Ep. 3: What Are Non-Negotiables for You to Accept a New Product Leader Role?

[HOPE GURION, FEARLESS PRODUCT]

Are you considering taking a new product leadership role? Well in today's episode you're going to hear from five experienced product leaders and what they consider to be non-negotiables when somebody approaches them about a new opportunity. These are the product leaders that we're going to be speaking with today. You can get more information on their background by watching their bio videos using the links below.

 

[AL MING, VP PRODUCT & DESIGN, CNBC]

What I think are the non-negotiable things for taking any opportunity because I did just take a new opportunity here at CNBC as part of the NBC Universal Comcast family and I think the most important thing in terms of for me in terms of what's important about a new opportunity is that I believe it is both a combination of an exciting challenge and that it is in some form set up for success that it is a company that is committed to building great products and even they may not know how to do it right they might want you to come in and be a change agent they might want you to to build a bench in the product organization that did not exist before but that there is a commitment from your senior leadership the rest of your senior leadership your CEO that they want this that's the goal that you have is the goal that they want they just don't know how to do it so it's not about process it's not about oh you're a design thinking expert that's great that's what we want it's about we want to build great products and we know oh that we have to try something different that there is an appetite for doing good product even if there is not already a model of great product and that they're committed to having you change things to having you build more of a test driven approach for having you engage with customers more for having you take more swings build more MVP tests have your product teams get out of the building and get in front of customers and learn what great products are that I think is the most important thing that that is what I need to be set up for success is that kind of commitment and then I think it's also important that looking over here because amazingly I have a picture that kind of articulates what I think about this hey this is using that for being ikigai, a model for a like what a gig that's important to you is and for a long time I used to mentor folks and talk to them about what was important in their jobs people would come to me and say like I don't know what I want to do I don't know where I want to go kind of like a coaching kind of model and I think one of the things that's important to me is that it hits all these boxes I think that's part of this answer too is that it is you know not by now I can feel like I'm good at products so that box gets kind of solved and people do want to pay me for that also kind of helpful but I think another part of this is and I'm not necessarily a hugely mission-driven person but I want to believe that what I'm doing matters in some form but I can understand the value proposition to a customer and I think that's a big part of what what what is needed what is the value I Drive to customers to the industry to not just the bottom line and do I have that opportunity to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and to build an organization of people who become like me or are like me already and I think that that really drives towards creating a job that you want to be in forever or for a long time that you have that that opportunity for change there's another model that I've often found interesting and thinking about what's important in a job that I go forward with which is the self-determination theory it's a model around motivation in psychology and it's that you always have an opportunity to master new things so it's about learning and development of course that's not logical one but also that you have autonomy that you have the ability to steer your own direction I think that's always been important for me is that you know I I first said is I want to be set up for success but a part of that is to be able to drive that direction towards success that success is not just about ticking boxes but growing as a person taking on new challenges and building something that I would be proud of into the future like it kind of speaks back to the idea of what is a what is a great product organization in general it's it's driven by that's the thing that you want to build that's the thing that you want to be a part of and it's not easy by any means sometimes it's not even common like you look around there's a lot of product organizations that are much more like IT organizations or much more like order takers so one of the exciting parts for me is knowing that I can if I'm not stepping into it directly I know that I can create the Utopia of products

 

[MARGARET JASTREBSKI, PRODUCT & STRATEGY ADVISOR, JASTREBSKI LLC]

