Mcoach, Product excellence simplified, Digital product Leadership, Product Management

“You don’t build the business. You build people and then people build the business” – Zig Ziglar.

imrankhanIt is indeed tempting for organizational initiatives to focus on technology. When it comes to translating technological innovations into real business results, studies have found talent to be a much more limiting factor. This will only exacerbate as we transition into large scale automation powered by the latest trends in big data, ML and AI.

If there is one thing that can be credited for centuries of economic development, then it is the division of labour. Breaking down a complex process, task into smaller manageable activities was the driving innovation that made the industrial revolution possible. Every management principle was christened to improve productivity.

the transition into a knowledge economy was shaped by information technology specialization aided by free flow of highly skilled labor across the globe. This era was characterised by the dual concerns of maintaining high productivity and increased collaboration across multiple facilities. Every management decision was about high throughput within a delivery window.

The transition into the innovation economy is about integration of various bespoke elements from industrial and knowledge economy to drive personalized delivery of value. This era is preoccupied with high productivity, increased collaboration and autonomous decision making. Every management is focused on predictive capabilities to improve success rates.

All the era’s of economic development need capable talent to capitalize on the available opportunities. emerging ecosystems succeeds only with talent that quickly adapts. In fact, Study of the top 20 reasons for startup failure highlights the importance of people, their decisions in positively or negatively impacting success of any venture.

It was found that a significant majority of founders felt that Not having the right team, losing focus, disharmony among team/investors, lack of passion, didn’t use network and burnout as contributing to failure. Question is “How much of this failure can be attributed to founders themselves ?”.

Leaders shape the way people operate in the workplace. They set the tone for behavior by creating a value based culture. They nurture organizational vision and mission through vocal and kinetic reinforcements with their peers. When things turn out in unexpected ways, it is a clear demonstration of leadership incapability.

Vesting ones power to create business impact is what stewardship is all about. Employee behavior can go haywire if subordinates see a discrepancy in articulated values and their practical manifestations. In fact, it has the potential to adversely impact ability to hire the right talent.

Another impediment to capability development is the assumption and unarticulated expectation of business leaders to have perfect hires. A finished product productive on day 1 is a black swan. Anticipating and upskilling people as they signup establishes a healthy workplace.

Another hindrance to founders is the establishment of a workplace culture that encourages a open communication. Not listening to and addressing the full spectrum of factors that lead to high job satisfaction is another damper. Not Fostering an environment of engagement is another common root cause…

overlooking who is doing the work and why they have to do the work is a recipe for disaster. While financial stability is an important factor, growing their skills and being relevant with changing times is a key expectation. too often this inherent need remains a mirage for employees as too many companies overly stress on output rather than the outcome.

Golden circle as postulated by simon sinek that begins with why ? is as relevant to people development as is to business communication. Every research on employee productivity highlights the collective desire to be valued, their need to feel engaged and their aspiration to experience the impact of their work.

It is our assertion that the fundamental failing any worthy endeavor can be traced back to people failure. orienting your various teams to organizational goals is paramount task of product leaders. Even more is the need to sensitize the hiring engine to the vision, mission and objectives of the organization.

While the functional specialization alone worked in the world of tangible products, the World of digital products demands a completely different level of talent. Hiring for aptitude alone is untenable. Thinking solely in terms of specializations is hampering business ability to innovate at a rapid pace.

The combination of talent that looks good on paper fails miserably on the ground. Execution is hampered as leaderships is distracted away into always on firefighting mode. integrating disparate talent pools of new age capabilities with the deep domain expertise of veteran employees is a constant challenge.

selecting people only based on skills will comprise your workforce. onboarding employees with a breadth of behavioral skills like risk mitigation, conflict resolution, collaboration, interpersonal, decision making etc will complement the teams ability to achieve overall objectives. interdisciplinary, cross-functional and co-located teams is the way to go to churn out digital products.

Orchestration of disparate Individual competencies to deliver timely value is the core function of product leaders. Helping talented individuals balance their productive contribution without being overwhelmed by specialization is a rare skill. Great Product Managers facilitate individuals perfectly blend personal aspirations with organizational expectations.

It is easier said than done. A famous quote by Margaret Mead summarizes the fundamental dichotomy of human psychology. What people say, what people do, and what they say they do are entirely different things. Anyone who’s worked at a dysfunctional organization can vouch to the fickleness of people thought.

