Hope Gurion was the Chief Product Officer of CareerBuilder, the SVP of Product at Beachbody, and led multiple product verticals at AOL. Today, Hope coaches product leaders and teams seeking to grow through customer-centric, evidence-based strategies. She’s led almost 50 products teams in her career, in both consumer and B2B companies. Hope also hosts one of my favorite product podcasts, “Fearless Product Leadership” , where she helps other product leaders shorten their learning curves.
In this conversation, we discuss:
- the things nobody tells you about product leadership
- the root causes of many dysfunctional product orgs (hint, they are at the executive level)
- how to get over the fear of saying no and coming across as “mean”
- Hope shares some of her battle stories from the front lines of organizational transformations—what has, and hasn’t, worked
In short, this conversation is full of gold that anyone working in or around the leadership of a product organization needs to know.
So without any further adieu, please enjoy learning with Hope Gurion.
And if you have a moment, I’d love it if you could give me a little feedback via this SurveyMonkey link. (It only takes one minute.)
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People, books, companies, resources etc mentioned in episode
- Hope Gurion – @hopegrrr / website / LinkedIn
- Related ENLIVEN episodes
Transcripts may contain some typos. With some episodes lasting ~2 hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
Andrew Hope! Welcome to the show.
Hope 00:01:33 Thank you, Andrew. This is so fun. Thanks for having me.
Andrew 00:01:36 Absolutely. So we had the pleasure of meeting through your work with Teresa Torres and some of the great coaching work you’re doing there. It’s just been really fun to get to know you and her a little bit and start to understand your worldview a little bit. So I am totally stoked to bring you on the show and get to share some of that, that hope lens that you look through the world at, with this audience, because I think we can all use a little bit more of it.
Hope 00:01:56 We’ll try. We’ll try ’em. Teresa has been a great partner and friend over a number of years. And so, and as you can see from getting the chance to work with her, like there’s nobody else I’d rather work with. So super fun and I’m glad you’re enjoying it.
Andrew 00:02:09 The two of you make a dynamic duo. I know we’re going to talk about this a lot more in the course of this conversation, but I have had quite a few guests on this show. Talk to me about the similarities they find between doing product, especially product leadership and parenting. And I’m curious, what do you see there?
Hope 00:02:25 Well, it’s funny. I remember years ago when I was leading a product team, I actually, we would do quarterly meetings and we would go through a whole bunch of stuff. But, I remember distinctly giving a speech to one of my teams at the time using the parenting analogy. And it went off the rails quick because essentially I was like, like you are taking this thing, you know, you’re responsible for it. You have to nurture it. You want to let it reach its full potential and you need to guide it’s on its way and help it make good, make good decisions on behalf of it. And then I had to go into, and then when that’s not working out so well, you may risk your child getting taken away from you. And so that’s where it went off the rails. So I think there are definitely similarities. And I think there’s obviously a lot of differences. Like I think you can have far more objective measures, uh, driving your decision making and product. And I feel like anytime I try to apply objective measures to how my parenting is going. It’s very difficult to do so, but the kids are surviving. They’re thriving. I think they see a silver lining in this and that. they’re getting to play more video games than I’ve ever let them play.
Andrew 00:03:41 Kids and dogs are having the greatest year ever to hang out with our people all the time. We got a pandemic puppy too. How does that occur? You just randomly were like, we’re getting a dog or what happened?
Hope 00:03:51 I had a plan. First of all, my youngest son is very convincing and I was like, well, our previous excuse of all the travel that we did no longer holds water. But then I also don’t really want the responsibility of a pet when my kids leave the house. So my plan was to get a seven year old cat for like low effort, low maintenance. And then when my youngest leaves and goes to college, I wouldn’t have a, too much more of a lifespan to deal with this animal. And then my husband was like, I don’t want a cat. I think we should get a dog. And not just a dog, because we did look at like a rescue and, and they’re all like the shelters are cleared out. and so we ended up going on Craigslist. There were like two puppies that looked kind of cute when the driving distance and one responded to us. And then we, next thing you know, you got, gotta know our way to Sacramento and got this puppy. So all of a sudden everybody’s an impulse buy and literally while we’re driving there, we were Googling, Oh, it’s hypoallergenic. Oh, that’s so great. I’m like, what does it mean? What am I stopped at? Like the pet store? And like literally the most coolest people going into the pet store, just grabbing whatever the salesperson wanted to recommend to us. That was a good day.
Andrew 00:05:08 We’re going to sort of shift gears a little bit here and start to talk a lot more about product and about product leadership. I used to think that I was looking for the answers. I was looking for the answers of like, okay, just how should we do this thing? How should we design the organization? How should we, whatever. I was like looking for playbooks. And I found them, there’s a lot of them. They’re really good. And then I was like, wait a minute. So we have all these answers, but nothing’s different. What’s broken here where that lead was to exactly this idea of like, how do you actually change organizing organizations? And I, at this point, I’m kind of convinced it might be the hardest problem in business. And you are someone who has done a lot of this. So hope, what is your secret? How do you do this?
Hope 00:05:47 Let me just say that. I, well, I shouldn’t say never, but you would be hard pressed to convince me to take on an org transformation, leadership role full time these days because of how hard it is and how much status quo bias there is and how many people have to be convinced that it is worse in the status quo. And they’re willing to abandon it in order to be even open-minded about what’s required for that transformation. So I could tell you, I’ve had some very positive experiences and I can tell you that I’ve abandoned ship because it is not for the meek.
Andrew 00:06:30 She is like the patterns of when it’s got a shot and when it’s doomed, I feel like that could save people years of their life of like I’m walking into something that is like this one’s done. There’s no saving this one. How do you tell?
