Naa Marteki Reed works as the Technology and Innovation Fellow at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, being a Certified Usability Analyst and a Certified ScrumMaster.. She was previously Senior Experience Architect at Gogo.
IA Summit 2015 Main Conference Talk
Topic(s): mentoring and professional development
Want to be a mentor in the UX field, but you’re not sure where to start? Feel like you want to give back and help strengthen our industry, but running low on time and resources? You’re in luck: this presentation will not only reveal your personal secret UX superpower to you, but it’ll also show you how to use it on your co-workers to grow your mentoring skills, improve their careers, and build up the UX industry as a whole.
Naa Marteki Reed: Thank you, guys, so much. Today’s talk is about mentoring your co-workers, whether they’re UX or not, without them realizing it.
How many people here specifically came to this talk because of the title? How many people here came specifically for the mentoring part? How many people came for the “Without Your Co-Workers Realizing It?” That’s great. I just want to get a sense of the audience.
This is just a brief slide that goes through all the different companies I’ve worked for. I’ve worked for everything from non-profits, to small startups, to larger institutions in education, to corporate environments.
Currently, I’m working at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. How many people have heard of that agency before? That’s good to know then.
It’s a federal agency, however, I am outside Chicago. It’s an agency that, especially for technology, is really big on remote workers. As a result, it’s developed a culture around that. With that, that means that we don’t behave the way you might think of when you think of government IT.
I am required by our ethics department to put the following disclosure on this slide, that anything I might say publicly, that I am speaking here as a private citizen, on my own views, and this is not actually official policy of the CFPB.
In addition to all the things I said, I’m also a mother. I’m a mother of two wonderful children, named Naomi and Lucas. They have taught me a great deal that has helped me in my career, specifically around the concept of mentoring, and going out and improving work life both for myself and for my co-workers.
This is a picture from roughly nine months ago, where Naomi is helping Luke through a new toy that he got. She has never played with this toy before, but she understands the concepts behind it. He has never played with this toy before, and he doesn’t understand the concepts behind it.
She’s going through and teaching him through doing, through playing, and going ahead and playing along with him. She’s not instructing him. They’re going ahead and playing together.
At the same time, through this, and in other ways, he has been teaching her. Despite the fact he’s almost three years younger than her, he teaches her things that she does not know. It’s something that flows back and forth. It’s not coming down that she is the teacher because she is older. He is also teaching her, as well.
That’s something that I’ve also seen happen within the workplace. It’s actually something that I’ve tried to practice a lot of times. I’m going to go through it and walk you through some examples and how you personally could go ahead and incorporate that into your work life.
This is an example. I see, right there, that it’s Mrs. Patty Seibert, who was the first person who ever called out to me, that I was actually mentoring actively in the workplace without realizing it.
The quote that she says was that, “She needed help, that I realized that she needed help, and that I coached her almost without her realizing that she was being coached until it was already completed.”
We’re going through usability testing scripts. We’re going through stakeholder presentations. Now is the point where we’re going through feedback to other employees, whether it’s people that we are managing, or people who are managing us.
That continual process of talking to each other, the process of working with each other through various things, is what encapsulates mentoring, at least in my definition of what mentoring could be. The learning back and forth that happens between different people and different disciplines.
You might be asking yourself, “What, specifically, could you mentor?” Is there anyone here who has an idea of what it is that they’re thinking of mentoring? Just raise your hands now.
Sort of, and who has no idea, really, about what they could possibly be mentoring someone, or is unsure? It’s about half-and-half then.
The way I think about it is that you can go ahead and think about the strengths that might be on your resume, or might be on your LinkedIn profile. Just call out to me some of the things that you might have on your LinkedIn profile.
Audience Member: Web development.
Naa: Web development.
Audience Member: Collaboration.
Audience Member: User research.
Naa: User research. I have some of those things on here as strengths, including whatever is the latest, hottest thing that a recruiter is looking for right now. I also have the things that recruiters might not be looking for.
I’ve already heard collaboration called out, so things that are softer skills, that people who are looking at our industry might not recognize as being crucial and core to the heart of UX and the heart of designing.
If you go ahead and you think about these things, I’ve thought about these things, and I’ve developed my radial of all the different things that have been used in order to describe myself, without the fact I’m holistic. I look at designs in the broader frame of things. I am extremely creative.
I’m also emotional. I get emotional about things, whether it’s presentations we’re having, or designs, and the impacts upon users. I’m very persistent. That is something that’s been called out.
It’s the number one thing that my co-workers at my current company have called out, my persistence in dealing with our service desk when it comes to IT help desk issues, that I’ve taught them to also be persistent, and it’s OK to continue asking, “Why isn’t this working? Is it OK? I need to have this thing working.”
