It was my fourth coffee meeting of the day, and the conversations had fallen into a surprisingly predictable routine. I’d ask my friends how their new job as design leader at XYZ Corp was going, and the answers were the same.
They really enjoyed the job, but were struggling to recruit in such a competitive labour market. When they did find the perfect person, they wouldn’t stay for more than 18 months before moving on.
My friends were also struggling to promote the value of design around the organisation. There was definitely interest. After all, that’s why they had been hired. But with all the interviews, status meetings and 1-to-1s, they barely had time to get a look-in. Especially as the size of their team (and budget) was a fraction of that of IT or marketing, and the weight of executive attention always seemed to go where the money was.
Lastly, they were having a hard time executing at pace. Despite doubling the team’s size, it felt like half as much was getting done. Deadlines were getting missed and the organisation was starting to get antsy. If that wasn’t enough, the team was feeling stressed, so my friends were getting it from both sides.
The reason my friends had got into management was to have a bigger effect than they could do being an individual contributor. However they were starting to understand why their previous manager hadn’t been more effective, and were beginning to second guess their decisions.
As an accidental leader myself (I didn’t set out to run a 30 person design agency), I felt their pain, and have experienced many of the same things. I tried to give the best advice I could, but realised what my friends needed was something more structured. After all, none of us had been trained to be design managers, so we were all making it up as we went along. That’s when I hit upon an idea.
So many of my friends were struggling with the same challenges, what if I bought them all together for a conference? I could invite a range of design leaders from different companies to share their experiences, war stories, tips and failures in the hope of making folks’ lives easier. And that’s how Leading Design was born.
The first conference back in the autumn of 2016 was a huge success, with many attendees coming up to tell me it was exactly what they needed at that point in their careers. This was true whether the person was an experienced VP or taking their first leadership role, so I knew we’d hit a good format.
This year I’m hoping to build on the last, breaking the days down into separate themes.
The first day is all about the individual as leader. What makes a good leader? What skills should a great leader have, and how do you grow this skills into a long and fulfilling career? I also wanted to touch on the topic of self care, as you can’t look after other people if you’re not happy and healthy yourself.
The second day is all about the team. How do you find the right people and nurture their talent? How do you grow the team, and maintain its cohesion, and how do you execute at pace? I also wanted to explore the issue of team culture and organisation structure. What makes a healthy culture, and what makes an unhealthy one?
The first two days are all talks, mixing inspiration with education.
On the final day we switch to practical, hands-on workshops. I want to allow folks to dig into the key topics in more detail. We have sessions from Peter Merholz on organisational design, Julia Whitney on stakeholder management, Alberta Soranzo looking at management principles, and Samantha Soma on the essential elements of great design teams.
I’m really pleased how the schedule has turned out. We have some amazing speakers, keen to share what they’ve learned through leading design at a range of well-known companies like Google, Facebook, IBM, Spotify and the BBC. So this is a great opportunity to learn what works (and what doesn’t) and apply those learnings to your own organisation and team.
You can find all the details on our speakers and schedule at www.leadingdesignconf.com. There are still some tickets left, but they’re selling fast, so snap them up before they go. We hope to see you there!