Hope 00:06:40 So I actually did some research on this because I had to figure out and I, I’ll send you the link to a research study on this, and it’s not so much about org transformation, but it’s about behavior change, which is at the end of the day. Like that’s what it is. I’m used to one way of doing things. I’m very comfortable in it, frankly. I feel kind of like I’m an expert at it. And now you’re telling me to abandon all of that because you’re want me to believe that this future state, that I can’t really picture so well is better for me and better for the company. And that requires like a huge leap of faith for most people to make. and so what I’ve found is there’s actually these elements. And so the more of these elements that you can identify and not all of them are very easy to identify in advance more of these that exist in the situation that you’re considering the higher probability of success, but in no way, is that a guarantee? So number one is pain in the status quo, real pain, like usually like we’re losing market share. People are leaving, uh, our products, aren’t succeeding. Like you’ve got to feel really uncomfortable if you’re cruising along. Even if your competitors are gaining traction, if you still feel like we’re fine, that’s not pain in the status quo. Okay. So you’ve got to be looking for deep pain and that might be the most important ingredient.
Andrew 00:08:04 This is probably like the thing you truly must have without this. Nothing else is gonna happen,
Hope 00:08:08 But nothing matters, nothing matters. the second is that like you’ve got to have, and when I say you, the organization, not the person coming in, who’s supposed to be the savior or the person who’s going to teach everybody a new way of doing things. the people, the leadership of the organization, and frankly, the most people in the company have to have a clear picture of what that better future looks like. So if there’s people within a company who have operated, so like if we’re talking about product, you know, are familiar with what it means to actually do continuous discovery with customers who wouldn’t dream of releasing their product to customers without really knowing why it solved the problem better than their alternatives. if you don’t have enough people in the leadership and it’s really scattered in almost every department in the company who have actually experienced the better future, then you’re going to be hard pressed to have enough people to sustain all the changes required as you’re trying to transform away from the status quo to that better future.
Hope 00:09:13 So you need to have clear picture of what that better future is, but better if it’s actually been experienced and lived by many people throughout the organization. So that’s not always easy to figure out. So if you’re going into an organization, you’ve got to do a lot of interviewing at all levels and really try to understand how present that is in everybody’s minds. Another element of this is you need that buy in from the top. People will fall back to old habits if they don’t see that it is being reinforced, encouraged, cause there’s going to be a lot of bumps in the road. And so you want to see that, that top down leadership, like they are desperate to get away from the status quo and I’m an eager to get to that better future. And then, you want to make sure you’ve got all the things that most people look to first, which you notice I’m not mentioning them first, but all the processes, skills, tools, capabilities, knowledge, you know, of course you need those things, but none of those will thrive and take hold if you don’t have those other elements in place at your organization.
Hope 00:10:20 Talk to me about
Andrew 00:10:21 How you, you know, you fast track this change of hearts and minds, right? Like if someone doesn’t have these core beliefs already, how do you fast track that, that kind of change, especially, you know, in some of the situations you’ve been in, you’ve kinda, I feel like you’ve kind of seen it from all the sides where you’ve been in the organization, but now you’ve also seen it as someone external to the organization coming in as a facilitator, as a coach, as a consultant, a whatever the role may be. So how do you, how do you do that faster?
Hope 00:10:47 Yeah. So what I have found to be the fastest way is to have, the executive team actually see their products and experiences through their target customers eyes. Hmm. So what does that look like? Usually it’s not pretty, so I’ll tell you a story about an experience that I had because I was really struggling. So when I was at a career builder, we had had Kagan cup, Marty Cagan come in. We had a lot of different people coming in, doing trainings with my team, Jeff Gothelf and others. And so it wasn’t, I was focusing on those knowledge, skills, abilities, tools, processes with my team. And, you know, most of the rest of the organization was we know exactly what to do. Just, you know, why are you delaying the inevitable? Let’s just get to the, these things that we already know that we want to do and just go ahead and deliver them already.
Hope 00:11:42 And so what I did is I got my executive team. So CEO, COO, head of sales, head of technology head of, so really all of the sort of C suite. And it took, I started with the CEO. I said, you know, I really feel like we need to see our products the way our customers see them. And, uh, I had to convince my CEO that if we got 10 people in a room that that would be a good use of time for him. And so you couldn’t just be any 10 people, right? It had to be people who fit the criteria that we most cared about in terms of attracting customers and for career builder. At the time, we had a lot of demand in the healthcare space from employers and a shortage because of the nature of the employment market, a shortage of healthcare workers.
Hope 00:12:34 I said, you know, we could get like software engineers, we got 10 software engineers in a room. We could get, you know, 10 accountants in a room. But when I said, what if we got like 10 healthcare workers in a room, he’s like, okay, if we can spend a day seeing how 10 healthcare workers feel about our products, I will show up and spend a day with you for that. And of course, you know how it is with the other C levels. If the CEO is saying he’s going to be locked in a room for a day and it’s worth his time. So we, we set it up in one of those, uh, you know, almost like a focus group room and it wasn’t a focus group don’t get me wrong. It was just so that we could have that sort of were behind the mirror observing.
Hope 00:13:14 And so we had a facilitator essentially, you know, talk to people at pharmacist, nurse, a variety of healthcare related workers coming in. and they were all on the market for a job. And one by one, they w they basically were introduced by this facilitator say, okay, you know, I know you’re in the market for job. Why don’t you take a look? since we’re here, we’ve got time. Why don’t you just go in and start your job search? And one by one, guess how many started their job search on career builder, guessing zero, zero, zero.
Andrew 00:13:49 I mean, in a good way,
Hope 00:13:51 In the best possible way. And so like, and I obviously, I, I didn’t know these people, I didn’t tell them to do this in Google. It was not a plant. they started in Google, they started on indeed. They started, you know, actually one started on Yelp because she cared soon as a physical therapist cared so much about working for a high, like, very reputable company that offered great care to people that that’s where she looked first. So it was so enlightening because then when they eventually, you know, we kind of encourage them to, Oh, why don’t you check out career builder? And what do you think? And they saw in the job listings, even when they did healthcare searches, very few healthcare jobs came up and we had tons of healthcare job listings on our site. Why do you think hardly any came up?
