The first principle of the Five Factors of Leadership is that people are assets. Every organization, be it a technology company or a non-profit charitable organization, is composed of people. The people – not the buildings, equipment or intellectual property – compose the true assets of any company. Everything that exists in the world today, that might be considered an asset in the accounting sense of the word, was once the idea of one or more people who did the work to build the product and bring it to market.
A great example of this principle can be found in the history of Kingston Technology Corporation, founded by John Tu and David Sun. Kingston Technology took off as technology startup in 1987 (during a major stock market downturn no less). Rather than looking at their situation through the lens of scarcity, they looked for opportunities. They started a small company that produced nothing but memory for computers. To differentiate themselves from other companies (and allow a slightly higher profit margin) they:
Provided a five-year, no questions asked warranty (the industry standard was 90 days)
Focused on lifestyle for employees and their families
Paid the highest salaries for comparable positions
Paid 5% of pretax corporate profits directly to the 401(k) accounts of their employees
Guaranteed the employees that should the company ever go out of business, there was, in escrow, one year’s salary for every employee.
As a result, Kingston averaged less than 2% attrition, nearly unheard of in any organization. This meant that training costs were reduced, experience levels were high, and people performed to the very best of their abilities.
When the company was finally sold, Tu and Sun set aside $100M of the proceeds and divided it among the employees. The bonus was not as a traditional ‘pay grade relative’ bonus. Instead it was created and distributed based entirely on time with the company. The average payout to all employees, from highly trained engineers to assembly line workers, was $75,000.
As an organization, Kingston recognized the principle that people are the real assets. They understood, and subsequently proved, that it’s all about the people:
People who crave success
People who believe they can achieve
People who believe there is an abundance
People who recognize and appreciate other people.
Does your organization recognize the people as its most valuable asset?
The Product Management Perspective: I’ve stated before that – as the product manager – you have to be a leader (in the true sense of the word). You have the responsibility to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. The kicker – and the reason you must be a leader – is the people you rely on to get the job done do not (usually) report you; they report to some other manger in the company. Your success depends on your ability to build consensus and inspire the team members to do great things. Remember the people (even that snarky engineer) are your true assets.
I’ve stated before that product managers have to be leaders (in the true sense of the word) because they have the responsibility on their shoulders to get products out the door on time, with high quality and under budget. The kicker – and the reason they must be leaders – is the people they rely on to get the job done do not (usually) report them. Their success depends on their ability to build consensus and inspire the team members to do great things.
I have identified five factors that, if understood and applied, will improve the leadership role of product managers:
People are assets: In any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization. When product managers see the people on the team as the true assets, and treat them accordingly, they will command the respect of a leader.
Trust is vital: Those who value their team members build trust. The trust goes both ways: product managers need to carry out their tasks in such a way that the team members can trust them. They (the PMs) also need to trust that the team members will do what they have committed to do.
Knowledge is power: Truthfully, knowledge is potential power; only when it’s applied does it become true power. It’s vitally important for product managers to be learners. Many resources exist for learning: books, trade magazines, blogs, analyst reports, etc. As they take in knowledge and put it into action, their success will increase.
Paradigm provides focus: The way in which product managers see their world – their ‘paradigm’ – influences their effectiveness as a leader. They can take the ‘victim’ approach or the ‘agent/hero’ approach. If they blame others and wonder why the world (or their team, or their customers) is against them they are taking the victim approach. If they take accountability for their actions and do whatever it takes to succeed, they become agents of positive change. They become heroes to those whom they lead. Not ‘hero’ in the sense of super heroes, but in the sense of someone who does more than they are expected (and probably paid) to do.
Decisions determine future: Leaders make decisions regularly. Successful product managers understand their markets and make difficult decisions that are not always accepted by team members or customers. They do not make decisions carelessly or in cavalier style, but they also do not cower from the responsibility to make a judgment call. They make choices and stand behind them. Ultimately they make decisions that lead their teams and their products to succeed.
These factors apply to many other disciplines and aspects of business. The focus on product management stems – as mentioned – from product managers needing to lead without having management authority over the people responsible for their success. I am confident that product managers who understand and apply these factors will become effective leaders. I am equally confident that anyone – in any field – who applies these factors will find success.
Please leave a comment and let me know whether this resonates with your experience in product management or any other discipline.
In most organizations the word “asset” is linked to their technology IP, products or other items that end up on the balance sheet. The traditional accounting equation drives this mindset. So it’s no wonder that when organizations plan their investments they focus on improving their traditional assets and their bottom line.
In my recent article published in The Pragmatic Marketer I assert that in any company or organization, the real assets are the people. Their intellect—along with personality, skills, knowledge, character, integrity, and other things collectively referred to as “human life value”—create the true value in any organization.
When it comes to investing in the company or organization, it makes sense to invest in the real assets – the people. For most organizations, investing in people requires a change in mindset. Norman Wolfe wrote a great post called The Challenge of Investing in People. He says:
In every business, at the end of the day it is the people who produce results (I have yet to see a machine or a process produce anything without people). While it is easy to see expenditures in the “feel good stuff” as wasting resources, the real challenge lies in the difficulty to determine if the investment will produce the result. The proof is in the results, but how do I know that my investments will in the end improve results.
What examples have you seen where organizations invest in their people? What results have you observed?