may have a roadmap for ‘Product X’. ‘Product X’ is a newer version of something they created 10 years ago. Groundbreaking to the organisation, yet, to the general public there is no change.
They are reacting to a potential need which will take far too long to produce. By the time delivery happens the need may well have changed. It could take them anywhere from 1-5 years to deliver due to the challenges they may face along the way.
Proactive product development
Organisations that are innovative and proactive can push new products out in 6 to 12 months or less.
Agile organisations need the foresight to identify existing needs. These may be un-met or their audience doesn’t know they need it yet.
The latter is risky. If you know your audience and understand how things may align with some degree of certainty then this can be de-risked.
Making sure your product is underpinned with newer, more stable technologies will hopefully avoid any challenges.
To provide some context, here are some proactive product examples;
Electric car (Tesla)
The electric car has been around for many years, and for the most part has been ahead of its time. So much so that many car manufacturers until recently (recently==years) have been less inclined to pursue. Partly due to a huge burden from a cost perspective. Yet, companies like Tesla who joined the market solely looking at an electric car offering may well seem ahead of the time. But in years to come they’ve had the foresight to identify and meet an unknown consumer need.
I believe the Apple Watch or any wearable device (not dependant on manufacturer) is ahead of its time. Wearables will become the norm in the future and will advance to implants. There is a known un-met need, consumers are just not yet aware of it.
Everyone in tech was excited by the prospect of tablets. I still remember the first generation iPad. I still remember people taking them back or selling them as they didn’t need one. Years later, tablet usage is at an all time high. An unknown un-met need was met at a later date.
Monzo – A new type of bank
And it’s not just Monzo now. For a long time the financial industry space has been ripe for disruption. AI driven banking… the opportunities are endless. Your traditional banks are yet to even remotely get on top of this.
Launch a rocket into space. Launch a rocket into space with a satellite a top of it. Launch a rocket into space with a satellite a top of it and then have the rocket land to be re-used.
This is all in the past 3 years.
The innovation in this is mind-blowing.
I could go on and on… but one thing is for sure, older, larger organisations are stuck.
They react to user need based on their current infrastructure. Big change rarely happens. Integrating with things that already exist elsewhere because “someone else is doing it”.
When was the last time you saw a massive overhaul in banking from one of the large institutions? When was the last time you experienced ground-breaking change in the medical industry? When was the last time you saw a change in the way your local council interacted with you?
When I say ‘large organisation’, I’m talking about age-old very large institutions. They’ve had ‘their way’ of doing things for 5, 10, 15 or even more years.
We’re currently in a time where ‘agile’ is more-a-less the norm. Some are doing agile and others are being agile.
By being agile you can iterate and deliver in the same fashion.
Yet, a reactive product development approach for a large organisation looks like this…
Business need for ‘X’. User research begins on whether ‘X’ is viable. It seems kind of viable so design and development starts on ‘X’ and takes 2 years to deliver. 2 years later, ‘X’ is still in development on. It has been live for a month and user and business needs have changed. ‘X’ doesn’t look like it’s required anymore.
I’m yet to see a large organisation that does something different from that.
That approach is wrong.
Being reactive can be beneficial in certain circumstances. As long as you’re iterating, measuring, delivering and improving.
Service design and proactive product development
Service design and user research should be embedded into every product or service.
Because you will be able to visualise and recognise met and un-met needs.
Once these are recognised you will then be able to ask questions like;
How will we meet the needs of our users in 2, 4, 6 or 10 years?
What are potential changes in society which may have an effect on our product or service?
How can we meet the needs of those changes?
Are we in a good place that we can design something which changes the behaviour of our users for the greater good?
What is the problem that we’re trying to solve and can this be done iteratively?
It’s all well and good to do digital transformation, but that is not innovation.
We need to be proactive. We need to push, we need to be bold, we need to be nimble and keep moving forwards.
We need to build on our transformation with innovation and then maybe, just maybe we’ll get somewhere.