Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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What are your 5 whys?

One of the quickest, simplest approaches to performing root cause analysis (finding the answers for why something happened the way it did) is to use the 5 whys technique. Using this approach, you write a statement that contains the problem or question you want to resolve. Next you ask ‘why?’ to the statement and write the answer. If that is not the root or cause you’re looking for, you ask ‘why?’ and continue to answer the question ‘why’ until you get to the root cause and can go no further. Continue reading


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Build Your Network to Live Your Passion

Work Happy Now! Guest Post by David Bradford, author of Up Your Game

All of our life successes are defined within the context of their impact on people; namely ourselves first, then impact on family, community, and globally. Without people, on a small scale or large, no innovation in technology would be of significant value. Without people our lives lack depth, connection, and passion.

The Power of Personal Relationships

Two of the most talented people I have ever interacted with are Bill Gates and Gary Kildall. Gary Kildall and Bill Gates have had arguably the most profound impact on the history of personal computing of any two people except possibly Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They defined the age of personal computing, and their contributions continue to have a major impact on business in the twenty-first century.

Why is Bill Gates one of the richest men on planet Earth and Gary Kildall a forgotten footnote in the annals of the computer industry? The fundamental reason is that Gates and Microsoft were about developing relationships that enabled them to secure an agreement to supply the desktop Operating System for the IBM Personal Computer and Kildall did not. Why? What factor impeded the “Inventor of the P.C. Operating System” from securing the most important contract in the history of the computer industry, yet permitted Mr. Gates to secure the same?

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Accelerating Leadership Development in the Workplace

Contributed by Global Knowledge

Today’s business recruiters face a growing concern over the future of leadership. This concern is certainly not unfounded – by the year 2020 over a quarter of the workforce will be aged 55 and over (compared to just 13% in 2000), and many of these will hold senior positions in their organization. Employers are therefore being faced with the sensitive task of bridging the skills gap in a bid to find new leaders to replace those who are heading towards retirement.

Accelerating Leadership DevelopmentJocelyn Bérard, Global Knowledge’s Vice President is one leader who is working diligently to steer organizations through the leadership predicament towards a green light solution. In his latest publication Accelerating Leadership Development: Practical Solutions for Building Your Organization’s Potential, Bérard identifies key ways in which employers can work to fill leadership roles, whether through leadership training or business development strategies.

According to Bérard, the book’s main purpose is to aid businesses to “speed up the process of leadership development [by making sure that they] have the right opportunities and infrastructure to retain that talent.” The publication includes a step-by-step approach to accelerating leadership development within the workplace, which seeks to lay the foundations for organizations to “identify talent gaps, select next-generation talent, determine leadership requirements and give them [employees] the tools they need to succeed.”

The publication also includes interviews with top international academics and executives from Europe and North America who offer sound advice on how to find, encourage and nurture emerging talent in the workplace.

In addition to his recent book, Bérard also regularly offers leadership advice in industry publications both online and in print. In a recent article on accelerating leadership development, Bérard identified two key strategies for organizations seeking to prepare for leadership succession:

1.  The 9-Box Grid

A core part of the solution is identifying potential leader candidates, this may be an employee who consistently produces work of a high standard and is skilled in every area of their role. One tool, which Bérard suggests organizations can use, is the nine-box grid that can be used to position potential leaders on a low, medium and high performance scale.

However, merely scoring employees with a performance rating is not enough to predict and rate potential leaders. Bérard identifies six factors that employees need to take into account in order to assess future leaders. These are:

  1. Cognitive complexity and capacity
  2. Learning orientation: self and others
  3. Drive and achievement orientation
  4. Motivation to lead
  5. Social and emotional complexity and capacity
  6. Personal and business ethics

These factors are believed to be essential in order to streamline the leadership assessment process.

2.  Carefully Identify Potential Leaders Through Diagnosis

Meticulously assessing a potential leader’s capabilities, competencies, experience and knowledge is essential in order to recognize strengths and identify room for improvement. Bérard says options for assessment could include “360-degree surveys or simulations, validated personality traits inventories, tailored knowledge, and an experience review interview or questionnaire.”

