I once heard an expression that essentially stated you should pay attention when coincidences converge because generally there is something bigger at play that you should be considering. Admittedly, this post seems a bit earlier than normal … but then again that is just one of the converging points of this article.
So in an attempt to set up the rest of the discussion, let me simply ask you two relatively easy questions followed by a more challenging one:
- How did you do against your goals for this past year?
- More importantly, what activities and actions within your role positively contributed to the business?
- What are your blind-spots or areas for improvement (your weaknesses)?
Converging Point #1 – Annual Review Cycles
Whether you like them, hate them or are indifferent to them … when you enter the work force, this is one of the realities you experience. And it wasn’t until about ½ way through my career that I really came to appreciate them. For the first 10 years of my career, goals and annual reviews were really a foregone conclusion … not as much about how you did for the year but rather how much the raise and bonus would be.
The dot.com crash changed that. No longer could you just show up to your job and expect to get rewarded … everything was about performance now. And it was a manager about 6-7 years later that really showed me the importance of taking the annual self-review process (and review process if you manage others) seriously.
Whether Product Management or any other leadership role for that matter, self-awareness is a critical aspect of continuously improving. Every leader/product manager/employee has blind-spots … how do you assess what yours are without intentionally seeking them out? In what areas are you strongest? In what areas are you weakest? How do these apply to the specific role you serve and how you did your job?
Converging Point #2 – Side-bar Conversations
I was having a conversation with a few colleagues of mine recently when the point about strengths/weaknesses came up. Over the past 20+ years, I have seen varying approaches to reviews and ratings. Like a typical customer, I know which ones I’ve liked and I know which ones I haven’t liked … but I haven’t dug into them deep enough to express what the right answer is (if there is one). What I can say is that the models that I typically have liked are based on 2 components:
- Goal Attainment – what were the SMART goals defined for the year, and how did you do against them?
- Competencies – all things being equal from a goals perspective, how did you perform against what was expected in your role compared to peers?
Why is this important? A classic example came several years ago when one of the products (and Product Managers) under my responsibility missed a revenue goal for the year (with revenue being the most important of 3 primary goals). Based solely against component #1 above, that could have been a huge miss and severely impacted the review/rating.
But the reality is there were so many other external factors involved in the revenue miss. Did we own up to the miss? Absolutely, every good leader should. But the rest of the story showed that not only were goals #2 and #3 met, the way the Product Manager went about his job in relation to component #2 showed a strong performance for the year.
Converging Point #3 – A Good Book
The point of this blog is to blend the concepts of Product Management and Leadership, and as such I generally will have a book, blog post, industry article (or something!) I am reading on the subjects. That is true now as well with the latest book titled Managing Product Management by Steven Haines, and just shortly after the conversation with my colleagues, I read this (paraphrased and only covering the first 2 of the 4 bullets mentioned) …
“To establish an effective Product Management Organization … it must, at a minimum, encompass the following four building blocks:
- A competency model to assess and evaluate the knowledge, skills and experience of your Product Management staff based upon a reliable reference model
- A method to assess and evaluate gaps between competency measurements and desired performance levels”
A bit later in the same chapter, the author comments on the same conclusion I reached many years ago … that in order to build core capabilities for Product Management within an organization, you need a competency model. And that model must help to promote those activities and actions that make positive contributions to the business.
Some parting thoughts relative to reviews/ratings/etc …
- Obviously you need to understand the goals of the organization and how your actions align
- But you also need to understand what is expected in the role of Product Manager. Even if your organization doesn’t have a competency model in place, there are many good Product Management frameworks out there that can get you started
- Be a student of yourself. Understand where your strengths are within the competency model, but also where your areas of improvement lie