Over the past year at RightIndem I’ve managed a team of designers each with their own personal development plan. In my years as both designer and design manager, I’ve rarely witnessed development plans that really succeed to the benefit of the employee. They’re often coupled with the goals of the business, directly linked to the business road map and often fail to provide the appropriate time and environment that employees require to successfully achieve their objectives.
As we move into a new round of development plans, my objective is to change this approach by providing our employees with the automony, time and enviroment they need to achieve their goals.
The first task is to delink our personal development objectives from our business road map. When business road maps and personal objectives are intertwined, for instance “Design a new company website for Q4 release”, it requires a roadmap that is not at risk of deviation or change. Unfortunately, RightIndem is a fast moving start-up and currently we’re unable to have a concrete roadmap in place. This impacts personal objectives. Objectives that are set outside the control of the employee essentially become unachievable. Through no fault of the employee, personal objectives may become redundant as a result of a shift in business direction. This reduces employee motivation but more importantly, the value of their personal development plan.
Introducing Design Badges
Badges are the first step in giving employees autonomy over their own personal development and start the process of detaching development plans from business road maps. Within the RightIndem design team I have created several ‘design badges’. These include:
- Front-end Development
- Icon/Illustration Design
- Leadership/Management Skills
- Print Design
- User Experience
Employees can choose up to a maximum of two badges they would like to further advance their knowledge and each badge has two levels; Intermediate and Advance. Each level requires six months to complete. Employees are given every Friday afternoon to work towards their badge, loosely following the 90/10 rule. They can work from home, in a coffee shop or stay within the office listening to music at their desk or one of the break-out areas.
For each badge level exists a set of outcome measures. These are outcomes we expect the employee to learn and demonstrate come the completion of their chosen badge. For instance, we would expect an employee chosing the Accessibility badge to be able to define ‘What is accessibility? Accessibility Law, DDA Act, WCAG Levels… and so on’ upon completion of the intermediate stage. We would also expect a demonstration, in this case the employee may decide to build a GIT hosted website that conforms to all levels of the WCAG demonstrating their knowledge and learning via a practical activity.
Badge performance is tracked in each manager/employee 1:1 providing both parties the opportunity to feedback on progress. Toward the end of the six-month period, the employees performance will be assessed against a performance scale, formalising their performance for their chosen badge. Upon completion, the employee may decide to take the advance level of the same badge or select a new badge to focus on over the next six months.
A cool aspect of this is the physicality of each badge. The badges are printed as stickers and awarded to the employees creating a sense of achievement. This also creates the perfect task to satisfy procrastination periods. Each designer pulls randomly from a hat a folded post-it note with a badge written inside. The employee is then tasked with designing the badge as a sticker and once all badges are designed they’re printed ready for hand-out.
Additionally, but not inadvertently, this development plan enables designers to grow into Lead and Senior positions without being moved into management positions. I’ve witnessed many times and experienced directly that as designers grow and acquire greater experience, they’re placed into team management positions. As a result, designers spend less time doing what it is they’re great at and more time managing people, dealing with HR issues and other responsibilities they have had little to no background or training. This reduces skillset amongst teams and often requires business to invest money in personal training, sending these individuals to management courses and conferences to fill their skill gaps as a result of their new role.
By creating a ‘Leadership/Management’ badge, it provides designers the choice to advance their skills within this area. If the organisation requires a design team manager, they’re able to select from their own pool of designers who posess the intermediate or advance management level. It also allows designers to confidently opt-out of the management position as they’re free to voice their disinterest in the role, highlighting the fact they have chosen not to select the leadership/management badge. So what are the benefits to each aspect of the team and organisation?
Empowerment. Employees take on the decision of which areas they would like to advance their skillset.
Achievable. Employees are given an appropriate amount of time to complete each stage of a badge, receiving regular reviews along the way. Outcome measures are visible ahead of starting each badge providing greater clarity of what is expected upfront.
Flexible. Employees are free to concentrate on one badge, becoming advanced within that domain by the end of the year or select two badges to achieve a wider skillset. Employees may also choose a badge from another department. This plan allows developers who show interest in Typography to select the intermediate badge. It also allows designers to select front-end or testing badges if they have interest in these areas.
Fun. Unlike regular development plans, this is a new approach that places employee growth and development at the centre of the idea. Employees can stick badge stickers on their Mac, back packs, etc. and discuss these with friends/family further promoting the idea.
Not only does this new development plan benefit individuals it also has many team benefits.
Multi-discipline Skillset. Teams will consist of employees with a wide range of skillsets, each of which a minimum Intermediate level.
Creates an Encouraging & Supportive Culture. Employees are free to run an office demo, showcasing their knowledge to the wider team which may encourage others to take the same badge. Employees can celebrate each other ‘passing their badge’ creating a feel-good feeling amongst teams and individuals.
Roadmap flexibility. The organisation can change its business roadmap without directly affecting employee development plans.
Multi-discipline Skillset. The organisation gradually builds teams consisting of a wide range of skills with a minimum intermediate level.
Recruitment. Investing in a new approach that is dedicated to the development of its employees creates a unique USP or ‘reason to join’ the organisation.
Social Awareness. Employees & recruiters spread the word providing good face for the company amongst social media and within the design/development domain.
Badges in Action
I’m currently finalising outcome measures for each level of each badge. To date, I have communicated this plan to both RightIndem employees and board members receiving approval for this approach.
In the next months or so I hope to roll this out to the design team and I’m looking forward to receiving real world user feedback on the new design badge development plan. I’ll look at writing up a ‘lesson learned’ post which I’ll feature on my Medium account.
I also need to thank Matt Waldron for kicking off this idea and Tom Jepson for helping to create our outcome measures, cheers guys 👍🏼