[00:00:36] Chicago Camps: Joie, tell us a bit about you, your design experience, and your current role.
[00:00:42] Joie Chung: I’m Joie Chung. I’ve been in the industry for a long time. Started as a web designer/developer back in the day when you had to do both. And then I got paid to make websites, which was really nice and I stuck with that even though I was going to school for other things.
[00:00:57] There’s one point when I realized I really liked the end result, like I cared more about the end result than I cared about solving code challenges. So I decided just to switch and go to school for design. And so that really got me into more of the visual design side of things till my senior year.
[00:01:14] It was like right when apps were coming out and it was like a whole thing. And one of my first notable UX positions was working at a small agency named Chai One. Probably my favorite thing was working on enterprise apps that like really helped people do their jobs, live their lives better and easier and so I fell in love with a useful side of design. And I also got to learn all about UX research and how important usability is and how to work really closely with engineers and developers on how to create something from nothing. And that was probably one of the most notable agencies that I worked at.
[00:01:48] But then, I think I decided like, and then it wasn’t for me, so ended up working, going in-house product design at HomeAway in Austin. We ended up changing our name to VRBO, but it’s really all part of it, Expedia, and so travel industry was there for a couple years, ended up really falling in love with the product side of things, like really understanding the business.
[00:02:10] Being able to track analytics and AB test and have a different level of ownership than what I had at the agency that I worked at. And then I just really love the creative energy of a large design team and having access to content design and design technologists and design systems and all of that stuff really different than working with clients, I gotta say.
[00:02:30] I’m currently working at a company called Realtor.com. Real estate tech, senior director of product design there. I have a great team of designers and design managers, and we work on all of the professional tools that help agents and consumers buy and sell homes.
[00:02:46] Chicago Camps: You’ve been mentoring and coaching folks who are getting into design management for the first time. There are bound to be some themes. Share the top resonating things you hear from new design managers.
[00:02:57] Joie Chung: The mentees that I have right now are new managers, or people who are about to become managers. I hear a lot of the same themes. I feel like you would expect all of it to be solved already, and it’s not.
[00:03:07] The first thing that I hear is that people don’t know what they’re getting into. They ended up in the role without the expectations of what the role is, and ideally you’d have that in place, but not everyone has that. Most companies don’t. And so they don’t know what to do, their experience with management is from being a person that is managed, and so they don’t actually understand all of the other parts of the role. And so there’s a lot of ambiguity, a lot of question marks, that links to a lot of imposter syndrome. Like, why am I in this role? Everyone will know that I don’t know what I’m doing. That type of thing. And you still have that even when you do know what you’re doing. So that’s probably the second most common thing I hear.
[00:03:48] People don’t know how to judge their success as a manager. I hear from them a lot where they feel like they don’t know if they’re doing their job. They don’t know if they’re doing it well. It’s so much easier when you’re just like a senior IC. You know exactly if you’re doing the job well or not.
[00:04:05] You’re shipping design work. The design work is great. Look at the tests, like those types of things. The mindset shift of producing things into enabling a team and a company and all of those things.
[00:04:16] Chicago Camps: Following up on that, what should a design manager do when they’re put into the role for the first time? They have no experience and there’s no training to help them and very little support from their organization.
[00:04:28] Joie Chung: I feel like a lot of people have to figure out things on their own. You could probably figure it out yourself by trial and error, but one, a couple things that helped me. The first one is peer support group. You could join one that exists or pull one together. I think I personally was fortunate enough to have a peer group at HomeAway where we were all first time design managers and at least officially official design managers, and so we’re able to talk about the first times X, Y, or Z happened, how we handled it, what do we do, get advice from each other. That was really useful. You can also seek mentorship from other design leaders out there.
[00:05:07] Get some peer support at, in different organizations like Chicago Camps, like mentoring sites like ADP List, where you can just go in and book some time with somebody who’s offering their time. That’s actually pretty important.
[00:05:20] Another one is if you work, if you learn well through books, I have a great list of books that I can share, but I think the main thing with that is have to be able to learn from books to learn from the books. And so for me personally, it’s hard for me to digest books. So having a book club that you join is pretty helpful and you’re all reading the same books. You can read a couple chapters and digest. You know, there’s parts, start applying to things you’ve learned. I think the other two things that I would recommend, one is to reserve time at the end of every week to reflect. A lot of people, they’re just doing trial by fire and trying to figure things out, and it helps you remember the pros and cons or wins and challenges if you just write them down at the end of each week, get in the habit of reflecting.