Andrew 00:14:40 let’s see. So you had a bunch of supply, but it wasn’t showing up in the searches. Uh, could it be, they were tagged, you know, the information was the way the people internal to the company thought it should be categorized, but that didn’t match the external categorization.
Hope 00:14:56 I think I’ve made a very weak search algorithm. And we also had a lot of keyword stuffers in our job listings. So they job listings were easily manipulated by the employers. And so what you saw was a lot of like work from home sales, which they would buy unlimited job postings because we would sell that very large package of job listings to people anyway. And so what it created in a single day was highlighting the worst features of our product and watching like our target customer rejected, you know, one after another. And it was the fastest way that I could not just me telling the story second hand of all these problems. It was our executive team, the future about to evaporate. If we don’t address these critical issues in our business and in our product and the way we approach products and what we enable.
Hope 00:15:54 And so that to me was the best use of time and the fastest way to convince people that I know you think you’re doing a good job and that we’re making good decisions, but if this is the future state that we’re looking at this clearly the current state, so what are we going to do differently? So that our future is that people want to begin their job search on career builder and that they want to continue to trust their professional choices with us. So, anyway, that’s an example of how I found it to be a fast track. Was that firsthand customer understanding and getting the executive team kind of trapped in a room.
Andrew 00:16:35 Wow. It’s almost like, you know, as I’m listening to you, I’m reminded, I was just happened to be reviewing a bunch of jobs to be done material. Uh, the other day I was like, Oh, you, you almost inverted that and like applied it to the executive team, right. You almost like made, you just sort of got them into this situation where they’re experiencing the push, the pull and the inertia and the friction. And just like in this unavoidable way where it’s just creating agony for them, what a Ninja move.
Hope 00:17:00 and I know that it was going, I mean, I had a sense cause we’d done customer discovery. I knew where the problems were, but I didn’t know what was going to show up. And they were uncomfortable. Like they started to trickle out, Oh, I got, I have to go take this really important call and you know, but the rest of the product and engineering teams and UX teams were there and, you know, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Andrew 00:17:22 Wow. So tell me a little bit about a, I want you to, I’d like you to tell me the story about a quote I heard you share in one of your talks, a fantastic talk we’re gonna link to, by the way, uh, in the, in the show notes called, uh, why you can’t be a good girl and a great product leader, which is a fantastic talk. I, we’re going to go into that in a minute. One of the quotes you shared in there that I think seems relevant to this, and I’d love you to tell a story of is something that I think you said it was the COO or another one of the VPs at the, at this level said that was something to the effect of I’m sick of discovery. It’s time to start delivering
Hope 00:17:56 That, that legit happened. and again, these are, this is the like, you know, bias towards the status quo. It feels like it’s getting in the way of doing the things that we know we must do. and not really being willing to question whether or not we have all of our assumptions. Correct. And so this was at a company, beach body, where again, I went in as the first head of product, they had products, they had product managers, they had the roles, the titles, but they didn’t have, the, I dunno, the knowledge, the skills, the ability, and frankly, they didn’t have the buy in from leadership. And so they were clearly a project management organization managing delivery. And, uh, you know, it’s just one of these things that over time, I just, I can’t waste my time on stupid shit. I just I’m at the point in my life where it just, I don’t care.
Hope 00:18:54 Like if you want to waste your time doing stupid things, just go do it. I don’t care. You don’t need me here. But if you’re asking me to come in and do a job, then we’re going to like, get all these assumptions out and we’re going to figure out what needs to be true to deliver on this result. And if you’re not up for that, then I’m probably not the right person to work with. and this was one of those moments where this was a guy who, you know, he didn’t hire me. He didn’t bring me in, but I essentially was supposed to be his partner. And while I was trying to increase the probability of this, the thing that they wanted to do to, I don’t even remember the scenario. It was something like they wanted to, uh, increase the ability to get products shipped into. I don’t even remember the situation
Andrew 00:19:37 You talked about. they really wanted his, his big goal. Was he wanted to integrate with some sort of management, like a MPS or something.
Hope 00:19:45 Yes, yes. They wanted to get all these like, yeah, all these different shipping companies to be integrated so that they could expedite getting their product shipped. And not that expediting shipping is not like unreasonable, but the level of effort versus return was not obvious. And, you know, in product you’ve got opportunity costs with every single decision that you make and choose not to make. And so by exploring the different alternatives, we could see that like this actually wasn’t going to be a good use of time. and so we ended up the COO who was in the room at the time, having this discussion, like saw this really awkward confrontation between the two of us, because he was like, I’m sick of discovery. Let’s start delivering. And I’m like, this is, I don’t even, I wish I could remember right now what I said.
Hope 00:20:35 I was like, look, this is not the way it’s going to go. Like, I want to make sure that we’re making a good choice. And you’re basically saying like, ignore the facts and just do what I’m telling you to do. And I, I’m not here to just do you think we should do. And so luckily the COO who also didn’t stay at the company very long, or at least not, not, I left shortly after he did, was like, no, this, we have to make good choices. Like we’re here to be responsible and treat the company like it’s our, you know, it’s our own, we need to make good choices here. And so it turned from a power struggle into, you know, a sort of a moment of recognition for both of us that like it either we’re going to do our jobs in a way that is in the best interest of the company and our limited resources, or it’s going to be a power play where there’s sort of a dictatorship from certain departments to other departments. And I feel like that is really not a healthy environment and not one that I will ever work in.
Andrew 00:21:30 So here’s one that I’m curious about. So did you know that it was going to be like that walking into that gig?
Hope 00:21:36 Oh, I did not know it. I mean, I knew that there wasn’t going to be challenges, but when I felt like I had done this to a certain degree before, and I feel like I’m generally a pretty easy go at like pretty easy to get along with the person. I really didn’t expect it to be as hostile as it was. And it was an interesting dynamics that I really haven’t seen at other companies. There was so much deference to the CEO that if you weren’t really there to be like the people who last were, you know, yes, men, they were yes. Men and women, but they were yes. Men and women. And what’s, what’s funny is, and so the company was going downhill. Like it really was now pandemic time. I think the company’s probably doing really great right now. Everybody’s working out at home, but at the time, like they really, they struggled and they had made a lot of, you know, poor decisions just based on not really willing to challenge the beliefs and the assumptions of the, of the CEO.