It’s been called out to me also that I’m a know-it-all. Alice, actually, called out to me, as an insult that was used within the workplace, that I was acting like a know-it-all, and it was something I needed to change.
I realized that sense of trying to get all the information, trying to get all the research, was something that’s one of my strengths, and that I just needed to go ahead and present it in a way that was more positive, and that impacted the projects better, and impacted my work better.
It’s not something that I need to stop doing. It’s something I need to recognize and try and make into a more positive thing.
I’ve also been called righteous, actually by a guy who’s sitting right here in this room, Paul McLear. He called me righteous, and I took it as an insult to start with. I said, “What do you mean by that?” in typical UX fashion, trying to determine what was actually behind his statement.
He said, “It’s kind of similar to what I’ve been saying before about the emotion and about the persistence. When you see something is not right, and you see that there’s a way that things can improve, you continue working until you can get that done, whether it’s in designs, whether it’s in interpersonal relations, whether it’s things that are going forward, you continue trying to work as much as you can to improve and get it better.”
I realized that he wasn’t calling me righteous the way I would think of it, which was self-righteous, and that sort of a negative thing there. I was like, “I’ve gone ahead and created my map of all of my strengths, even taking the things that were considered insults. I’m realizing that they are my strengths, and there’s ways that I can put them forward in a positive manner.”
I say to you guys, what have people complimented you on when you’re at work, whether it’s something that is softer skills or whether it’s something that is intrinsic, like skills for our profession.
For example, I recently got complimented, just this week, that I’m one of the best usability testing facilitators, by this guy that I really want to impress at work. This guy, who has tons of experience, that I’m one of the best facilitators that he’s ever seen. I know that that’s something that’s also a strength that I can go ahead and use in my career and teach to people, as well.
What have people said while critiquing you at work? The things that people said while critiquing you, there’s probably a great deal of truth behind them. The secret is, how do you go ahead and take what they’re saying and find out how to improve yourself and how to improve other peoples’ career as a result.
Again, grab the positives, spin the negatives into positives, and then that’s your core set of your UX superpowers that you’re going to go forth and improve the workplace with.
The next set of things, once you have that core set of superpowers, who are you going to practice on? Who are you going to mentor? There’s a quote that comes from Mark Twain, or at least it’s attributed to him, “Write what you know.”
He probably didn’t say it, like most things that are attributed to Mark Twain, but let’s go ahead and roll with it, and in typical UX fashion, let’s take it, contextualize it, and improve upon it. Teach who you work with.
You can teach people who are junior to you, of course. That’s the traditional way people think of mentoring, is that someone who is in a higher level, a senior level, then mentoring down to people who maybe are just starting within the industry, or are looking to move up from a midlevel in the industry.
There’s also the idea of peer mentoring, people who are on the same level as you, bringing back and forth the different disciplines and the different skills.
I’m going to go ahead and say that it is A-OK, and probably preferred, to try and mentor your higher-ups, and mentor the people who are above you. Again, who I called out before, Paul McLear, he has been my manager. He put out a tweet recently about the things that I have mentored him on. Go ahead and find his Twitter and look and see what I’ve mentored him on.
No one out there is a unicorn. I’m sorry to anyone who is basing everything about them. I apologize to the Unicorn Institute for saying this, but no one knows everything about everything. There’s always something that you can learn, always something you can improve upon.
Learning from people who perhaps are considered junior to you, teaching people, perhaps who are considered higher to you, things, whether it’s facilitation, whether it’s a new technique you’ve pulled up, whether it’s a new way to prototype, whether it’s a new way of thinking, or some different way of doing research.
All those different things are things that we can constantly teach, we can constantly learn about. It’s going to improve our entire industry, altogether, if we are constantly trying to feed and trying to learn from each other.
We also should not forget the non-UX folks. Bringing those people into our pool will also help to improve our industry, improve the respect of our industry when they see what it is that we have to give, what it is that we’re willing to share. Learning from them helps us to improve in what it is that we do.
I’m talking about people who are on the business side of things, whether analysts, whether it’s people who are in the more creative, strictly visual group, if it’s people who are in development, who are in infrastructure, and data, who might think that they have nothing to do with design, or with research, that isn’t something that has any influence at all in their work.
We all know that experience and user experience work encompasses everything that we do digitally. Let’s try and bring everyone in and try and have that mentoring process happening more holistically.
Here are some quotes from people who aren’t in UX, who have told me, specifically, things that I have mentored them on, “How to get feedback from sample groups about user interfaces How to be persistent, yet professional, and not give up on things,” again, from a current co-worker about service desk and help desk for IT.
How hard it is to do good research. This is something that came up based on the way that I brought people in to usability testing sessions, and let them see what was going on, and then see the findings, or recommendations that came out from it, and what it was. That it isn’t just, “Go do the research. You put it in front of people, and the people are going to tell you what it is that we need to go ahead and do,” that there is more to it than that.