[00:06:03] And then another thing that you should write down is what you had observed in other leaders, the ones that you admire. Maybe ones that you had that were really great and ones that you had that were not great, it helps to dissect, this person was a great manager to me because X, Y, or Z, or this person who is it a bad leader and this is how I would’ve preferred that they handled things and then try to figure out how to model it off of that.
[00:06:29] Chicago Camps: New managers may not realize that managing up, down and sideways are real things they need to do. What could a new manager expect to need to do when managing up and sideways in their organization?
[00:06:41] Joie Chung: Most ICs understand that managers manage down cause they, they’ve been in the perspective of being managed and so that’s probably the easiest thing for new managers to understand. Oh, okay, I’m gonna help my team, I’m gonna figure out ways to help them get their work done and moved on. But the way managing sideways and up helps you manage down is something that is pretty opaque before you get into it.
[00:07:07] Another easy stretch is usually being able to work with your product and engineering leadership counterparts. You’ve worked with them as an IC, you understand how to work with those functions, so working with their leaders is probably the next step that you take because you know you’re working with them. They’re leading their team, you’re leading yours now you work together to make sure that they cross-functionally can deliver all of the work that they’re doing.
[00:07:30] Managing sideways towards other design managers if you have them, is a different thing. And you’re thinking more about design, the design organization, the design function, and you’re working with them as partners and how you lead your teams of designers.
[00:07:48] You have to make sure they know what you and your team are working on, and then what they’re working on. Identifying ways that you guys can collaborate, identifying projects that could utilize more collaboration across the different teams. Solving problems that apply to the whole organization, that type of thing.
[00:08:05] And then managing further sideways, product marketing or analytics or content or marketing, brand sales, all of those. It is important and you don’t really think about those until you become a manager because those things, they usually just happen and you don’t realize that someone needed to make sure that those teams are all on the same page as well. And they all know what your team is working on and you’ve opened up communication and keep that open.
[00:08:29] Now moving on to managing up that one is hard. That one’s something that everyone should be doing at all times no matter what level you are. But there’s whole books around it because it’s not super clear how to do it.
[00:08:43] And when I say managing up, it really just means your ability to influence upper leadership, understand their goals, their priorities, know how to advocate for your team. Know how to meet the goals and priorities. Get the things that your team needs. Stay informed on what’s going on. That’s something that you should do for yourself when you’re an IC and they, when you’re thinking about your team, you’re doing it for your team. And that way you enable them to work on the right things.
[00:09:13] Chicago Camps: What are some of the biggest changes or challenges that can happen when a person transitions from being in a peer role to now supervising the same people they used to work side by side with?
[00:09:24] Joie Chung: This happens really often because most people’s first job as a manager is a transition within the company, so it’s a promotion. Usually you don’t get your first manager job by a hire.
[00:09:35] So this is something that most people have to deal with and the answer will depend on the relationship you already have with your peers. Were you someone they saw and respected? Were you already leading projects? Do they see you and respect you as a leader?
[00:09:49] Do they go to you for advice? Do they trust you to have their best interests in mind? Big, all of their questions, situations will be different for different people, so they’re gonna have to think about things differently. If the answer is no to all those questions, you’re gonna have a lot of work to do.
[00:10:01] Gaining trust is really hard, and it’s even harder when people have seen you in a different capacity and they know you in a different way. So they may like it. Like some people may be excited that their friend is now a manager. They may give them more grace, but they also might not like it. Like maybe they’re like, why is this dummy, my manager?
[00:10:21] But this is a real example. By the way. Maybe they’ve seen them in terrible lights, right? And so, you’re gonna have to do a lot of work there if a lot of the answers were no earlier, you just have to figure out your specific circumstance with each individual, how they feel about it, and then figure out what their approach should be.
[00:10:40] If their answer was yes, though I think that one was my problem. So the answer was yes. I think I didn’t have that big of an issue in transitioning personally, except for the fact that it took me a while to realize that things are just gonna be different. Even though I was like, what do you mean? I’m just one of you.