Hope 00:22:41 And I can remember one thing was I was there. I started in April and then literally like 365 days later left, but there was a real belief that was unfounded that even though our business is going down, we are going to have a rebound in the new year when everybody goes back to ordering their new year, new body, like, you know, new year, New York products from all the infomercials that we’ll be running. And this is a few years ago, maybe now people are watching infomercials. Cause they’re not going out anywhere. But for the most part, like the rebound of infomercials didn’t
Andrew 00:23:24 Yeah. Especially given all the trends in like media consumption, right? Like everyone’s going over the top. Like, why would they be watching infomercials? Everyone’s doing Netflix and streaming and blah, blah, blah,
Hope 00:23:33 A million other things. So anyway, it’s just like that to me, just a pit umyes is that there was just like, not really a willingness to have those hard conversations and challenge the assumptions that were underlying a lot of decisions going on. And I just find that a stifling, unhealthy environment to work in. So anyway, that’s part of the reason that I ended up going out on my own is when I left that situation, I was really, there were a couple of other opportunities that came up to do more transformation work. And I was like, no, I don’t want to do that.
Andrew 00:24:06 Yeah. I’ve heard you say that you, that you believe in truth, transparency and math, and it sounds like anyone who wants to work with you, it needs to already believe in those things. Or it’s just not,
Hope 00:24:15 Yeah. It’s not going to be a good fit. We’re not going to get along. I might like, you might want to have a drink with you, but we’re probably not going to be able to make good choices together.
Andrew 00:24:23 I totally feel, I have felt that pain, not to this extent, but at times in my own life, I felt that pain. And it’s often left me wondering, you know, to your point that one of these things you’ve got to have to change a culture basically is that buy in from the top. It’s interesting to me that most people fall into the trap I fell into, which is they go to work on the toolbox, not the person holding the toolbox, maybe that’s backwards.
Hope 00:24:45 Yeah. Well, cause it’s feels like it’s more actionable and people I think, do want to focus on where they have the most influence and control. Like that’s where people have, you know, autonomy and, uh, and feel empowered. unfortunately when you’re talking about, you know, an organization is it is an entity and largely, it very difficult to change from the bottoms up. Like you can have pockets of change and pilots and different things. but ultimately if people don’t recognize there’s a problem in the status quo, which goes back to like the very first thing, if people don’t feel sufficient pain, there’s not really motivation open-mindedness to doing things differently. So if you can’t, if you’re not feeling that at the, at the upper levels of the organization, people are gonna just try to ride it out as long as they can, until they start flinging.
Andrew 00:25:35 How do you check for that now? Like when you’re, let’s say somebody comes to you and they want to work with you, you know, let’s say it’s a, a product exactly. At some company, I am sure that there have been people who’ve come up to you and said, hope we’re perfect. Let’s do this, but they’re really not. And how do you tell the difference between the people who are sincerely ready and the people who are just saying the right thing?
Hope 00:25:54 Yeah. Well, so for me, my risk is a lot lower now, right? Like if people are willing to change and really want help along the way. And oftentimes that’s what we’re doing with product teams, uh, especially in the coaching work that I’m doing with Teresa, it’s usually that there’s already been this level of leadership buy in and they’re, they’re ready to get sort of, you know, the tools and techniques and processes. And they really want to empower their teams, but they can’t offer that directly to their teams. So it’s sort of, we come in a little bit later when people have asked me to do consulting, work with a leadership team. What I usually try to do is say, well, let’s start small so that we can both see if we’re a good fit, if we can, you know, if we’re gonna really work together. So let’s set some tangible goals for what we feel like we want to accomplish, and let’s see if we make progress. And if we’re, if it’s trending in the right direction and we want to extend great, if not, no big deal. And that’s how I try to de risk it for both of us
Andrew 00:26:53 Back to a key point from a, from that talk I was mentioning of years earlier. And in that talk, you, you talk specifically about what you call good girl syndrome. But I think that kind of, you can, we can generalize that a little bit to something that a lot of people and I certainly have dealt with as well, which is this, this wanting to be liked to, to be accepted this feeling of, if I’m just nice, it’ll all work out or whatever, and the sad truth is it doesn’t work. And so my question to you is how do you coach people through that process? Because it’s not easy.
Hope 00:27:23 Yeah. So I will say that like for the most part, the coaching work that I do that usually does not, it’s usually not the barrier for most people, although the way to take yourself out of those situations, in those feelings of discomfort, when you know that somebody’s always going to be unhappy, it doesn’t matter what the decision somebody is going to be unhappy, right? Like that, that we cannot satisfy everybody equally. Every stakeholder equally, every customer segment equally like impossible. So when you enable people to set up the criteria to make good decisions, and you point at the criteria, it takes some of the pressure and the burden off the need to feel liked, or to feel that your identity is associated with the outcome of that decision. And this is one of the ways that I try to help people disassociate their own feelings of wanting to be liked with how do I make good choices for my team, for the company on behalf of customers so that we can move forward. and you know, you also don’t have to be the person to make that decision. You just need to frame the decision that has to be made and get the right inputs to help people arrive at the right conclusion.
Andrew 00:28:37 Tell me a little bit more about that, because it seems like that making good decisions, it sounds so simple, right? How hard could that be yet? Right. Everybody wants that. And yet, and yet here we are. What are some of those things like, how do you, you know, let’s say you enter into a company as on a sort of client engagement and you’re working with a team and you’re saying, okay, and they’re totally willing to, they’re legit willing to change and do the work. How do you coach them through that? I mean, what’s the starting point or the first, first couple of things you want to put in place to enable these conditions.