This last one was from an IT architect at my last job, saying, “UX meant actually talking to users. Somehow, in using the acronym, the fact that it was something that was user-centric, that it was human-centric, and people-centric had gotten lost there.”
That’s something else that I’d just like to call out. Sometimes using our jargon and using our acronym, especially when we’re talking to people outside our field, might be something we might want to change just so people understand a little bit better what it is that we’re actually doing.
I ask all of you, is there anyone at your workplace that you think could teach something to, anything to? It doesn’t have to be something that’s specific to UX like prototyping, like research, like that. How to communicate better, how to present better, things like empathy, facilitation, all those things. Is there someone you think you can teach something to?
If you think that there are people you could teach something to, I challenge you to write down three names. I don’t have time right now, due to delays, in order to stop for you to write them down, but I will have these slides for you to go through at a later point. I’d like you to commit to mentoring, at least one of them, through the end of the year.
I’ve gone through and talked about the things that perhaps you could mentor on with your super powers. I’ve talked about the ideas of people that you could potentially mentor. How about the part about without them knowing that you’re mentoring them? What are the ways to mentor without appearing to mentor?
Part of it, I think that some of you in the room might actually know some of the things I’m about to present here. Why would you want to appear how maybe how not to mentor your co-workers?
It might be that they’re too busy, because they’re doing their jobs, and talking about some of these more fluffy subjects might be something that’s taking them away from their actual duties. It might be that they don’t need to know anything about UX.
Again, a quote I have heard, and it turned out at the end of my working with this person, they did, in fact learn something about UX through some of the gentle mentoring techniques that I use.
It might be that your company culture doesn’t have a mentoring set up in place, or it’s something that’s not encouraged, the different disciplines talking and working together.
It could be that it might be easier without calling it out as mentoring, easier without that explicit hierarchy of it.
As I’ve said for mentoring, I don’t really believe that there is a hierarchy. I believe it’s something that’s constantly feeding each other from all different sides, but the word mentoring has this cultural concept.
I say that life is a design project that includes your career. Don’t try not to compartmentalize yourself like, “This is my work, and this is my career. This is my life. This is how I go through and practice that then.” You’re a whole being, and that includes everything that you engage in when you’re in your career, when you’re in your life, to bring all of those things together.
If you’re going ahead and you’re practicing certain things, when you’re doing research, for example, or when you’re looking at prototypes, or creating prototypes, apply some of those same skills that you would apply to the designs, or to the users that you’re designing for, to your co-workers. Use your skills that pay your bills.
The skills that I’m talking about are things like listening, things like asking questions, things like having empathy, taking all of those things and then applying them also to your co-workers, to the people you’re working with. It’s just going to make everything better.
I’ve recently gone into a workplace. I did this talk on Thursday, when I was with all of my remote fellow employees, in DC, for our quarterly regroup. I actually ended up skipping over this slide when I gave this talk, so I was like, “You guys, we already do this. I don’t need to explain to you guys why this is so important.”
I’ve got a few more hints for you guys. Avoid being directive when you’re doing you’re mentoring. I know I’ve been doing a lot of directive stuff up here. I also said that this is stuff that we already know, and we all have already been doing. It’s just being more conscious and more mindful about doing it and applying it to our co-workers, as well.
Continue to view non-creative things like, infrastructure, or security requirements, or polices, through a creative lens.
I was like, “What are the different ways that we can go ahead, and we see something that looks like it has nothing applied to it, in terms of design and design thinking, how can we apply design thinking to it so it changes somewhat?”
I’m currently actively going through that with a current co-worker in regards to policies around security around data collection for usability testing. I think we’re moving towards a good place, because there’s that continuous process of mentoring other people through the idea of, “This is something that we can go ahead and change, and make better for all of us.”
Always be looking to learn more. Always be looking to possibly change your approach. If something isn’t working, iterate, iterate, iterate.
I’m really a big proponent of the Agile concept, in the general Agile concept, not necessarily the strict framework as it’s defined, but the idea of constantly improving on things is something that I’m always constantly looking at, both in designs, and in my interactions with folks.
I’m going to go ahead and sum it up. As I said, everyone can mentor on something. You just have to know what your natural strengths are; that you can teach all the people that are around you, whether or not they’re people who are in UX that you’re meeting at meetups, or something like that; or it’s the people, the co-workers that are around you, that perhaps you might think might have no relevance whatsoever to UX.
Always use the skills that you already have, that I know we’re all already so great. I think that everyone in this room probably is either they’re wonderful at what they do, or they’re looking to be better at what they do. That in itself calls out enough, the fact that you’re at a high enough self-awareness that you can go ahead and be able to go out and teach people things.
I’m not exactly sure how much time we have left, but that’s the end of my presentation. I will be taking questions afterwards.