So my non-negotiables for a product role I can summarize really quickly it's a team and market opportunity I mean that's really good and in that order so team first and then market opportunity next and both are very very important but when I think about products I am I can't think of another role in an organization that has such breadth of responsibilities, breadth and depth of responsibility as a product person you have to think about the strategy you know at any given time you need to be thinking 1 2 3 years out again depending on the nature of your organization and be able to talk to that with conviction with clarity with alacrity and at the same time you have to be able to turn around be like ok and tomorrow Sprint we're going to do X Y Z and the architecture and the code and bottle ba you know have these types of bugs your your level of what you have to cover the things that you have to talk about really kind of span the gamut that is a hard roll you also have to be able to talk to the business you have to talk to the marketing side you has a flexible sales side you have to talk to the business development side you have to be out in market speaking to people you have to be really kind of a lot of that face of the product at the same time you still need to be facing internally and supporting the dev team and supporting supporting what they're trying to do in supporting the execution side of house so when I think about that role I think it takes a very special person to be able to have that elasticity to be able to question to all of these types of functions and so it takes a special person but I also think it takes a special team around you nothing nothing that we do as product people are actually solo like nothing about this role and you go do alone you are a hundred percent dependent on all of those people around you because of the information you need to get and provide to all of those different organizations I just listed so it's super critical to make sure that the team around you is a team that you trust that you support that you can get along with but really face those tough times face those tough decisions that have to be made and really you come from a spot of trust and then be able to face those tough times together because what you do as a part of arson is difficult you're inventing something you're creating something you're you're doing something that's never been done before and you're lifting from another and not the ashes that you're listing from you're you're listing from nothing right you're creating from nothing and you're you're the one that's supposed to be responsible for defining that creating that and manipulating that and maneuvering that and so having a team around you where you can go take these types of risk and then a lot of times you're not going to be successful a lot of times you are hopefully you are finding that balance finding that team that's going to be around you and finding that balance is just a hands-down top priority for me just because of the innate nature of the role like I said the second thing is market opportunity for me personally I've tried a few I tried a few industries that it just doesn't resonate with me products the role itself is so much about empathy and so much about voices user and representing the user you have to be able to put your you yourself you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your user and so if you're in an industry where you're like I just don't get it art doesn't resonate with me then it's going to be very hard for you to be able to show up and speak authentically on behalf of the user to your organization for me personally things like FinTech and EDTech just love it absolutely need to be there it just doesn't resonate with me in the past I work for Orbitz you know I've worked for shop runner I really love retail I really love e commerce I really love that problem if you think about it I like that flow problem right you've got a funnel you've got a very clear funnel you feel the funnel optimize the funnel you transact at the end of the funnel and that to me is a problem that really resonates with me I can turn around and go articulate that and then also particulate strategies around that really easily some some other problems again like syntek where you get into the the guts of I don't know I think about like options trading and I'm like it's not going to be something that resonates with me so really comes down to team and I think it comes down to really the market opportunity making sure those two things heads are are the things that I always look out for when I'm considering a new opportunity

 

[LAUREN ANTONELLI, CHIEF OF STAFF, EVITE]

I've made a personal promise to myself that you know even when I leave a bite I will always work for a leader that I believe in and who is passionate about their product but listens to the people around them because I've just seen it so many times work the other way and and it's been terrible for people it's terrible for morale you know people are checking in and checking out and it's it's just really not a high-performing organization so you know I I think it's important to teach people to feel comfortable and giving them tools to be able to challenge anyone or to ask questions to anyone regardless of where you are you know on the totem pole.

 

[LUCINDA NEWCOMB, VP DISCOVERY & PERSONALIZATION, WALMART.COM]

The first thing that I would care about is who's going to be my boss and and do we share similar values and do we share a similar sense of purpose within the organization and a clear understanding of what success looks like in the early days you know I don't care somebody paints with five-year vision that I mean I do but that's not a non-negotiable part of that I'd hope that I'd have a huge say in that over the course of the time but really without that I don't think you have the basis for a successful relationship or a successful stint at a company however long that might be right I am not fearful of things like so I'm not fearful of hard jobs or I think a lot of people will say the culture it has to be a perfect fit I don't believe that I actually think that if you do your job really well and you make sure that people are focused on the right stuff that you can help shape that in really dramatic ways it's some of the hardest work there is but I think it's possible I know it's possible I've seen it and so that to me is not a non-negotiable it's really about how you in line with the vision of the company and where it's going and the people that you're going to be working really closely with you don't have to agree on everything of course and but that to me is the biggest thing well I realized quite a while ago that that there's five things that are actually the most meaningful for me when I think about when am i happiest in my role and you know I think yeah I just took about six months off in-between jobs where I quit my old job took my time to find a new one so I got a chance to talk about this a lot but really because I was very clear that you know I think early in your career you may just be chasing the next level but them better you know yourself and the better you know what makes you happy the better you can actually choose what it is that you want to do next so for me my five criteria are number one and these are in priority order I am a product person number one is good macro so if the company you're joining is struggling and not growing you are in a very different place than if it is growing so in often times when you're a struggling company no matter what you do you're not gonna get the resources you're not gonna be able to do the things that you think are important and so some people out there may be turnaround experts and may really thrive in those environments where they're like hey we can save this I personally have found that is like it is super critical to be in a place where you have macroeconomic tailwind versus headwinds for example when I was at Lonely Planet and I was doing mobile apps which is super fun and so great macroeconomic tailwind in terms of mobile app adoption that's back in 2011 um but it turns out people don't want to pay for content that was a huge macroeconomic headwind it just meant that no matter what we were trying to do we were always gonna be faced with this fundamental that was an exhaustion is variable and outside of our control and when it's outside of your control you can't fix it so just know what are the macroeconomic situation and understand what the impact is going to be on those things that are in your awareness and impact you but can't be fixed by you

