The Craft of Management and 1:1 for Junior Designers with Farai Madzima of Shopify

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Farai Madzima is a UX Manager at Shopify. He also coach people managers, write, and speak about leadership and how to have 1:1 meetings that unblock career progress. He’s also currently writing a book about 1:1 meeting, and you can learn all about here.

1 - People Management

You have been coaching managers for years now. How did you get into management in the first place?

I kind of stumbled into management, to be honest. It wasn't part of my plan or anything. I joined a design team as the first designer, and as more people joined after me, I ended up being the one hiring them. That situation led to me becoming the lead and manager of the team, and it happened not just once but twice in a row. There wasn't any formal training or a clear path into management for me; it just sort of happened naturally. I wouldn't call it smooth or deliberate, more like an organic unfolding of events, like how things happen in nature.

How can someone know if management is a right fit for them?

Understanding if management is the right fit involves several considerations:

  1. Motivation Check: Ask yourself why you're interested in management. If it's primarily for financial gain or career advancement without genuine care for team well-being, it might not align well. Management driven solely by monetary goals often leads to decisions that don't support a healthy team environment.
  2. Empathy and Support: Reflect on your natural inclination towards supporting others' growth and well-being. If you find satisfaction in aiding others' development and genuinely care about their progress, it could indicate a managerial fit.
  3. People Skills vs. Conversational Skills: People skills like empathy and active listening are crucial but not solely determinative. What truly matters is the ability to have effective conversations—knowing how and when to communicate to support struggling team members or provide constructive feedback.
  4. Desire to Lead: Evaluate if you have a desire to guide and assist others, even if it doesn't come naturally. Feeling drawn to nurturing the careers and work lives of those around you might suggest a potential fit for management.
  5. Shift in Perspective: Recognize that management involves a shift from individual achievements to supporting collective success. It's less about personal accomplishments and more about enabling and guiding others toward achieving their goals.
  6. Observation and Facilitation: Understand that being a manager involves observing and understanding your team's needs, providing guidance, and enabling their success. It's about facilitating their progress rather than solely being focused on achieving tasks.
  7. Continuous Learning: Be open to learning and evolving as you transition from an individual contributor to a manager. This shift often requires adapting to new responsibilities and developing new skill sets.

Considering these things helps you figure out if management is a path that really fits your natural inclinations and career aspirations.

In an podcast episode on “Technically Speaking” titled “The Craft of Management,” you said: “People work so much better when they feel included/safe.” How do you build that trust? Feel free to provide an example.

To build trust, especially when it comes to creating an inclusive and safe environment, it's about understanding the nuances of inclusion, safety, and trust itself.

Inclusion is about making everyone feel like they belong, irrespective of their background or who they are. It's weaving this sense of belonging into how you organize, conduct meetings, and compensate people.

Trust, on the other hand, has different layers. There's trust in someone's ability to deliver a task and another, deeper trust in the person themselves. This latter trust is built on vulnerability. When we share meaningful things about ourselves—our vulnerabilities, struggles, or fears—and it's received positively without being weaponized, that's where trust evolves.

I often use an exercise to foster this trust. It's inspired by Superman. I ask the person I'm working with to share a superpower (something they excel at) and their Kryptonite (a vulnerability or challenge). It's a way to open up and build trust by being vulnerable with each other.

When we share our superpowers and vulnerabilities, like I did with my ability to simplify complex ideas but also my struggle with procrastination, it paves the way for a more honest connection. Similarly, when someone else shares their strengths and vulnerabilities, it deepens the trust further.

This exercise allows us to bring our true selves to work, fostering an environment where everyone feels safe enough to express their thoughts without fear of judgment or retribution. It's not about airing all our personal laundry, but selectively opening up to build a foundation of trust and understanding among team members.

2 - 1:1 Meeting with a Manager as a Junior Designer

In February of this year, you gave a talk titled “What to say in 1:1 meetings” I wasn’t able to attend the talk, but I would love to learn how this applies to junior or IC designers in general. To make this practical, I thought it’ll be interesting to think of a few different scenarios.

Scenario 1: Joined the company

What should a junior designer do before, during, and after the 1:1 with their manager?

