RE: UX Leadership — “Be the molecule that changes the matter.”
Bozoma “Boz” Saint John told the Chief community in a fireside chat:
“We’ve been told we have to fit into an environment.”
“This is how x company runs.”
But, when Boz said, “We don’t fit into you,” it resonated with me and my journey at Valley Bank growing a team from the ground up.
When Boz enters the room, the space changes.
“I am that molecule that changes the matter.”
Over the past three years, I’ve watched a team of leaders come together at Valley. It’s been a gift during what would have otherwise been pretty dark covid times. The light during pretty dark covid times comes from knowing I’ve done my best to create a safe space where every person can come to Valley and be the molecule that changes the matter.
I smile so hard inside when I think about each and every person on the Valley Bank Research and Service Design team. This team, these molecules, are changing what research and design means at Valley each day. With patience, dignity and tenacity, they are working together to understand the people that interact with Valley and then design experiences for our users and customers based on what they’ve learned about their needs, behaviors and attitudes.
What makes this team so incredible? I thought you would never ask.
Principle One: Together is always better than alone.
It’s not only dangerous to work in a silo, it’s less productive for many reasons. Working together fosters personal growth and team growth, and the impact you make together is much greater.
This is especially true when it comes to research and design.
Our team has permission to work together to make our insights actionable and the experiences we design intuitive and friendly. Researchers, designers and strategists compliment each other, pulling out individual strengths and leaning on each other for support. Together they shine.
Principle Two: Balance Autonomy and Alignment
Borrowed from the Spotify model, this is called the “rhythm” of how we work. My goal is always to help the team understand where the company wants to go so the team can orient their priorities and plans around this understanding. I encourage autonomy and creativity for cross-functional teams on how they do the work to achieve these goals.
Principle Two: Treat your team like a product, with constant learning and evolution.
Change is a good thing. The only constant is change.
We’ve applied agile rituals and frameworks to our team operations. Having standups, sprint planning and retrospectives as a team, in addition to our embedded cross-functional squad rituals, has helped us keep our tribe’s growth a priority. We are constantly reflecting on what went well for the team so we can build upon these successes. This also means we are constantly identifying what didn’t go well and creating action items for opportunities to improve as a team.
Principle Three: No one is coming to save us. It’s up to us.
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a colleague a few weeks into my journey at Valley was to stop tiptoeing around trying not to burn bridges. They said, “You know what to do. Go do it.” Each person that joins the team is expected to do the same. You are the expert — which is hard to remember sometimes because we all suffer from impostor syndrome. But, transformation is hard and It takes a village. We’re all chiefs in this village.
Principle Four: Celebrate every win, even the small wins.
No win is too small to celebrate. It’s important to create a culture of celebration so the impact of the work is a drumbeat and not just a cannon we launch once a year. We celebrated when the new case management system launched but we also celebrated when we were asked to validate the categorization of tags in it. We also celebrated when we got napkin holders for the new space. Celebration culture reminds us why we are here.
Principle Five: Diversity and inclusion are not optional.
You need to surround yourself with people that have a different lens on the world in order to be a stronger researcher or designer. This diverse lens comes from the experiences you’ve had collectively as a team. It’s what makes you observe and listen to people in a way that is powerful and pushes your colleagues to see an insight they couldn’t quite otherwise unearth. This lens is with you in affinity mapping sessions, Crazy 8 sketching and design crits. It is great that you have a story. You should be able to bring your full self to each and every conversation.
Principle Six: Find the truth. Tell the truth.
One of USDS’s Core Values, stuck with me. USDS describes it this way:
We expect everyone to be humble, but question what’s presented to them, and have the confidence to find a new path forward.
At the core, we are a team seeking to find answers and share what we learn in a meaningful way to inspire action. This includes interrogating truths or solutions that already exist as long as we are able to come to the table with evidence that inspires a new path.
Principle Seven: Remember the human.
This is the glue that holds us together. Human-centered design puts people at the center of everything. It’s a guiding principle that says when you are designing for people first it doesn’t matter if you are designing for a stakeholder, colleague, user, buyer, merchant or any number of other descriptors. What is important is that you stay grounded in human needs throughout the design process.
Boz said in our fireside chat to the Chief community she wants people to remember first and foremost:
I showed up exactly as I am. I was never afraid to be me.
If you’d like to show up as you are, we’re hiring and would love to see if there is an opportunity for you to grow with Valley. You can find me on LinkedIn.