At mobileLIVE, design is one of the core functions of the organization. While growing our design team, we felt an immense responsibility to provide promising career paths for our people. This meant we had to build something solid from the ground up while also being adaptable to our changing needs.
We started by building a career ladder for all design roles within the organization. The objective was to make sure that the ladder answered the following questions:
In the search for answers to these questions, we came up with the following career ladder:
Every designer starts as an associate, learning and growing their way to mid- and senior-level positions. After the senior level, designers can decide to pursue either the individual contributor path or the leadership path, as both offer very different levels of responsibility and role expectations. Of course, designers can opt to switch their paths. An individual contributor can always become a manager, and a manager can go on to become an individual contributor at any time in their career, but usually, that comes with a big change in their day-to-day responsibilities, and we want the designers to understand this.
Next, we wanted to give designers the tools they would need to succeed in their current roles and help managers have better conversations with designers around the subject of growth and development. We attempted to learn from some of the best design community standards and examples, and we defined clear role expectations for each role.
For each role’s expectation, we tried to include a good mix of hard and soft skills. Below is an example of our product design role expectations.
Now to add accountability and dialogue to the mix, we run skill assessments once a year where input is taken from every designer themselves, key designated client-side stakeholders, and the leads at mobileLIVE against the role expectations.
We also have our designers fill out the same skill assessment for their own selves when they join our team. We urge designers to be as honest as possible, ranking improving (low) anywhere is seen as an opportunity for growth and not as a sign of weakness. This is the same principle that we follow when we are discussing the results of yearly assessment results that we receive from our clients and other stakeholders.
For the rating of each skill, we use the following grading system that we learned from our amazing friends at Salesforce. The word scale makes a lot more sense than the number scale and reduces subjectivity when it comes to rating skills.
The assessment results from different stakeholders are received, aggregated, and shared with each designer and their design leads. Our Design Ops team expertly manages this process from start to finish. The leads then engage in conversations with designers to help them better understand the expectations of their roles. Break the expectations into achievable goals and help them get better at what they do. The leads are also responsible for creating opportunities for designers to polish their skills in areas where client-side opportunities are not sufficient. This conversation is carried over to the weekly one-on-ones between the designer and their lead, and they both work together for the designer’s career growth.
Above is a hypothetical example of what a designer assessment result looks like. Different colors represent scores from different stakeholders. The greater the distance a point is from the center of the radar, the greater the level of proficiency in each skill. 0 in the graph is mapped to non-scoring, 1 is improving, 2 is achieving, and 3 on the graph is excelling. In the above chart, the designer is perceived as excelling in visual design by one stakeholder and as achieving in visual design by their other stakeholders.
Looking at the assessments, we commend the designers for being amazing at so many things, and then for the next year’s learning and development program, we start by focusing on areas where we see our designers not excelling or fully achieving expectations and define priorities from there. Seeing designers excel at multiple ends also gives us an indication that the designer has started to outgrow their current role.
For example, in the above evaluation, we would want to work with the designer on their product thinking, mentoring, culture, design thinking, and facilitation skills as starters and then move on to strengthening their other skills.
One of my key learnings in recent years has been that transparency and good communication are the keys to any initiative’s success. With these assessments, we also try to create an opportunity for open and clear conversations. Here is a recent communication that I shared with the team on how they can make the most of their assessments in a very positive way and use this information to their advantage.
It all feels quite amazing, to look at all that we’ve achieved in developing this process. By no means is this complete, and we are always taking feedback from folks all over the organization and using it to improve our processes. For us, the next step is replicating the same model for other designer and research roles. Then we look forward to also building a model where designers can give feedback on the leaders of their team.