Before the first one-on-one with a manager, a junior designer should consider the mindset they bring into the conversation. It's important to see this relationship as a crucial partnership in one's career growth. This includes setting goals, understanding what they want to achieve from these meetings, and recognizing the pivotal role their manager plays in providing guidance and feedback.

During the meeting, it's vital for the junior designer to communicate this mindset, discussing the importance of this partnership and seeking alignment with the manager on mutual expectations. Exploring topics like goal-setting, feedback, and potential challenges that may hinder progress helps set the foundation for a transparent, growth-oriented relationship.

After the meeting, the junior designer should reflect on the conversation, considering what was discussed, understanding the manager's perspective, and setting actionable goals based on the insights gained. This proactive approach helps in aligning efforts, fostering better communication, and optimizing the subsequent one-on-one sessions for mutual benefit and career development.

Scenario 2: Unsatisfied with the work given

What should a junior designer do before, during, and after the 1:1 with their manager?

I admit: I was a bit uncomfortable discussing dissatisfaction at work, stemming from my upbringing. As a junior designer, voicing disapproval or feeling work didn't align was tough. But I've learned the value in asking these questions and being clear about personal needs and goals. So here’s what you can do:

Before the one-on-one with the manager, the junior designer should reflect on their goals and how the current work aligns with those objectives. It's crucial to approach the conversation with a clear understanding of what is dissatisfactory and how it's hindering progress. Preparing specific examples and articulating how the work doesn't contribute to growth helps in framing the discussion.

During the meeting, the junior designer should address the issue diplomatically, focusing on the misalignment between the assigned tasks and their career objectives. They can seek clarification, presenting their observations objectively, and express the desire to work on projects that align with their growth goals. Here’s an example:

Over the past six months, the work I've been assigned doesn't seem aligned with the growth goals that we set together for me. Can you help me understand if there's something I might be missing or if there's a different perspective on how this work aligns with my goals?

After the conversation, the junior designer should reflect on the manager's insights, any proposed solutions, or new perspectives shared during the discussion. They should create actionable follow-ups, like monitoring ongoing projects for alignment with their career growth, and reassessing their goals in light of the manager's feedback to better guide future conversations. This ensures that they're actively engaged in steering their career trajectory in a direction that aligns with their aspirations.

Scenario 3: Performance, promotions, etc

What are some things that are good to know before entering conversations like this?

When diving into discussions about performance and promotions, it's vital to separate these aspects. First, for promotions, it's ideal if your manager can clarify the company's promotion process early on. Understand the criteria, who decides, and what needs to be submitted. You're not seeking an immediate promotion but rather gaining insight into the process.

For performance, realize that promotions shouldn't be solely about past excellence but rather readiness for the next level. A promotion isn't a reward for being great at your current role but demonstrating capability at the next level. Discuss with your manager what's expected at the current level and what's required for the next.

When aiming for a promotion, express interest in tackling responsibilities at the next level, framing it as a step towards growth. Collaborate with your manager to identify tasks and projects that align with the next level and assess your progress. This structured approach ensures you're prepared and not simply aiming for promotion without handling the necessary responsibilities.

3 - Advice to younger self

If you’re now facing yourself but 20 years old, what career/life advice will you tell the young Farai?

If I were addressing my younger self, I'd emphasize the value of entrepreneurship. Freedom comes with entrepreneurship; it's about developing skills to make decisions on how to shape your life. While being an employee has its merits, being an entrepreneur allows for greater autonomy. I'd advise exploring entrepreneurship earlier to foster independence and make decisions about life on your terms.

Entrepreneurship doesn't always mean Silicon Valley startups or seeking venture capital. It's diverse; it can be a side hustle, selling goods, or running a solo project. The essence lies in finding ways to pay bills. Passion is good, but dedication matters more—putting in hours into something sustainable for the long haul can become your livelihood.

For my younger self, I'd encourage exploring entrepreneurship in diverse forms, understanding it's about productivity, trying new things, and finding what you can dedicate yourself to for the long term. For me, it might have been design now, but the journey could lead to something unexpected. The key is to continue exploring and embracing the journey's twists and turns.

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