 

The second thing for me is passionate I'm a consumer girl I love the purchase funnel I love ecommerce I love retail for me it is all about like what is it that she's trying to trying to buy but also what promise she trying to solve and how can I help solve it in a way that is meaningful for her and help her make a better more informed decision and so you know I've heard a lot from companies that were like b2b they want to talk about enterprise offer I'm like I have no interest in that because I truly believe being a great product leader requires an empathy and an understanding of your customer and that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to be the target but it requires you to have empathy for who you are trying to solve the problem for otherwise you can't do a good job of solving for it and sometimes that means you have to go out and develop empathy for you have to go and do the research for it but ultimately if you don't have a passion match and don't want to have empathy and don't want to solve those problems you are going to have a really hard time connecting with what is the right solution because being a product manager isn't about doing what somebody asks of you it is about understanding the need and the problem and coming up with new and innovative ways to help solve that problem so passion Act was a huge one for me and hence how I ended up at yet another large consumer retailer

 

The third thing for me is culture now early on in my days at Sephora I found you know unbeknownst to me that the culture there was a huge amplifier for me so my first  were as a consultant and so one of my hero powers is adaptability I can get along in any culture if I have to I mean I enjoy it I may not choose to stay but I can when I got to Sephora I found a culture that naturally aligned with what are my natural tendencies and it came down to three key things number one super get shit done I love getting shit done I love checking things off a list like so many product managers I know I love myself a good list and be able to actually make things happen but second pieces I would say I'm a compulsive collaborator I'm an off-the-charts extrovert my favorite thing in the universe is getting smart people in a room with a whiteboard and a problem to solve so I love a collaborative environment where it's not about pipe down listen to your elders it's about hey how do we get some really strong and informed perspectives in a room and have the conversation but the third thing for me was super focused on solving for the customer the client experience is Queen and so whenever we'd have disagreements it would always come back to what's the right thing to do for our customers and that helped banish a lot of the a lot of the sniping and a lot of the disagreements and finding myself in an environment where the culture naturally aligned to and appreciated and rewarded what were my natural tendencies was a massive amplifier because what it meant was I could lean in to being authentic and figuring out my own leadership style because I trusted that my instincts were good and were aligned with what the organization was going to appreciate in value and as a result I got promoted very quickly in a couple of different levels because it was so clear that I was a natural fit and that I could really be amplified there and so a big part of it for me was finding a culture where I found that I had people who I was gonna be you know going to trust and respect and find that collaboration again people where there was an urgency of wanting to get things done and not being bogged down by the need for certainty but really figuring out here's what we need to do and how do we make decisions and move forward and find a place was all about delighting that customer and so that was a huge part of my of my decision process the flipside is probably one of my most important it was also the hardest to find it's also one of the hardest to test for when you're not actually in a culture and so what I would say is a lot of it is simply about finding people who you think are going to be your partners in crime who you think are gonna be strong collaborators with you because product management if we're off in a corner we're not doing our job so you need to find people with whom you can have that collaboration

 

The fourth criteria for me was around role and similar to the passion match I was looking for a role that would help me stretch and expand what I'd done as I mentioned I was running product at Sephora but here at Walmart it's on such a completely different scale really think about that role at this scale stretches me and makes me think about things that I haven't done before because I would I'm glad I would say as a lifelong learner I want to continue to learn and grow and when you're in a role and have been in it for too long you may be expert at it but you stop learning and you stop being curious and in fact sometimes you stop even realizing you're no longer doing a good job because you're not learning and adapting so I wanted to be in a place where that role was going to continue to push me and inspire me and

 

Then the fifth criteria is compensation because we all got to eat sister so and don't be afraid to ask for what is the right value for the value that you bring to the table and what is market and so I wasn't looking to go out there and try and find the biggest bucks for you know for my role I want to make sure that I was going to be a place that valued what I brought to the table and compensated me appropriately for it so those are my five criteria

 

[HOPE GURION, FEARLESS PRODUCT]

I'm often surprised how few recruiters know what is truly important to a product leader when considering a new opportunity. It's not is the company going to IPO in the next year. It's much more about:

·      What is that day-to-day reality?

·      Does the leader really understand what good product looks like?

·      Is the team going to be set up for success?

·      How will really hard decisions be made at that company?

So I hope you found today's episode useful. If you did, please comment below and let me know what specifically you found helpful about the advice from today's leaders. If you have ideas for future episodes I'd love to know about it so post them in the comments below or send me a message on LinkedIn or on Twitter thanks

 

[Music]

Hope Gurion