Hope 00:29:06 So the number one thing I literally ask it on every single prospective client call is what are your goals? And I, it is shocking how rare it is for people to have goals, meaning like, what are they not like, what are your goals for your life or whatever. It’s what, what is your company expecting you to contribute in terms of value you or your team? What is the company’s expectation for the goals of its employees? It is shocking how rarely these are defined, you know, with all the OKR talk and everything. It is very rare that I find, and maybe it’s just the people who are drawn to working with me.
Andrew 00:29:47 It’s like rich mayor. And I’ve said to me, when Richard was on the show early on, and I asked him a similar question, I remember exactly what it was. And he said, look, I get the calls where it’s messed up. So I don’t know what the good ones look like. He’s like, well, I know what they do. I know what they look like, but they don’t talk to me very much anymore.
Hope 00:30:03 He’s hilarious. I, so anyway, so that to me is like, why this is so difficult for people because they are really not clear what a good decision is. So they end up like, well, I guess here’s my judgment about what a good decision is, or, you know, I trust these people at my company and they seem to think that this is the right decision. And so it gets really murky. And this is why I think people meander and teams meander, because it’s just not clear. And a lot of times it does come back to the executive team who have these financial goals, totally legit. It’s a business. We want to hit our metrics, revenue, EBITDA, you know, growth totally completely makes sense. And that is not sufficiently defined for all the rest of the functions, to be able to see how they fit into that picture and what they can contribute and how, what they do interacts with compliments contradicts what another group in their company is doing. And when it’s not explicit, you get these very awkward conversations, vague goals, because nobody is really willing to pin it down to I’m setting this as their target, because this is going to achieve this. And I need these other teams to do this. And it is a cop out, I think for a lot of leaders who aren’t taking the time and effort to deconstruct those business goals, into things that people can own within their company and feel a lot of purpose around their pursuit of achieving those goals.
Andrew 00:31:33 I know you and Teresa just launched a course on this recently. Uh, I think it’s the sort of the brand new outcomes course. So what are, you know, obviously you’re, this is what the whole course is about. So you can’t cover it here, but what are those lead dominoes
Hope 00:31:45 For me what’s usually lacking, is that there, isn’t this shared view of the system at work that everybody is operating in, it could be the customer journey. It could be the ways that that teams are operating together, but there’s a like, and it’s silly because it’s like, well, well, we work together. You’re in product, I’m in customer success. Like we know how our teams work together. It’s so obvious. And yet it’s not like you don’t, nobody can see the whole together. And so how can we figure out how we want to change the pieces of this puzzle, if we cannot see the same pieces together. And so what I try to do is help people, at least create an illustration of what that system looks like. So typically in a product area, but I gotta tell you it’s really at the company level, like how do we look at the whole of what we’re doing?
Hope 00:32:38 And usually the customer view is the common thread, like, okay, so maybe you don’t see, maybe you shouldn’t say, but maybe it doesn’t really matter. You know, how the accounting department, you know, as balancing the books and dealing with, you know, invoices, I don’t know, but if it does matter, then you should have a way to illustrate that at the company level where everybody can see how they fit into the system and how making a change over here is either going to positively or negatively impact somebody over here. And so having that customer view to me is like the first thing. Cause then we can actually have an informed conversation about, Oh, so you’re telling me, cause this happens a lot. So the customer support team is going to their success is going to be measured on retention or maybe upsell, you know, who knows, but the sales team is going to be focused on new logo growth and the product team is supposed to support both.
Hope 00:33:38 So how are, how are we going to do that exactly like, is it that we’ve subdivided our product teams to be able to say, okay, well, we’re going to do all these things that are preventing customers from buying us so that we look good when we’re responding to, you know, new client proposals and demos, or we’re going to do the things that actually retain customers longer, like get them to use more of the product because they’re two totally different goals. And if you’re just looking at the, it makes sense for the customer support team to focus on retention and the sales team to focus on net new growth, and then you leave it up to the product team to figure out, Oh, they have to focus on revenue. Well then how do you know where you’ve got the most leverage and where you should be putting your attention so that you can actually navigate that conversation?
Hope 00:34:28 Because if you focus on retention, all those new logo sales people are not going to be thrilled with your choice and vice versa. If you’re focusing on growth and net new customers and your customer support team is like, band-aiding together a bunch of stuff that your product doesn’t do well, they’re going to be unhappy. So it’s, it’s not enough to just have goals that you develop within your department. You really need to look at well, what is the whole system expected to accomplish and where are we complementing or contradicting each other. and the healthier that you’re able to have those conversations, you can say, you know what, for the first half of the year, we got to focus on new deals and maybe the second half of the year we’ll focus on like retention or vice versa, but you’ve got to be able to make that choice at the executive level so that people in all those departments can set the right goals within their realm of influence to support the way that you’re expected to achieve those financial outcomes
Andrew 00:35:23 In a lot of ways. It’s, it’s also just a, either a lack of, or just bad strategy, right? Yeah. The same way you said it’s shocking how you, people and organizations really have goals. I’ve also found it shocking how few have any thing that I would actually call a strategy. They have a plan maybe, but in terms of a strategy, those seem few and far between, and I’m curious, like, you know, cause you’ve worked in so many contexts. I mean, I think you’ve led like almost 50 product teams in your life and, and multiple whole, you know, full blown plot product orders. So I know you’ve, you’ve seen this a lot when you go into somewhere or when you were doing this before, how do you solve that problem? Like how do you go to work on that on saying, okay, we need a real strategy. Not just like this thing with, it might as well be done in crayons,
Hope 00:36:08 Right? Yeah. And it’s, people, it is unfortunate like people think because they have set financial targets. and because they’ve got, you know, a sense of what value propositions they want to bring into the market, that that is sufficient. and maybe they throw some mission statements in there to make people feel good. Like it is not enough of a strategic context for the very hard choices that are going to be made. and again, unfortunately I find that the product teams end up bearing the brunt of this because it’s really hard to make, uh, like any sort of concrete decisions about we’re going to go after this customer base versus that customer base. We’re going to focus on this moment in the journey versus that moment. And we’re going to focus on this success metric and not the success metric if you don’t have that umbrella of that strategic context, because otherwise it just seems like you are making choices, but not actually doing it in a way that the rest of those higher level decisions have already been bought into in the organization.
