Does your internal culture attract the best talent?

Culture is an increasingly important way for teams to differentiate themselves in a competitive design recruiting marketplace.

All signs point to design playing a more influential role within organizations of all kinds, so having the right designers has never been more important. And while their recruiting strategies may differ, internal teams are increasingly competing for the same talent as their agency counterparts.

The latest signs point to design team culture as one of the main considerations convincing applicants to choose one role over another, but what does this mean in practice? “Culture has become a hackneyed buzzword,” suggests Daniel Wert, co-founder of design-focused recruitment consultancy Wert&Co, based in Oakland, California. “For me, it’s not what you do, or why you do it. It’s how you do it. That ‘how’ is not only critical, but incredibly differentiating for people.”

For Hanna Kops, Head of Experience at Transport for London (TfL), to build an internal culture that people want to be (and stay) a part of, you need to support and develop the individual interests of each team member. “Everyone on my team is a hybrid, with different skill sets and experiences,” she explains. “I think people only do good work if they’re interested in what they’re doing, and they only like working with others if they’re not pigeonholed into one discipline.”

Kops’ advice is to focus on people’s interests and ambitions, not just their existing skills and knowledge. “That’s what drives people,” she says. “If someone has done a lot of really detailed UI design but is really interested in strategy, that’s what to look at.”

Establish a baseline of good culture

“People want to feel like their work matters,” agrees Andrew Hogan, who heads up Figma’s analytics and insights team. “They don’t want to have to fight to do their job. In some organizations they simply tell you: ‘Go do the thing’. That ability to progress is important. After all, why would you choose a place if you didn’t think there would be progress, either in your job or in your career?

Personal development, mentoring, and growth should be cornerstones of any healthy internal culture. According to a recent Figma survey of hiring managers, a strong internship program to nurture junior talent can have a powerful ripple effect on hiring success at all levels of a company: respondents with a well-established program had up to three times more likely to say they are successful in hiring the best people.

For design culture, Wert lists three more details: “First, there must be freedom to experiment, fail, and iterate. Second, it is important to have parity between design, engineering, and product. And third, design must be part of the upstream decision-making process. All of this stems from having a design leader at the same level within a cross-functional peer organization. Where the leaders sit makes a big difference.”

Kops adds a fourth: Designers must be given room to play a strategic role. “You can’t just give them a summary,” she argues. “They need to help present the proposal, understand why we are doing this and be part of that discussion. Designers are well-equipped to produce very high-quality work because they understand how fine-grained interactions relate to that initial strategic goal.”

Kops and Wert agree that while this cultural recipe should be in play, it’s very rare to find all or even some of these ingredients in many organizations. “Design is often an afterthought at the end of the cycle, and that’s bad design culture,” Kops muses. “It produces a lot of unhappy designers, because it doesn’t take advantage of what they’re good at.”

Build a more holistic image

TfL’s in-house design team do regular outreach work, showcasing their culture in a comprehensive way through talks, interviews, workshops and more. “Most of the people on our team discovered us before a job was posted,” reveals Kops. “It’s not just a matter of ‘branding’ to announce our team. It’s real people talking about their work. It is obvious that they love it, and that is theirs. When designers see that, they want to be a part of it.”

Wert adds that an employee’s comprehensive experience with a company is an integral part of its culture. Again, he draws comparisons to product development: “A lot of emphasis, resources, and expertise is put into how to make the product experience seamless, enjoyable, and seamless,” he says. “We should treat an employee’s journey, from applying to leaving with references and hopefully equity in hand, with the same care.”

Hogan advocates discussing culture in a public-facing, transparent way, adding that a more strategic approach to social media posts can add an extra layer of understanding. “Design leaders can add value by explaining their decisions or sharing why they’re hiring for a particular type of job,” she says. “It’s a domino effect, far beyond the original tweet or post.”

If you’re hiring for a senior design operations position, for example, that sends an inherent message about how the organization values ​​making life easier and more efficient for its designers. In fact, Figma’s research reveals that companies with a strong design operations function are twice as likely to recruit the ideal candidate in their opinion.

See your process as part of your culture

“Design operations can be the most undervalued role in a company, particularly in early-stage organizations,” agrees Wert. “They are usually put in place in reaction to issues as the company starts to grow, but in my opinion you should be more proactive. By investing horizontally, you set people up for success vertically.”

Another revealing statistic from Figma’s research is that companies with well-optimized tools and processes also double their success rate. If there are tools and processes that his team relies on, Hogan advises building them into recruiting and onboarding early on so you can test the fit. “If an interviewee has a portfolio on Figma, having them review it on Figma is a good way to go,” she suggests.

“Similarly, you can run things in a collaborative whiteboard tool like FigJam and in the process show how your team would normally interact in that environment. If people react to a group portfolio presentation with fire emojis, smiley faces, or hearts, that says a lot about the vibe of the place.” Some would love this; others would find it awkward or distracting – either way, it’s a quick and easy way to test how they would fit into the culture.

Many of the hiring managers Figma surveyed expressed frustration with the amount of time they spend on hiring, time that could be better spent on tasks like training existing teams or communicating with stakeholders. But by incubating and showcasing the benefits of your company culture as widely as possible, talent should come to you.

“A strong culture is not inherently good or bad. It’s just distinctive,” concludes Wert. “It may not be for you, but if it is, you will gravitate towards it.”

Read Figma’s full report on the art and science of hiring designers.

November 7-11, 2022 Job Orientation

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