The Lie I Tell New Hires

I've written a lot about recruiting on this blog - how to get hired, how to do the hiring and how hard it is to hire. However, I haven't really touched on what happens after that process. You've found a great designer, hired them and they just started today! Hooray! Now what?

Well, first you have to lie to them.

Don't worry, it's not a big lie. You see, there are two things that are (probably) true at the moment you're having your very first 1:1 with the newest member of your team:

  1. You want to evolve and improve your current processes.
  2. This shiny new designer has no idea what your current processes are.

If #1 isn't true for you... well, you may want to think about that one. I've yet to be in a position where our design process was exactly where we wanted it to be. Both at Etsy and BuzzFeed, we were/are constantly trying to improve. Maybe we were trying to create more transparency, or improve design's relationship to engineering, or maybe we were trying to get designers to do less high-fidelity work in the early stages of their process. There are always things we could be doing better and new ideas we want to try out to improve how we work.

And that's where #2 comes in. The moment you codify a new process or way of working, the folks on your team begin to settle into that process. The longer the process sticks around, the more habits develop to accommodate it and the harder it is to change. We're all susceptible to this and it's really nobody's fault — when we find something that works for us, it's natural to latch on and optimize. But then when someone proposes radically shifting our thinking, they're asking us to give up all these optimizations that we've spent time and energy perfecting. Processes are great, but they can also act like quicksand, trapping our legs and making it hard to step forward.

But hey, your company's shiny new designer doesn't know about any of that! They haven't yet stepped into your current Process Quicksand. Tabula rasa and all that. You could literally tell them that your process includes sending wireframes to each other via carrier pigeon and they'd nod thoughtfully and ask where the aviary is.

So, yeah, lie to them.

With every new hire, I usually kick off our first 1:1 by describing how we work, but then sprinkle on a bit of where I want us to be. Having trouble getting folks to share their work regularly? Tell each new person that sharing work every day is just what happens and what's expected. Want your design team to work in the code with engineering? Let your new designer know that the engineers are great and that we expect designers to pair with them when implementing their feature. Your lie should be incremental to where you are now, obviously. But, yes, lie. Lie your ass off.

Because evolution happens through action, not through edict. You can demand that your team share work every day until you're blue in the face, but if nobody is doing it, it's hard to point to a shining example as how things should be. If a new designer starts off by posting their work publicly for folks to see and comment on every single day, you can point to that in your other 1:1s as an example to follow.

And, to be honest, I generally come clean with new designers and tell them that I've just lied to them. I'll finish my painting of our ideal future process and say, "We're obviously not totally there yet and things aren't as perfect and beautiful as I just described, but that's why you're here. If you can help us push these things forward, that will be awesome." I make them complicit in the lie and, together, we start to forge ahead into the future.