Hope 00:37:09 And so if you haven’t set that stage, you’re going to be doing a lot of like hand to hand combat every time you try to get those decisions to, you know, gain traction and momentum. so I’m not a huge like, Oh, we need to have some like, you know, hefty, hefty PowerPoint strategy. But like, I do think like even a lean canvas, I find a lot of the product leaders that I work with. Like even just to get their executive team, to put some stickies on like a whiteboard of a lean canvas template and see if they themselves even see the target market the same way, see the value proposition the same way, you know, see how they, what their competitive threats are. Did they see those the same way? A lot of that aligning amongst the executive team? Nope. Nobody’s responsible for it
Andrew 00:38:01 Really.
Hope 00:38:03 So if the CEO’s not doing it, then the product leader kind of has to do it because otherwise they don’t have strategic context in which to have that umbrella for the rest of the decisions they have to make. So that’s what I usually have people do is really just like, let’s just start with lean canvas and let’s individually, see how we answer these questions. Let’s see if we actually see it all the same way. And we’ve just documented something that we already knew in our minds and we’re very aligned on, or we actually see that we see it very differently. And now we are teeing up a conversation to make a choice, this value proposition, that value proposition, this competitor, that competitor, this target market, that target,
Andrew 00:38:44 I want to shift gears slightly here. And I want to almost invert the perspective because a lot of the root cause of what we’re talking about here, unfortunately, is I’m just going to call it bluntly, bad executive teams, right. Teams that are just exact teams that are not doing it right. Uh, to set up everybody else in the organization to be successful. Couldn’t do it better for sure. Okay. We’ll we’ll do, we’ll say that they could do it better room for growth. Let’s say that way.
Hope 00:39:06 I told you I have, I’m looking for silver linings.
Andrew 00:39:12 That’s true. But many people who are going to hear this unfortunately, are not going to be the people who need to hear it, but they’re going to be people be the people in the organization who are, unfortunately at the effect of these teams, these exact teams that shall we say could be better. what can they do about it? Right. Whether that’s managing up differently. But like if you’re someone who’s not playing at the exact level right now, what resources, what, what plays, you know, what, what can they do to make their, their part of the world better?
Hope 00:39:38 Yeah. I mean, I like to shine a bright light on the, contradictions. So is it, you know, we have 37 priorities and you’ve just added a 38. So I’m trying to figure out, are we moving something off the board or we’re just layering on? Does that mean that if people spent 40 hours a week, it works out to be, I don’t know what that is. You know, everybody spends 15 minutes per priority each week. And now we’re saying we’re going to spend it like 13 and a half minutes so that we can get this 38th one in like, I think it is incumbent upon people to say, like, I really am trying to make a good choice in the best interest of the company and make good use of my time. And yet this is, this is the scenarios that I can foresee here and try to team that up to help people either see that it’s ludicrous or that they can actually present an option that hopefully their boss will say yes to. And they will then make the situation a little bit better for themselves and the rest of the organization. But I think you have to, you can’t dance around it. Like you kind of need to make it as plain and obvious as well.
Andrew 00:40:57 We’re recording this in, in July, but just recently you did a breakout session, I think, at a mine, the product. and it was all about what no one told you about being a product leader. And so I have kind of a two part question about this. First of all, uh, what was the, you know, the most, the biggest takeaway you had from that? Like just listening to what people had to say. And secondly, what did no one tell you about being a product leader?
Hope 00:41:21 No, no one told me anything. It was totally trial and error. Okay. Let’s see. What did people say? Well, for better or for worse, many, many people had experienced some of the issues I, that I talked about. So like for example, you know, everybody wants to ask about costs, but nobody understands the concept of opportunity costs like that is I think a very common situation. and it’s still in one I struggle with today. Like how do I help people understand the concept of opportunity cost? Like versus how many weeks is this going to take and how many people and how much headcount do you need? And, you know, like it’s like that is more tangible, more concrete, more similar to conversations they’re having with other departments and like how to tell, like how to convince people that opportunity cost is real. Like, it’s very challenging for people to wrap their heads around.
Hope 00:42:14 How do I quantify it? How do I know that that’s not just an idea and economic concept and actually something that could crater our company if we invest in the wrong things and invest too much. and so, you know, for me as a product leader, I feel like, the, the need for a lot of shared understanding about each other’s roles and departments and customers like is I think the biggest blind spot that a lot of product leaders have that they, they want to enable their teams. They want to give people goals. Like they want to do these things. And unfortunately there’s such different understanding of what the role is, what it’s responsible for because so many people have either never experienced it at the companies they’ve worked with at, especially if they’re not sort of like tech first companies, or they have experienced it in sort of a negative way.
Hope 00:43:15 Like I hear people talk about all the time. Oh yeah. Like we used to have a head of product and he sort of like went all in on his vision and, and then like, we’re now basically like in the rubble of that and trying to dig our way out. and so they’ve got these sometimes very negative connotations of what it could be to work with product. And you’re now trying to convince them that it’ll be different this time and it’ll be better this time and they’re scarred, right? So maybe they understand the concept of opportunity cost a little bit better, but that’s, that’s unfortunate for anybody who’s in a product leader role at a company, especially if you’re new going into a company because without you, and this was one of my points in the talk, like if you, haven’t had a deep understanding of all the different perspectives from your peers and partners on the leadership team, very difficult for you to be effective, even if you’ve got the best team and the best capabilities and the best product roadmap, if you really are not, able to have those conversations and navigate those conversations and create the same, like the right level of detail for all those different audiences and understand their needs, their points of view, what they need to be successful, very difficult for you to enable your team to be successful or for you to be successful.
Hope 00:44:31 No one teaches you
Andrew 00:44:32 How to do this, but without it you’re you’re.