[00:11:00] You as a new design manager, you haven’t changed as a person. You just have a new role. You’re still this great person that people like or whatever, but you now have control over their raises and promotions, over whether they have a job, or whether they’re even happy at work or what projects they get to do.
[00:11:19] That’s not something you may think as much about, but when you’re the other person, it’s a big deal, and so you’re probably not gonna get invited to all the group texts anymore. I don’t know why that was such a big deal to me. I was like, oh, things are different, but it’s not different in a bad way. And so you just have to keep the good relationship at work.
[00:11:38] Talk about how you can keep a good relationship outside of work if you have that Julie (Zhou) Making of a Manager book. She talked a lot about this and it helped me a lot think about that transition cuz she also dealt with that and she talked about really validating experience from her end.
[00:11:55] Chicago Camps: What should new managers keep in mind when managing employees performance?
[00:12:01] Joie Chung: It depends on if, if your employees are great performers are not great performers. The way you approach gonna be different. The first thing to recognize as a new manager is that every employee is an individual. They all have a their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses or opportunities. They have their own preferences and needs to help them perform their best.
[00:12:22] The ways they take feedback effectively is different. As you’re first starting each relationship, it’s important to learn as much as you can about these people so that whenever you do need to talk about performance, you’re able to approach it in the right way and you’re able to enable them to do well in their role and whenever that fails, you’re able to pinpoint what are the points and where did that happen.
[00:12:44] They’re each at different stages too, in like their roles and levels. So they may need a different approach in terms of how much direction and guidance they may need or how much like overarching objectives you need to outline or how hands off you could be.
[00:13:00] Chicago Camps: How would you suggest supporting a strong performer who has a lot of growth potential?
[00:13:05] Joie Chung: Strong performers are awesome. They get their work done. They have the initiative to see problems and find ways to solve them. They’re proactive about their own growth. Your goal as a manager is to help them reach those goals, help them define those goals, give them the opportunities whenever you see them, we get access to a lot more information than you did before you became a manager.
[00:13:29] So if you hear something big is coming up and someone wants to lead a big initiative, you find a way to connect that person to that role. Make sure you give them the right type of feedback to get them to where they wanna be. I think what people do with strong performers generally is they just think that they’re good to go.
[00:13:45] You can go do whatever you need, I’ll let you handle it all by yourself. But sometimes they actually need more guidance. They need to think about, they need help thinking about things from a bigger, different perspective, co-create a plan together and how to tackle things that are probably not as big of a deal whenever it’s someone who’s not as high level.
[00:14:06] Chicago Camps: What advice do you have for new managers who encounter a person who is not performing as expected?
[00:14:11] Joie Chung: It’s something to be conscious of where you don’t wanna spend too much time with any individual on your team. You wanna give everyone a similar amount of time. It’s pretty hard when you feel like you need to lean in more in one area or not, but that’s just something to be conscious of when you’re thinking about your overall team and managing them holistically.
[00:14:28] Thinking about people who might not be performing as well or as expected. I think the main thing is you should always have written expectations of what you expect from all of your employees. That could be the job description or the leveling guide or competency charts. You should be able to easily point to say, “Hey, I’ve communicated this to you. This is what I expect from you,” and articulate how they may not be meeting it. That will at least make it easier. The conversation is so much harder if you end up being vague about it, like you’re not doing the thing and a lot of managers when they’re first new starting out, I think that they end up saying things as if they think the other person knows exactly what they’re saying.
[00:15:11] So like feedback is you’re not collaborating enough, and then they just leave. You don’t know what that means, like what does collaboration mean? And so being able to actually articulate how they’re not meeting that specific expedition is important. You should also just check in with people often give their feedback often and not just do it at the end of the year or at performance time.
[00:15:30] I think that’s another one to keep in mind, just give feedback immediately and don’t blame them for things that are not their fault. So that’s another one. If someone’s not performing well, it could be because of unrealistic deadlines. It could be team environment. So look for some of those other things that could be affecting their ability to do what you are expecting of them.
[00:15:49] Chicago Camps: Difficult conversations happen a lot, and as a manager you will have to initiate and sometimes be the recipient of them. What are some difficult conversations a new manager might expect to have to handle?
[00:16:01] Joie Chung: That’s another one people write a lot of books about. Because it’s not easy. Some of the things that, difficult conversations that a manager might expect to handle, the one we just talked about, a difficult conversation around performance.