Using these four components to appropriately assess potential-leaders will give employers an accurate indication of whether a candidate is ready to make the leap of faith towards leadership training and development.

Author Note: Global Knowledge are IT and business training providers who organize a number of leadership development training events designed to offer practical solutions for building an organization’s potential. The next event will be hosted by Jocelyn Bérard on the 2nd December. Visit the website to find out more.


The Product Management Perspective: Many product management leaders face challenges with aging individual contributors on their teams. What makes this challenge even more difficult is the shortage of college programs focused on product management, which means new candidates need training and preparation beyond what they get in college to get started. Therefore, product management leaders must focus on not only finding people with the right skills to lead their products, but also on training them for their job. When hiring a VP or Director of Product Management, make sure your chosen candidate understands these aspects and will focus on developing leaders in your product organization.


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Arm the Messenger: Helping Your Team Talk Business

Guest post by Allison Rice

Imagine you are at a networking event with several of your employees, enjoying an appetizer and mingling with other small business types, when suddenly you overhear one of your own team members struggling to explain what, exactly, your business does and how you do it. Would you be embarrassed? Of course you would.

But scenarios like this don’t have to happen. Instead, you can arm your team with the information necessary to talk about your business in the outside world. After all, word of mouth is the best advertisement for any business — and happy team members who can readily discuss how the company works are a sure sign of success.

Find out how much everyone knows

First, find out where your team stands in terms of discussing business affairs. Arrange a meeting with the entire company, from college interns to managers and partners, and give everyone a simple worksheet of questions to answer. Don’t tell them before the meeting what the meeting will be about or you won’t get a true picture of how much training is needed.

What should everyone know?

The worksheet should include questions that you would want your team to be able to answer in a variety of business situations. Whether an employee is attending a networking function or encouraging a new client to consider your product, he or she should be able to speak candidly about what your company offers and have a general idea about everyday processes. The classic questions of who, what, when, where, how and why make a good starting point. For example:

What Does the Company Offer?

This question seems simple enough, but often employees and managers don’t have a clear answer. Narrow it down to specifics with the following hints:

  • Is it considered to be a product or service?
  • What makes the product or service unique?
  • What kind of competition exists in the market, both locally and nationally, for this product or service?
  • Does your company include “perks” or benefits with its products or services? (For example: a hair salon offers a 10-minute scalp massage with each wash and haircut.)

Who Might Benefit From What the Company Offers?

Understanding the demographics of the company’s product or service is also important. Make sure your team knows about the qualities of your ideal client, such as:

  • The company’s target age range
  • Target educational and/or economic status
  • Gender, if applicable

How Does Your Company Deliver?

How your company delivers a marketing message, or navigates today’s economy, is important. What do your employees know about your marketing efforts?

  • Mass Media: Does your company use television, radio or live events to deliver a message?
  • Websites: How does your company’s website work? Is it possible to purchase your product or service on the web?
  • Social Media: What social media tactics does your company use?
  • “Old School” Methods: Does your company send out brochures and/or fliers, hang posters or mail newsletters?

Why Has Your Company Thrived?

The “why” portion is a chance to share the philosophy of your company: its history and its current mission. While you might not think people will ask about these matters, this is important information that each employee and business owner should have.

Where Can Someone Get More Information?

This should be a no-brainer, but make sure everyone on the team is aware of all the different places a potential client can find out more, such as:

  • The company’s website or email address
  • The company’s storefront(s)
  • The company’s contact information

When is the Best Time to Get in Touch?

Answering this question could be as easy as relaying the business hours, but, if you have a website that offers purchasing, a client would need to know that the product or service is available any time.

Follow up the worksheet session

After you give your team the worksheet and let them fill it out, you’ll be able to see how much, or how little, everyone knows. You’ll also be able to notice any similarities in the answers. If the answers are not similar at all, that means there’s more training to be done. Sharing the same company information is important. If you find that your team didn’t respond in the way you wanted, it might be time to schedule a training session or two and get everyone on the same page.

