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I am CTO at a small-medium software development company with a few ages history. I carry RRHH selection, teaching, and internal promotion. Until yesterday we just had developers and design was driven by third parties. Now, things are going well and we plan to take control of the design resources so we are hiring designers.

By the time of writing, I have chosen a guy who I really liked because he is very skilled and polyvalent despite being very young, also he's very autodidact. He can take responsibilities on graphic design, UI design, UX management, HTML layout, illustration, project documentation and he does all of it very well.

What I am worried about is, I have worked with several more experienced designers in the past and I know the different levels of quality in their work. The quality of our employee's graphics designs is yet at our 5/10 goal. We have no hurry and we can invest resources in his training. But I realized I have no knowledge on how to improve his skills, I only know about improving our software developers' professional abilities.

If we want their designs to look more crafted, impressive, expressive, customer-heart-breaker... which actions should we take? How should we drive our new hire's learning process?


Clarifications about doubts that people are expressing:

  • I don't think I know nothing about the design field, but I recognise I don't have knowledge about the learning processes in that field so I don't want to manage things whose result I can't assure, nor waste the career of that guy.
  • The designer has been chosen not only because I see a skilled person on him but also because I see a good level of trust and psychological connection with the managers and the team. All our hirings have been based on that criteria. Things are going very well, we are building a very happy workplace and I hope that will last for years. Professional opinions assuring this won't work have nothing bad and I welcome them.
  • I see some people understanding I like the guy but he's a bit underskilled, and that's not true, I suppose I don't explained clearly enough. The guy is skilled enough for the work experience he has. I have two goals here: first, I just want to get sure that the next months and years are really productive in his training and that he will grow professionally accordingly so we will be happy with his performance at all his career steps; and second, and as I write it I am realising that this is the more important thing for me right now: the way that guy's brain works, if we leave his education unattended he will put strong efforts on experimenting with variations to its techniques and learning even more different abilities, but for his professional career with us we are far more interested in him increasing the quality of his graphic design abilities, and then when they reach a higher quality standard, we would be happy of him maybe leading the design I+D process? It's important to note that this isn't about constraining its potential, but to try that that learning side doesn't remain unimproved, and it's also about transmitting the employee which abilities is the enterprise interested in him improving so he gains value in the enterprise.
  • About resources: I maybe chose some bad words in the sentence about resources. The company resides in a country and region which has suffered a lot from the economic crisis, so companies use to be very stingy around. When I say we are ready to spend resources on its education I mean we don't expect workers to support their own education - companies around do so - but at least currently, we are far from being able to perform an aditional hire to carry its education - but I think it's a very interesting idea if this works and in a middle time we have around three designers, yeah!
  • Cultural tip: where the company resides, people rarely switch work in their life. In other words, they change companies only when necessary (when the previous company crashes or they get fired). It has no reasonable explanation, just a cultural thing. This can help answerers to understand why we put so much focus on a single employee's education.
  • Related tip: we prefer hiring juniors simply in order to grow a family relationship with them from the early steps in their professional careers. Do we need seniors? Yes, but we want to "build" them.
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    Have you considered hiring a part-time designer or consultant with more experience to coach your employee? – curious Jun 13 '18 at 14:07
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    So you're justifying this hire on the basis of personal choices (you like him, i hope that works out well for you both), yet you want to retain a position of perceived authority in a field you know next to nothing about, by instantly bureaucratising his "achievement progress" by means you do understand. That won't ever end well. – Confused Jun 13 '18 at 14:54
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    @Confused While I understand your point, the asker does mention he likes the employee but also that they are "very skilled and polyvalent". The asker strikes me as conscious of his limitations (otherwise this question would not be posted) and he mentions he is "not in a rush" so I think the idea that he is looking to "instantly bureaucratise his progress" does not apply to the case at hand. – curious Jun 13 '18 at 15:24
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    @Confused It's a wise manager that recognizes their own short-comings to seek council. Áxel has given ample reasons to retain this individual and wants to help in their aesthetic development. – Stan Jun 13 '18 at 16:27
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    I was expecting people to post doubts like the one that @Confused posted and I think that the comments others have written below rightly answer that. Anyway, I have just added some wide clarifications in order to guide answerers. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 14 '18 at 7:58
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So it seems to me like you've spotted someone who has great potential, but that potential is not currently fitting your needs completely and you need to partly delegate his training. I can understand the wish to keep this person if they can do all you claim they can, they are a rare find!

You say there is no rush and you can invest in resources. That's great because I see way too many companies hiring a junior when they really need a senior, just to save a few bucks.

I see a few options here:

  • Hire a consultant or part-time trainer who has the potential you are looking for to train your current employee
  • You mention your employee is fairly autodidact. You could potentially set some goals together and free his schedule a bit to let him fulfill these goals.
  • You could encourage him to develop his abilities by sponsoring his education and having him enrolled in a relevant program

In terms of specific activities to help your employee get to designs that "look more crafted, impressive, expressive, customer-heart-breaker... which actions should we take? How should we drive our new hire's learning process?" A lot of this is going on in the eye of the beholder (client) so I would suggest that your employee needs to be able to deepen his knowledge of your audience.

  • Provide past works to him which worked well for your audience and ask him to try and emulate a similar look for new pieces (be mindful not to plagiarize though) then build from that.
  • Provide focus group/marketing information to your designer to keep him in the loop and aware of your audience's interests
  • Provide works from competitors that accomplish similar goals just as well or better than what you would want.
  • Look into your designer's portfolio to see if he has any ability or style that would fit well with your current audience's interests and nurture that/provide appropriate tools.

