Michelle is a Senior product management and product marketing leader with a proven record of accomplishments in leading and implementing product management programs in diverse organizations to create, develop and position successful award winning products. Continue reading
Since 2003, as President and Founder of Omega Z Advisors, LLC, Mike Lehr has worked as a change management specialist prepping and moving people through change. He accomplished this either as a contractor or as an organizer and leader of project teams. Mike has been
speaking publicly for over 40 years. He has trained and coached for over 25 years.
Since 2007, Mike has had an intense focus on helping firms implement new IT infrastructures and applications as well as developing IT talent. Mike spends much time raising IT to the human level.
Mike has blogged since 2010, writing over 500 original posts of over 150,000 words. It is an extensive reference tool. Mike is also the author of The Feminine Influence in Business a comprehensive book about integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems. < Read more about Mike Lehr >
We thank Mike for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series. With Mike we will focus on managing self and how do we become better professional. I am sure you will enjoy reading Mike.
Product Mantra: Mike you have been in the business for over 20 years now, what makes
you believe that ‘influencing’ and ‘problem solving’ are key to achieve change as desired.
Mike Lehr: Very simply Abhay, we cannot do anything without being able to influence or solve problems. Influencing comes into play from leadership to IT introductions. Problem solving comes into play from talent assessment to product roll-outs. Change is no different.
How do we achieve change? That is a problem. It needs a solution. That requires problem solving skills.
Yes, we might know the solution immediately. It might not seem like a problem. Yet, it is. The problem could be that we are just going through the motions. We are thinking inside the box. Experience is a side of that box. That’s why laypersons often have innovative ideas outside of their experience. The man who solved the measuring of longitude was a watch maker, not an astronomer as were all the other experts of that time.
How do we bring about change? We need to influence people. We need to influence ourselves. Both require motivation. Even if others are solving the problem for you, you must motivate them even if it’s simply by paying them. That’s influence. Money is influence.
I challenge anyone to find a way to achieve change without influencing and problem solving.
Product Mantra: Investing in self is really important, what would be your advice to mid-level executives in this regard. What kind of learning, certification or training will help them prepare better for later part of their career?
Mike Lehr: Abhay, I have run training that people have found very valuable even though they learned nothing new. That is because I presented the same material in a way that motivated them to use it.
I often claim that people could be successful without learning one new thing if, and this is a big if, they would just apply 10% of what they learned but had never implemented.
Trainers make big bucks teaching people the same things that they learned but never implemented. Some people collect knowledge like they do tools, kitchen utensils or exercise equipment. It’s simple. Use what you already know. That’s the lesson.
Beyond that learn to be confident. Learn to believe in what you do know and can do. Confidence influences people even when nothing else might be there. Confidence is a tool. It is not a state of being.
People like confident people. Studies show this is true even if people do not know where that person is going. Confidence triggers the emotional need for security in all of us.
Product Mantra: Tell us something about your work on integrating more intuitive approaches with classical ones to develop talent, influence and solve problems.
Mike Lehr: In general, Abhay, integrating more intuitive approaches is about tapping people’s emotions to influence and solve problems. It is about changing how they see things, not changing the things they see.
For example, consider customer service. The classic approach sees the problem objectively. That means to improve customer service we teach ways to improve service. The focus is on service. We change the thing. That thing is service.
Now, I trained people to improve customer service without teaching them one thing to improve that service. Initially, when I say that I stump many people. That is because we do not consider people’s emotions, thoughts or behaviors regarding that service. The focus is on things (service) not people.
Even if we provide good service, there is no guarantee that people will notice it. My training focused on showing people how to ensure that customers noticed it. I didn’t have them change the service. I just taught them ways to change how customers saw the service.
For instance, studies show that when customers see a busy staff their assessment of service goes up even though none of that activity is about them. Conversely, when they see staff hanging around talking to one another, their assessment of service goes down even if nothing changed about the service they received.
In some ways, this is very similar to the way a branding, marketing or advertising campaigns change people’s impressions of products and services. The difference is that we apply these principles on an interpersonal level.
This can save tons of money. We don’t have to change things. We just change how people see things. In problem solving, this means we don’t solve the problem. We just change how we think, feel and react to it. That might mean we find that the problem isn’t really a problem.
When we integrate the two, we change things and change how people see things. This is even more powerful than either approach alone.
Mike Lehr on web:
- Follow Mike on twitter @ MikeLehrOZA
- Connect with Mike on Linkedin
- Omega Z Advisors
- Mike Lehr’s blog
Alicia Dixon is a Product Manager with a specialization in mobile software. Her expertise includes product development, product strategy, and market research. Throughout Miss Dixon’s career she has successfully produced enterprise and consumers products through positions held at leading companies including Hilton Worldwide, UPS, Dell, Blackboard, Fruit of the Loom, Nike & Toys R Us. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University along with an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama. She is an active member of technology community and sits on the planning committee for ProductCamp DC.
