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Lead People

Growing through some things as a new design manager

“So what’s up, how’s it going?” asked my former boss and VP of Design, James Helms, as we walked around the beautiful palm tree-lined paths on Intuit’s San Diego campus. It was 72 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, so I answered, “Ya know, living the dream … growing through some things.” 

“C’mon, how’s it really going?” to which I responded, “This 💩is hard, yo.” He nodded and laughed. 

I was just a few months into my new role as a design manager after 2 years as a designer being managed, and it certainly wasn’t the same thing.

Being a manager is a lot. Not gonna lie to you, it’s not always fun either. Aligning priorities, negotiating resources, and drawing cutlines is hard work and sometimes you gotta let people down. Not to mention as a new manager you still may be required to roll up your sleeves and design too. 

Here’s some things I’ve learned in my short time leading content design for Intuit’s Virtual Expert Platform team that have made the transition a bit smoother. 

Let’s get into it.

You don’t need to know everything, everywhere, all at once.

Yes, I’m referencing the best movie I’ve seen this year, but you won’t need to perfect your mental gymnastics at the beginning of this journey. Treat your first 90 days as your trial period to get up to speed, meet your new team, and grasp the lay of the land.

The First 90 Days by Michael K. Watkins is a fantastic book to help guide you through this transition.  In the book he outlines a structure and strategy to help you ease into this new role while gaining clarity and confidence.

One thing that challenged me at the beginning of the journey was comparing my new team with my old team and jumping to conclusions too quickly. Within three days I already made judgments about the culture, core problems, and challenges hindering the team. Talk about coming in hot. Reflecting on my first week, I remembered, it’s only been a week. It’s important to take note of your early concerns but don’t be quick to react when you just got there. 

Find your people

Having a community of new-ish managers is helpful in keeping sane. There’s something about having a safe space to share your thoughts and ask ‘does this make sense?’, that just feels good.

Thankfully, at Intuit we have a wealth of resources of managers of all tenures. The design community is filled with wicked smart folks and approachable leaders. Reach out to your current leader or a leader you admire to get connected. Ask who they’d recommend you speak with for peer mentorship, insight, and perspective on navigating management. 

For more formal growth, enroll in Intuit’s Manager Accelerator (IMA) program to jumpstart your connections and build your confidence as a new people leader. IMA was a valuable experience where I learned with and from managers across Intuit on ways to discover your management style, navigate critical conversations, feedback and recognition, and coaching. I’ve also heard great things about the Design Dept’s workshops as well. 

Join the #intuit-managers Slack channel for questions and insights from folks in the role, too. You can ask about everything from travel policies to time-off— someone from the community will jump in and help. 

Find folks outside Intuit to connect with, too. It’ll expand your perspective on issues other leaders face and how to navigate them. One of my favorites is the Lead with Tempo Content Design Leadership community. It’s a great place to ask questions from design leaders around the world and share my perspective from time to time too. I’ve been blown away by how similar our experiences are and I’m often surprised by how much I know that applies to them.  

Take care of yourself

While we may have Design in our titles, much of our work as managers is role modeling good behaviors, like rest.  An old mentor told me, “You can’t go pouring into everyone else when you’re running on empty”. Remember to take your days off. Turn off the laptop and unplug. By taking care of yourself, you give your team permission to do the same. 

Hope this helps. 

Breathe. You got this. You’re doing it. We’re doin’ it. Together.

Helpful resources to get you started:

Intuit’s internal resources:

General resources