Remember, every single employee within the company is likely to be delivering your message to the outside world at some point, so it’s important to figure out what the message should be and make sure it’s understood by everyone.

Allison Rice is the Marketing Director for Amsterdam Printing (www.amsterdamprinting.com), a leading provider of promotional marketing pens and other promotional products to grow your business and thank customers. Allison regularly contributes to the Promo & Marketing Wall blog, where she provides actionable business tips.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers play a key role in ‘arming’ the company with product messaging, especially in answering questions about what the company offers. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone in the company knows what your product will do for your customers. Take advantage of every opportunity to share the value of your product and get your coworkers excited about how it helps your customers.


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Becoming a decisive leader

“Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.”

Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath wrote the book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work with the following goals: “We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make your good decisions a bit more decisively. We also want to make you a better advisor to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions.”

The entire premise of the book is built around four principles the authors call the WRAP process:Decisive

  1. Widen Your Options
  2. Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  3. Attain Distance Before Deciding
  4. Prepare to be Wrong

To widen your options, ask yourself these questions: What are we giving up if we make this decision? What else could we do with the same time and money? Push for additional alternatives, for “this AND that” rather than “this OR that.” Find someone else who’s solved your problem, and learn from them.

To reality-test your assumptions, start by considering the opposite. Some companies have a formal process to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. Spark constructive disagreement within your organization. Find ways to bring real-world experience into your decision-making process.

As you make big decisions, take a step back and consider the larger impact. Use the 10/10/10 tool: how will I feel about the decision 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? What about 10 years from now? Look at your situation from an observer’s perspective. Focus on your core priorities and create a “stop doing” list to help you weed out time wasters.

No decision maker is perfect, so prepare ahead of time to be wrong. Consider a range of outcomes, from very bad to very good. Conduct a ‘pre-mortem’—“it’s a year from now, our decision has failed utterly. Why?” Do a ‘pre-parade’—“It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. Will we be ready for success?” Set ‘tripwires’—deadlines or partitions—to help you realize you have choices.

Finally, you have to trust in the process. “Bargaining”—horse-trading until all sides can live with the choice—will take more time up front, but it accelerates implementation. Making sure others are aware of your decision making process is key to team buy-in.

Decisive is a great read, filled with stories and examples of how to analyze things rapidly and make informed decisions quickly. I guarantee it will keep you interested and you will learn techniques for making decisions. The book is replete with great stories that will keep you reading and learning. Some of my favorites include:

  • David Lee Roth, lead singer of the band Van Halen, put an M&Ms clause in every contract. The clause demanded a bowl of the candy without any brown M&Ms backstage before every concert. Was he a spoiled rock diva or an operations expert?
  • What major decision did Andy Grove, president of Intel, make in 1985 that was a huge turning point for the company?
  • The CEO of Quaker (the oats company) made a major decision in 1983 that cost his company more than $1.5 billion by the time it all played out.
  • Why did Zappos, the online shoe store based in Las Vegas, offer its new employees $1000 (now up to $4000) to quit their job (at Zappos)? Why do they have one of the lowest employee turnover rates of any company?
  • Why did Kodak executives allow digital images to kill their company? What did the executives know years ahead of time that could have saved the company?
  • How did the product Rogaine emerge successfully from mistakes made in another product line?

If you read only one book this year, make sure it’s Decisive!


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers make decisions constantly. They get bombarded with figures and estimates all the time, and they need to make decisions and move forward. The book Decisive has opened my eyes to new, better ways of making decisions. This is a must-read for all product managers and product marketing managers.


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How can you make a positive perception?

Beyond IllusionsHow we perceive things shapes our lives. In the book Beyond Illusions: The Magic of Positive Perception, Brad Barton—a magician, athlete and all-around great guy—takes you on a journey of looking past illusions and forming positive perceptions that will change your life.

When we understand how we’re deceived, we have the power to no longer be enslaved by the illusions and misperceptions that create personal, social and business crises. This is how we achieve freedom.

Each chapter deals with a compelling topic, with humor and emotion. I literally laughed out loud reading some parts and shed tears in others. Brad’s ability to teach principles through stories is second to none. For example, he discusses the terribly difficult business crises of Tylenol and Jack In The Box to drive home the point that bad situations can lead to great opportunities.