Broad suggestions, though it's a bit difficult to give more pointed advice without seeing the gap between your designer's portfolio and what you are aiming for. Best of luck!

RE:

the way that guy's brain works, if we leave his education unattended he will put strong efforts on experimenting with variations to its techniques and learning even more different abilities, but for his professional career with us we are far more interested in him increasing the quality of his graphic design abilities

Be wary not to confine this person too much in their development that they end up losing their enthusiasm/drive (i.e. one of the main reasons you trust that person). I would have a discussion with him to try to deconstruct the set of skills you would like him to acquire and give him some freedom to choose what to tackle first at least. Also ensure the employee still has time to further his own goals.

If I can contribute a bit of my own experience: in one of my latest agency contracts, I had negotiated to have about 20% of my work time freed up for taking on new skills, this was written on the contract and really increased my respect for this employer. Sometimes I pursued my own stuff but if the company had some specific challenge in mind (producing an ebook, improving workflow, etc.) I was happy to take it on. I think that lends some support to your idea of communicating to your employee the kind of skills your company is interested in. My main caveat about this is I was already a senior at that moment and my objectives were more precise (and easier to self-learn I would add) than improving my work to "wow" the customer (which is why I would more strongly suggest some kind of mentoring should take place).

  • I really like your answer and point two and three are the kind of thing I do with the developers, and it's the kind of thing I am looking for, but that's the core of my question: I know which activities, readings, debates, peer reviews, etc, do with my developers so they learn. But I don't know which activities can I ask my designer to do for reaching my goal - don't forget about the paragraph I've just added about priorizing the designs quality improvement. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 14 '18 at 8:02
  • @ÁxelCostasPena I've updated my answer according to your edit – curious Jun 14 '18 at 14:35
  • Thank you. I also updated the question explaining why I think we are not constraining the worker's evolution but guiding him to best match the company he works for interests. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 18 '18 at 23:19
  • @ÁxelCostasPena Makes sense. I've updated my answer to give some of my own experience as I can really relate to how you depict your employee. – curious Jun 18 '18 at 23:47
  • Choosing as answer since I think it has been the more useful to me although all of them have been productive. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 25 '18 at 8:47
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The answer may lie in the difference between formative and summative assessment — the kind of feedback your employee requires to advance.

Note: In the pedagogical feedback theory suggested below, substitute "your employee" for student and "acceptable/appropriate designer" for instructor.

Formative assessment
The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their coaching and by students to improve their learning.
More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no risk.
Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a layout
  • turn in a proposal for early feedback

Summative assessment
The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.

Summative assessments are often high stakes, which means that they have a high risk. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • a final project submitted to a client
  • a final paper or proposal for distribution
  • any unsupervised submission for use

Information from summative assessments can be used formatively when employees or managers use it to guide their efforts and activities in other job assignments.

  • Hi. I realy appreciate your answer, it provides a very useful piece of theorical knowledge. My question is intended to find which concrete formative assesment activities can I perform with the designer or ask him to perform so his designs' quality increases. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 21 '18 at 15:05
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Normally when you hire somebody it is to delegate some tasks so you don't need to get involved in everything personally. Now as this designer is clearly a junior, as energetic as he may be, this takes you back to spending time on tasks you meant to delegate.

Hiring 1-2 more juniors can be an option and then filtering out the ones that don't make the goal or the quality you are expecting.

If you wish to invest time in this current designer, be warned training can hit back and after a while he could be tempted to leave for another job, which will make your time and energy wasted. However assuming he won't run to a better paid job after your "training", you could narrow down his tasks to what he's mostly skilled in.

I understand he knows a bit of everything so why not pin down what he's better at and keep him busy with jobs matching that better skill?

Show him samples of what you did before and let him know what exactly in his work can be improved based on previous work. Ask him to replicate/recycle previous artwork where possible.

Maybe those third party providers you used to work with could somehow help guide this employee for a while. Assuming the outside providers were and still are familiar with your workflow and material.

  • I have added some wide clarifications to the question in order to guide answerers to match my goals. In fact, I added a sentence about why we take the risk of loosing the investment on training a single worker. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 14 '18 at 8:04
  • I will take the part of selecting previous works and review them with him exchanging opinions about their different quality levels and the aspects which make them good or medium :) – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 14 '18 at 8:06
3

You hired a junior too early.

It sounds like you needed a senior in there with more experience. He maybe a good designer which is great but he lack may experience that a senior will have like knowledge and the benefits of crafting designs and will be able to look at the big picture etc as well as knowing how to handle juniors.

A senior to mentor the junior will work wonders for him and your business. He will be taught and mentored in the right paths by someone who has been there themselves.

Sending him on courses etc will only teach him so much, it wont teach him craft and etiquette, that is something that needs to be learnt in day to day work from more experienced team members.

I would recomend a senior designer to mentor him. Whether that be a part/full time. I think it will work wonders.

  • Oh, no, no. We really wanted a junior. Now I want to learn how to get involved in his learning process so he grows professionally and focuses on what the company best expects from him in a short-medium term. But we really wanted a junior so we can build an early and strong professional relationship. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 21 '18 at 15:03
  • If you are interested, I added lots of clarifications to the original question in order to guide answerers about the specifics of the scenario and what is exactly what I am pursuing. – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 21 '18 at 15:04
  • BTW, the "hire a senior to teach to the junior" seems very reasonable :) – Áxel Costas Pena Jun 21 '18 at 15:05
  • I dont doubt you wanted a junior, but its not what you needed. To set up, improve and build on the design standards, you need a senior/head of department to put those in place and drum those into the juniors who arent quite ready to do the things a senior can. – UIO Jun 21 '18 at 15:13

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