We thank Alicia for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.
Product Mantra: What is the biggest challenge facing the discipline of Product Management?
Alicia Dixon: In the push for designers to learn to code, and developers to learn design, and everybody doing product, I feel that one of the biggest challenges for product management is staying relevant. Lately there seems to be a trend that everybody feels that they can do product successfully. My personal point of view is that this is because people assume that doing product is easy. I attribute this to the fact that the core skills and talent needed to do product are so esoteric.
You learn product by doing it and you can’t really get it from a book or class. And there’s no one-method-fits-all approach to building successful product. Thus, there’s an assumption that since the skill set is so undefined that it’s an easy one to master. Those of us doing the job know this couldn’t be further from the truth. We know that creating product is an art form. And like all good art, you know when it is good or bad, but you might not be able to define WHY it is good or bad.
Unfortunately, there is a growing trend to push product away from working with potential customers to formulate business strategy and into areas that should be handled by other disciplines. In an effort to clearly define the product role, hard requirements for the job (such as being ScrumMasters, Design Thinking facilitators, and multivariate testing experts) have become commonplace. These attempts to make the parameters of the role more concrete have actually had an adverse effect; making product roles irrelevant because there are already groups that do project management, design, and analytics. As those groups claim the job functions that are rightfully theirs and there are no other defined components to the product role, I believe that the result is those disciplines start to question why product is needed.
Of course, product is needed! Why, you ask? My answer is to give direction as to what comes next. Product is out canvassing the streets to uncover the customers’ problems and bring those back to the organization to say ‘here’s an unsolved problem that we have an opportunity to fix’. Understanding the challenges that target users are facing and why of those challenges have significance is the cornerstone of the product management function. Achieving this requires listening and empathy — two soft skills that don’t translate well into a job description or RACI matrix. All of this means that the onus is on Product Managers to prove their worth. Doing that is really hard when we are off doing tasks that we shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
Product Mantra: How best can a product management professional leverage upon the growing virtual community of product professional for his/ her personal development. Would you share some insights on this with our readers?
Alicia Dixon: Social media and online networking have made it so that Product Managers now have a thriving virtual community. Through my own experience I can say that everyone I have met virtually who works on product has been very welcoming and friendly. While it is tempting to seek out a relationship with the most popularly recognized product folks, I encourage you to connect with people who work on similar products or within your local area.
My advice for anyone wanting to acclimate oneself with this community is to start by consuming the popular blogs and following thought leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter. Then start commenting on any post or article that you find compelling. Share these within your network as well. As you get more comfortable, create your own posts based on your specific experiences. Finally, don’t stop with the virtual community. Make connections that you take into the real world. Meet other product people for coffee, take them for drinks, and attend local meetups or ProductCamps.
Getting involved in this way will not only expand and improve your product knowledge it might just lead to your next opportunity. For example, a good online friend of mine is now slotted to be the keynote speaker at an international conference based on a referral I made. I spoke at the event last year and recommended her to the organizers. I knew that they were recruiting speakers for this year and that she would be great at it, so I was happy to connect them. Most of the product people that I know are eager to help foster the community in this way.
Product Mantra: Which is your most memorable experience from a startup and what do we learn from it?
Alicia Dixon: A key learning that I took away from working in a startup environment was that what is appealing at any given moment can quickly change. My startup experience was actually at an internal startup at a 90 year-old company. When I first joined the business, the product that I was working on was deemed the next generation evolution for the company. It was to be the new and significant revenue stream for the business. All of the executives were very excited about the new growth opportunity and trade publications spoke highly of the upcoming industry change. At that time, the product was the core focus. So it was heavily funded.
However, the industry had a hard time moving forward with the adoption of a disruptive technology. The need to continuously make iterative product improvements was a new paradigm which was not embraced by the company nor clients. The one-and-done mentality (i.e. build it once, then sell until sold out) was so ingrained in the business that they just couldn’t get past it. Over time, funding was gradually pulled from the initiative.
So the takeaway from a product sense is that one must continuously scan the marketplace to be aware of the receptiveness to what you are creating. When you notice it begin to wane, it is time to move on, either to another product within your current role, or to a new position entirely.
Alicia Dixon on Social Media
- Follow Alicia on twitter at @Li_Li_D
- Get connected with her on Linkedin @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/dixonalicia
- Read her blog http://just1morething.com/