People are complex and unpredictable which makes it very hard to assess them. Different dimensions have to be reviewed in order to fully study the person, their ability to participate in socializing with others, contributing in a group, spreading influence, making thoughtful decisions so on and so forth..

In fact, hiring managers are moving away from aptitude driven to attitude focused recruitment process. everyone from top management to lower-level employees need to enhance people competencies so as to stay focused on achieving a number of important objectives.

Disciplines to grasp the signals and interpret human actions have been studied by various scholars. Some of them are as stated below. Together, they can help us form a coherent view of the type of individuals we are dealing with.

  • Mindset – Fixed / Growth
  • Thinking – System 1 / System 2
  • Motivation – Intrinsic / Extrinsic
  • Outlook – Logical/Creative
  • Attitude – Positive / Negative
  • Knowledge – IQ / EQ
  • Relationship – Transactional / Emotional
  • Socializing – Extroverted / Introverted
  • Involvement – Focused / Distracted
  • Decision Making – Proactive / Reactive
  • Behavior – Predictable / Unpredictable
  • Leadership – Risk Aware / Risk Averse

It is clear that economies, organizations depend on people competency to effectively deliver their offering and compete. To successfully outmaneuver competitors in the market they expect a culture of excellence within workplace. they also believe that specialization gives them a financial edge. Everything in planning is structured with that single minded objective.

However, executive talent within these self focused firms have let their feelings out through employee surveys and feedback channels. They expect to have meaning, engagement and influence at work. Balancing these two aspirations and personalizing that to every hire is the purpose of the talent canvas. In a product environment, the most important thing is the objectives and key results.

To have meaningful work is a tremendous happiness – Rita Mae Brown

Manufacturing companies pioneered a top down model to improve accountability within their organization. It was called management by objectives. As per this model, objectives were set annually by the top leadership which was expected to be broke down and sent to different departments.

Blue collar workers only job was to efficiently execute. No question to ask, No suggestion to make and No ideas to improve. With time and maturity of understanding, however things changed. manufacturing systems improved to capture horizontal inputs, process were open to incorporate field level insights. All with an eye to improve individual efficiency.

Shift in power away from machines into systems demanded a different approach. With the arrival of complex organizational structures, objective setting process incrementally became collaborative. What was restricted to a manager and his peers became much more broad based.

Rapid pace of change coupled with negative consequences of siloed thinking forced organizations to adopt a more frequent and bottom up method. With the realization that product building is a team sport. Shared responsibility and accountability emerged key to success.

High significance was placed on timely feedback and course correction rather than 100% achievement of objectives. Employees need to align themselves with larger organizational goals while trying to achieve their individual aspirations. Mapping the objectives to the real results achieved became key to organizational growth and scale.

It does not make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do. We hire smart people to tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs

Any discussion of talent needs should begin with defining the qualitative objectives that adhere to Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely norms. Further the objectives need to be ambitious, qualitative, time bound and actionable. Each of the objectives need to highlight top quantifiable Key Results to be achieved by the individual and team.

Next we focus on the Why ?. A talent is hired to solve a particular problem or gap within our execution. The brand he is should be closely aligned with the brand we want him to be. Bringing that kind of alignment with a foot in the door will be an expensive proposition.

Why ? includes the belief, values, purpose and passion we expect our hires to have.

It all begins with beliefs we hold dear. It could be biased or unbiased. Thing to evaluate is the commitment he or she holds and how open is he to hear challenging narratives.

the values we expect our hire to cherish and how conscious those choices in life are.

the purpose we expect our hire to most care about and the backstory that is fueling its existence. What would we like to have our hire inspired with ? better to have this aligned with the function we expect our hire to contribute to.

passion with which we expect our hire to persist and the driving force that is propelling their initiatives.

By crafting our version of the why ? for the potential hire, we are defining the touch stone with which we can study the intrinsic motivation of the potential hire. In terms of the Japanese concept of ikigai we are trying to grasp the “what he Loves to do” part of the puzzle.

Next up in the talent canvas we study what ? what would it take for such an intrinsically motivated person to join us ? What kind of behavior do we expect him to manifest ? What would it take for us to make him feel valued ? What kind of environments would bring out the best in him ?

Next Step is to define the aptitude and attitude. Irrespective of the functional orientation, Any productive individual need to master hard and soft skills. Hard skills are technical relative to the domain. Soft skills are social skills relative to people.

A smart player is one who exhibits the perfect blend of hard and soft skills in a given context. He is exceptional at somethings. He can listen, learn and interpret other things.