Hope 00:44:34 Yeah. Like, and, and you kind of have to be, I mean, it’s kind of like a, your own version of discovery, right? Like you need to understand not just what your customers care about and what their alternatives are, but you need to do this, your head of finance, your, you know, obviously, maybe head of engineering is something that you’re more familiar with, but, you know, marketing and sales, and this is where operations and support. Like there’s a lot of other functional leaders who, if you really can’t like spend a day in their shoes, it’s very hard for you to have a good partnership with those teams. And so I think that’s something that, I know earlier on in my career, I probably didn’t invest enough time in. And so when I had a chance to, you know, sort of reset and start again, I actually made that a part of my conscious practice of like, when I went to beach body, I’m like, I’m just spending a day in the customer support team and really getting to know them, getting to know their leaders so that they see that I care about their team’s needs.
Hope 00:45:33 Same true with like the coach team. Like I wanted to see, like, what is it like I’m on the phone with coaches. Like, I need to know what it is that you’re dealing with. And so the more that you do that, I think as a product leader, the easier it’ll be for you to have those meaningful conversations and hard conversations, because you’re going to make somebody happy, just a matter of who and when. And I think that is, you know, you don’t necessarily get a chance to really understand everybody’s functional role. How are sales plan set? What are the incentive plans? Like if you’re not familiar with that, you could get blindsided in terms of how you’re approaching your product roadmap and what people are incented to sell versus not incentive to sell. and so anyway, it’s just, it’s super important for you as a leader, to be an expert in a lot of different things, maybe expert is too extreme. You have to be pretty knowledgeable about a lot of parts of the organization to be able to contribute in the way that I think product leaders are expected to contribute value to their companies.
Andrew 00:46:30 We’re going to start to close out here with some, some rapid fire questions, but before we shift gears there, I’m just curious, the, the journey that you’re describing, is one that all product leaders go through even more broadly than that people in outside product deal with as well. People who are really trying to level up their game and contribute at a higher level are people who have to take on these conversations, these ways of thinking, et cetera. And I’m just curious, what has helped you the most, do you think that, you know, is there something that you wish you knew 20 years ago that would have made it easier or, or made you more effective along the way? What advice would you give your earlier cellphones?
Hope 00:47:02 It’s, you know, for me, what I learned about myself is like, I want to solve the mystery. Like I was talking to, another person who does like product related, you know, talks and all these things. And he was really encouraging me to do. He’s like, you, you know, there’s always, you know, people looking for women, product leaders, you should develop your whole talks and all these things. And I’m like, that is not what gets me going. Like I actually agonize over talks. Like, what I want to do is solve the mystery. I want to like, understand, like, what’s blocking a team, what’s blocking a leader, what is blocking a leadership team? And I want to solve that mystery. That is how I like to spend my time. And I feel like if you don’t have that level of, I don’t know, persistence and care about that, if it brings, if you don’t bring that to your job, right.
Hope 00:47:51 You’re solving the mystery of what is the right set of products or features that we need to introduce in the market. That’s going to help us win. If we, you know, how do we solve the mystery about who our customer is and what do they care about? How do I solve the mystery of how are we going to make effective decisions as a leadership team? It’s like, you don’t want to solve those mysteries. You’re going to get burned out and tired and frustrated really fast. And so that for me is just what energizes me. Like I want to figure it out. And so anyway, I, if I knew that about myself earlier, I think I would have not spent so much time thinking about like, Oh, well, I should be doing this. And other people, other people write a book or whatever. I don’t care about that. I want to solve the mystery. That’s what I like doing.
Andrew 00:48:32 Nice. Yeah. There’s a tremendous power in knowing yourself, reminds me of a, another episode of this show with a, uh, a fantastic woman named Laura Garnette who wrote a book called the genius habit, or are you familiar with it sounds cool. I mentioned it’s just, it’s something that I’ve personally been working with over the last six to eight months or so. And it’s proven to be a very, very useful, uh, framework and approach for understanding myself better and understanding what are the kinds of challenges I thrive on. Like, you’re just describing, like, you love that challenge of solving the mystery that gets you going, you dig it. And also the things that, you know, the ways of using my skills that are fulfilling to me. And so that’s just a resource I’ll recommend to people to check out is the book is called the genius habit.
Andrew 00:49:10 yeah. Like system, are you hearing, you say, like solve the mystery. I’m like, yep. For me, it’s like, I love figuring out, like figuring out that future, like, what’s that good future it? How do we build it? That’s, that’s what gets me going and the way we’re doing it, whether it’s through a podcast, helping people build a good future or a product or whatever, that’s, you know, similar kind of thing. So I enjoy that puzzle too. We’re going to shift gears here and kind of close out with some rapid fire questions. They’re short questions. Your answers can be as long as you want them to be. And often this opens up kind of interesting little side tangents. So the first one is what is a quote or a saying that’s important to you? And what about it speaks to you?
Hope 00:49:44 So the one that most immediately comes to mind is, and I’m trying to remember how he said it. Cause I know this is a well known quote and it’s basically like a dollar for, you know, identifying the problem, but like a thousand dollars for solving the problem. And this is like one of my very first bosses, Tom Burke at the discovery channel. And I, you know, I was like an intern out of college and I was like, you know, Tom thinks are fucked up. Like, I don’t understand what’s going on here. And like, this is broken and I don’t understand this and this. And he was like, Oh great. You get a dollar for identifying these problems. You get a thousand dollars and we figure out a way to solve the problems.
Andrew 00:50:23 Nice. and then what is a question that if you could have the listener start to ask themselves one question on a regular basis, what question would you have them ask themselves
Hope 00:50:34 The listener, what this list like listener for your podcast, listen to this right now, ask themselves, okay, well, gosh, on a regular basis, it’s like, is this a good use of your time? Like there’s, and there’s all different ways that people can spend their time. But I just feel like there’s so many people, like I have a coaching client that is really in a tough situation. And like, he’s just constantly being second guessed by his boss. Who’s like really doubts him and he’s doing everything right. And it’s just not connecting. And I just feel like this is not a good use of your time. Like you should go, you just go. and I feel like that’s all we’ve got is our time and how we choose to spend it. And so, like, I think that’s a good question that we can all ask ourselves.