[00:16:13] I think that is probably the least difficult if you already have set up an open communication, all your expectations, all of that. It becomes more difficult when you start thinking about behavioral feedback that one people take more personally, like they take more offense from it because it’s about something they’ve done, the way they act, or the way they treat people.
[00:16:36] And those things are still important to resolve. So difficult conversations around not cutting people off when they speak or not excluding people from meetings that they need to be in. Having to figure out how to not put them into a defensive mode so that they can hear that from you is what makes it difficult.
[00:16:56] Interpersonal conflicts. People not getting along, not communicating happens. Having to solve those or facilitate conversations is always difficult, and it’s even worse if you’re one of the parties that doesn’t get along with someone, that they can happen. Negotiating scope, resources, budget projects, anything that has to do with different opinions and people who feel really strongly about their opinions, that’s gonna be a difficult conversation and having to navigate that in a way where people still feel heard. And just lately, a lot of things, a lot of topics like layoff possibilities, or pivots and strategy, or reorgs, those types of things are never fun. Figure out how to talk about things without talking about things you’re not supposed to talk about.
[00:17:40] Even things you have no control over. I think that’s what’s really hard for a lot of design managers. We have to be the messenger. You have to be the one to give them the bad news with no control on how to fix it. Like you can’t just solve it away with your design problem solving skills.
[00:17:57] Chicago Camps: We’ve been talking a little bit about the more challenging and difficult things of design management.
[00:18:02] What’s the best thing about transitioning into a design management role?
[00:18:06] Joie Chung: The best thing about transitioning specifically is that you learn a lot about yourself. Like you think you know yourself until you’re put into this new role where now you do have to handle difficult situations. You have to figure out what kind of manager you wanna be.
[00:18:21] You have to figure out how to impact your team and the work, and still feel like you have some control over it since you’re now not directly involved with the design itself, like the design pixel pushing, that type of thing.
[00:18:36] A moment that I’d like to share with my new mentees like the new managers that I talked to: it is probably the first time I felt like I was like, ah, yes, I wanna be, I wanna stay a manager. I love it. It was the moment that I was telling one of my direct reports about how awesome they are. I was very excited about something they did. I don’t even remember what it was, but I was telling them how proud I was and how they were able to solve the problem and deliver the work.
[00:19:07] It’s something that they could be proud of themselves and they turned it around on me. It was like, you’re the reason and why I got better and you’re the reason we were able to ship that on time and you’re the reason why I like coming to work. And that really got me. I was like, try not to cry in the office.
[00:19:24] I felt like that was when I felt, oh, okay, I am making a difference. That’s when I figured out what my measure for success is. And everyone’s measure is gonna be different. You’re shipping good work, you’re making cool stuff. But as a manager is it the team? Is it pushing the product forward? Is it the design quality going up? Is it getting to work on a larger scope?
[00:19:45] What is the thing that you care about that helps you feel fulfilled as as a person, but also as a professional in your career? So no matter where you are in your leadership journey, the first time you see the fruits of your labor, probably the best moment. That’s why I tell people to get into management. It’s not for everyone, but it could be really rewarding.
[00:20:04] Chicago Camps: We do have a question from our live studio audience. Sigit asks: any tips in managing remotely?
[00:20:10] Joie Chung: We’ve been remote for many years now we’re going back to the hybrid situation, but generally the switch from in-person to remote was really hard for a lot of people.
[00:20:21] And the main thing is open and frequent communication is probably my biggest tip. You can’t overcommunicate. It may may seem like or feel like overcommunicating, but that’s what they need for everyone to be on the same page. And then frequent touchpoints. So making sure that you do check in with everyone. You do always have your one-on-one. You always communicate on Slack channels in the open so everyone gets the same information.
[00:20:46] And then just keeping shared documents. So being able to track notes and stuff together, being able to share. Private conversations, but if you think about hallway conversations that happen in real life, you’ve gotta find a way to make sure if you have those, that all of your remote people also have context into those. So there’s a little bit of complexity when you end up with a hybrid situation.
[00:21:10] My favorite thing about remote is being able to connect people who would not normally talk to each other and work together. And that’s probably my favorite thing. And so connecting people who may feel like they’re inaccessible in real life, like the CEO, and connecting people and making sure that they get the visibility and stuff that they need. Just keeping eyes open for that too.