Brad teaches, “Anything is a blessing – illness, accident, injury, bad luck – depending on how we respond to it and grow from it.” He illustrates this with a powerful story about his brother Will, who became a quadriplegic after a terrible accident. Will almost died (actually did die and came back), never gave up hope, worked hard and eventually was able to walk.

Brad tells his own story about overcoming tremendous odds to become a top college athlete. “Helping others is the best way to help yourself.” He also developed what he calls the Ten A’s, “the magic formula behind the power of positive perception.” They are: acceptance, acknowledgement, acclamation, action, approval, appreciation, appraisal, achievement, accessibility and allegiance.

Beyond Illusions is an excellent (and quick) read that will change your life. It will improve your leadership and your outlook.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager can benefit from the magic of positive perceptions. As the chief product evangelist you play a key role in keeping everyone engaged and optimistic about the work they’re doing. This book has valuable tools to help you win the fight.


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Guest Post: Leadership—Why Passion Still Matters

By Melissa Crossman

We associate the term passion too much with magazine ads for perfumes or movie clips about doomed love. According to business leadership gurus Tim Elmore and Glenn Llopis, it needs to be a term we associate more with our careers and work life. At most Monday morning staff meetings, voices rarely stray from a monotone unless a colleague mentions a leisure event he attended over the weekend. Managers either cajole or threaten — whatever method seems more productive this month — to enlist staff support for the upcoming week’s planned projects. Another unproductive meeting ends as employees move grudgingly toward their cubicles to begin their workdays. What passion? Where?

Is Passion Even Part of the Preparation?

Despite our idealistic notion that college is the time for young adults to seek out and study the discipline that inspires them with enough passion to build a lifelong career, other circumstances can intervene. In times of scarcity such as the recent economic recession, students tend to turn pragmatic and pursue majors that might provide them the best opportunities for employment following graduation. Whether they attend classes in a physical classroom or log onto an online school, a significant amount of students are going to seek a degree that will most likely provide them a paycheck after graduation, not a “fill-in” job.

Passions: Interests on Steroids

Passions, writes Tim Elmore, are like interests on steroids. He encourages participants in his leadership classes to identify what he terms a “Passion Profile” inclusive of both issues and actions. The ultimate purpose of this exercise is to help individuals to discover their own “incarnational passions,” i.e., those that can blend the personal, professional, individual and communal. There are many ways to pursue or even discover your passions. These might be discovered via furthering your education, volunteering efforts, great literature or even a religious experience. Whatever they are, when discovered and pursued, these interests can help lead workers to a fulfilling career.

Passion and Leadership

Llopis ties passion to the ability of leadership to successfully institute and implement strategic change. For a leader, following a true passion can unlock leadership in a constructive, responsible way. Elmore further identifies two specific reasons passion is important to leaders or those considering a position in leadership. First, thorough knowledge of a passion is a type of self-awareness that allows you to then focus limited energies on said passions. In addition, this form of self-knowledge typically allows those who possess it to act as mentors and leaders for what Elmore terms “your team.” Part of the mentoring process is that of leaders helping team members to identify their own passions, i.e., working as a “passionator.”

Good leadership is difficult to perform and hard to describe, yet easily noted when you’re lucky enough to work for a strong and capable leader. Too often, Elmore says, passion is confused with intensity. Intensity might have its place in the toolset of a good leader, but it’s no substitute for true passion. As Elmore clarifies: “Intensity is marked mostly by emotion, [while] passion is marked mostly by conviction.” No matter what sort of role you perform in your work life, you can rely on passion to help hone leadership skills.

Melissa Crossman lives in Indianapolis with her two dogs. She writes for The Professional Intern, specializing on education and career guidance topics.


The Product Management Perspective: As product manager you play a key role in the success of your products. You make sure everyone on the team is working effectively and all the parts come together properly. Passion plays a key role in building consensus and motivating team members to do great things. Let your passion show through in everything you do as the product leader.

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