Andrew 00:51:21 I love that. Yeah. I’ve, I’ve found myself getting increasingly allergic to things that occur as a waste of time to me more and more. So I, I would echo that dear listener, please, please think about that. so I, right now in this, whatever chapter you consider yourself to be in right now, what does success look like for you in this chapter?
Hope 00:51:39 So part of it is, is like really having total autonomy and control over my time. In fact, like I’m somebody who actually ended up doing some work with, uh, was trying to hire for a role, like a head of product role. And he and I were chatting about it. And, he was super excited about what was going on at his company. And he’s like, I think he would like the people and this is, you know, it’s, it’s really interesting. And I said, I can totally tell how excited you are about, you know, what you’re doing here. But the thing that excites me most is figuring out like how to grow a business, have total control of what I spend my time doing and who I work with. And that’s kind of what lights me up right now. And so I’m not done figuring that out. Yeah. So working on that mystery yes. Another mystery to solve, but this one’s, this one’s been pretty fun. I like it. I like it.
Andrew 00:52:30 Another one is who or what has had a big influence on you and shaped really shaped how you see things and how you show?
Hope 00:52:36 Hmm. I mean, I, I feel like there’s a long list, so this is a tough one. I mean, maybe what I will do is actually give credit to my husband because he pushes me constantly. And in a way that usually pushes me out of my comfort zone more than I like to do. Like, he has very high expectations for himself, for us, for, uh, you know, for the way that we live, the way that we work and what we can contribute. And so he is constantly pushing me to expect more, more, you know, promote myself more, whatever, but like really do more than you think you’re capable of doing. And so, and I can’t get away from him. So I, I, I am constantly that there’s more that could be done.
Andrew 00:53:30 That’s awesome. Last one we’ll close out with is if you know, what small change have you made in recent memory that has had a big impact? You know, recent memory could be a week, it could be a year…but small change, outsized impact.
Hope 00:53:38 So, okay. So I told you that we got a puppy, which may be, that’s a big change. I don’t know if that’s a smaller, big change, but the dog is tiny. So it feels like a small kid. Yeah. I know. I guess I didn’t quite think about it that way. So maybe this doesn’t qualify as a small change, but it, it, I literally thought that I was doing this for my son to basically get him off my back for like, not the only one of my friends. He doesn’t have a pet and whatever, but it has been so wonderful for, for our whole family, like, and my older son, I may mentioned this, he has ADHD and he is so much more engaged and involved and spending time like with the dog. And I could see this like nurturing side, I’ve got two boys. I’m the only girl until we got this girl dog in my household. And I’ve just seen this like really huge, like caring nature during like nurturing side of my boys. And it’s been, like, uh, a really pleasant surprise. So I I’m really excited.
Andrew 00:54:43 Awesome. We’ll hope. What would you like to leave the listener with? Oh, I should have a good answer to this question.
Hope 00:54:48 I don’t know. I just, you know, people should do what gives them purpose and fulfillment. And I feel like there’s a lot of people, especially in products, like I think it can be a great job. I think it’s a really hard job and there’s a lot of misunderstandings about it and you’re going to be encountering those a lot. If you take on this job, at least for, I don’t know, maybe another decade, I don’t know how long it’s going to take for that to be as sort of straightforward as finance or something else. So if you’re not loving it, figure out what aspects you love, because there’s a lot of subspecialties emerging to fill all the gaps, you know, whether it be product marketing, whether it be product operations, whether it be, you know, enabling like internal or external communications around product changes. Like there’s so many subspecialties within it. So just, you know, find the thing that feels like it’s a good use of your time and do that.
Andrew 00:55:39 And just in closing out, do you have any requests of the listener
Hope 00:55:42 Requests? I mean, if you want to, uh, learn more about product, I guess I’ll plug my own podcast, which is fearless product leadership. It’s like, you know, my, if you do listen to it, I’d totally appreciate knowing that you listened to it and what you got out of it. Anytime somebody says they listened to it, I’m like, okay, what did you like about it? Or what did you get out of it? Why was it useful? Yes. What was useful? Because it’s like, I need that to, to keep producing, keep producing the episodes, but in it, I, I try to do something slightly different from what you’re doing, which is take a tough problem. Like how do you measure success as a PR? How are, how are you measured as a product leader? Or how do you gain alignment or should people sell features before they exist and get five perspectives from senior product leaders on that tough challenge? And so it’s a different format and it’s been a super fund to produce.
Andrew 00:56:35 Yeah. Well, I hadn’t, I will also echo that it’s one of my go-to product podcasts. I really like it. I’ll say what I find useful about it is actually that format, the fact that you you’ve done a really nice job of reading the minds of the product people and like knowing what are these big, meaty questions that we encounter and then bringing together and synthesizing information from a lot of smart people around those questions has been very, very useful to me, like as a format, because I love a good interview obviously, but there are those moments where I am more interested in the point solution to a specific thing. And that’s where I find it so useful to be like, okay, it’s like a little council of product elders who will teach me what I’m about to F up.
Hope 00:57:13 Yeah. I love it. Cause sometimes they’re very similar and thank you for saying that and appreciate I get, sometimes they’re all very similar and I’m like, okay, there’s a pattern here. Good. And other times they’ve got totally different approaches. And then you’re kind of like, okay, which one do I feel like best fits the situation. But either way you walk away with hopefully something action.
Andrew 00:57:32 And if anybody wants to check out your work or connect with you, what you’re up to in the world, where’s the best place for them to reach out.
Hope 00:57:37 They could go to fearless-product.com. They could find me on Twitter at @hopegrrr, which means you have to remember how many Rr it is. I think it’s three. I don’t actually know. or LinkedIn. Yeah. I’m pretty easy to find if people want to chat. Awesome.
Andrew 00:57:52 And we’ll help. Thanks so much for spending time with me today. It’s been a real pleasure.
Hope 00:57:55 Oh, it’s been so fun. Thanks for thinking of me.