A great product talent is one who evolves his or her skills depending on the phases of product development and stages of product growth. In many cases we need to hire new folks to ensure cross pollination of ideas.

In addition to functional skills, exhibits emotional intelligence, aspiration, drive, empathy, active listening, critical thinking, structured thinking, design thinking, intuition , curiosity, problem finding, problem solving, experimentation, creativity , collaboration , communication , decision making and business acumen.

Experience can be reviewed from qualitative and quantitative perspectives. More often than not, it is looked at from a purely quantitative vision. Years of Experience could be a strength and weakness depending how relevant it is to a job.

From a qualitative perspective, cross functional experience, functional depth within a practice, diversity of roles played , initiatives experience within an organization, cross functional interaction experience, individual contribution, team contribution experience, leadership experience, liasioning experience etc…

Different kinds of roles demand different blends. With the talent canvas and organization should be able to define the overall gamut to be covered as a minimal expectation.Next comes the achievement we aspire the candidate to have had. A typical performance rating scale has Exceptional, Exceeds expectations,Meets expectations, Improvement needed and Unsatisfactory. Different organizations also have different scale of measures which makes it difficult to standardize and normalize results.

Real achievers go beyond the norms of performance measure and demonstrate a kind of unique behaviors like Publishing Thought Leadership, Frequent Knowledge Sharing, Gaining Intellectual Property Ownership, Recognition from Customers, Acknowledgement from Peers, Transparent about Co-creators.

Organizations talent expectations should focus on 360 degree of a potential candidates achievement.

The way an organization expects certain qualities from its hire, the hire expects a certain reciprocity. Key factors like Organizational Culture, Influence Structures, Strategic Jobs to be Done, Development Coaching, Resources to be Allocated and Rewards to be Attained.

There is a growing realization that the strength of products are founded on the capability of people and the culture binding them. Creating a culture of shared ownership, common language, reciprocative expectations and mutual empowerment is the core function of hiring.

As per Harvard Business Review, cultural norms is the tacit social order of an organization that defines what is encouraged, discouraged, accepted, or rejected within a group.

Accepting accountability in pursuit of common goals. Being comfortable challenging each others assumptions. team member appreciating his peers. Empowering each other to overcome inhibitions. Demonstrating Transparency, Commonality, Credibility, Reliability and respect.

What kind of work culture can we offer such talent ? is the primary question to be answered.

Organizational Structures are essential to achieve strategic goals. Helps establish chain of command, span of management, degree of control, extent of coordination and balanced resource allocation in pursuit of objectives.

Many organizations look at structures as a broad based initiative covering every inch and corner of functions. Everything in their operations is designed to reinforce this hierarchy and authority. While some discipline is required to regulate work-related behavior, it has to be applied in context.

Reality of employee engagement necessitates accepting the fact that different functions work well under different structures. World of digital products stands with the need to have autonomous and interdisciplinary teams. A kind of liberation that allows company employees complete freedom and responsibility to take actions that they decide are best for their company’s vision.

Understanding the fundamental necessity of hiring and the unique work ethic for that function will help evaluate the kind of structures that will deliver maximum outcomes with minimum bureaucracy.

Next up is the strategic Jobs to be Done. Every role is accountable to complete Goals​. Every role performs Jobs to achieve its goals​. Jobs can be independent or dependent​. They can strategic or tactical. Job is made of several tasks​. Each task or a group of tasks deliver an outcome. People hire tools to complete tasks​.

Study of Jobs to be done for each hire is essential to visualize his / her place in the organizational scheme of things.

Next Comes, the perspective to study how the hire needs to be developed in order for him to complete his jobs, deliver the key results. Kind of Relationships that has to be made available. Coaching to improve his/her on the job performance. Mentoring to empower him develop himself for the next roles. Competency Development to fill the gaps in work specialization.

Financial Resources, Automation Resources, Talent Resources, Business Networks, Brand Resources, Intellectual Property Resources etc need to be made available. Depending on the type of person being hired

What is the roadmap for talent growth ? Everyone is concerned about what’s in it for me ? I take up a role, i achieve the OKR’s, where do i see myself in the next few years ? It is important for hiring teams to think actively about these issues.

In summary, talent canvas is an empathy driven model for hiring leaders to think about why would anyone join us ? What will they offer us ? How will we reward them ?

“A” TALENT CANVAS

"A" Talent Canvas

Last updated Sep. 1, 2018

Program Director – Product Management

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