I received sad news that a long time mentor and someone whom I looked up, Thomas Kennedy Sr., had passed away. Tom was the first sales engineer whom I travelled with. He taught me about life as well as sales. I still remember his first words to me when he picked me up in Chicago in his company car with his arm stretched out over the passenger side headrest, “This is how I drive, I am not getting fresh with you.”
One thing that seemed odd during our first trip was that Tom called his wife and ended the conversation with “I love you”. It was all strange to me because I had never heard my parents say that to each other (at least not in front of their children) and I thought that only younger couples would say that. (Asian families tend to hold back on positive emotions.) I asked Tom why he said that to his wife and he simply replied that he always ended their conversations with those words and because he meant them. Over the years, I learned more about Tom and what the most important things in life were. Tom was a hard worker and also a good man who was kind, truthful, and caring. He talked fondly about his wife, children, and grandchildren. I learned the wonderful story about how he hitch-hiked a ride from a couple when he was in the army – they introduced him to his future wife and became his in-laws.
In many ways, Tom was a father to me. I thought hard about what great, insightful attributes that my real father and my “Irish American father” had so - that I could write about the leadership skills that they taught me. I could not think of any.
What they taught me is far more important.
When we pass away, no one will talk about how many companies you took over, how many people you supervised, how much money you made, or how many consecutive quarters that you beat plan. Your eulogy will be about how good a husband or wife, a father or mother, son or daughter, sibling or friend you were, how many people you helped along the way, and what difference you made to others whom you touched.
A Shameful Lesson from My Past
I worked in my father’s restaurant in my youth and worked in the kitchen for a while. One night, I complained to my father that a dishwasher named “Ah Bun” was slow and should be fired. Ah Bun was old and I could wash dishes twice as fast as him. I felt that he wasn’t pulling his weight. My father looked at me and said, “Son, you need to think about his situation. Do you notice Ah Bun’s facial complexion? He suffered serious burns in an accident a long time ago and is trying to make enough money for medical treatment. Ah Bun’s life is not easy. You need to think about others.” Shamefully, I didn’t think or care about “Ah Bun” as a human being or learn about his situation.
Now years later, I continuously undergo “leadership training” and read about the latest “5 Things that All Great Leaders Do”, etc. I can say that the majority of leadership and management teachings lack compassion and the human element. I hear about people laid off with their CEOs telling them that “It’s nothing personal”….yet, I cannot think of anything more personal to someone losing his or her job. Jack Welch (aka “Neutron Jack”) is admired for his “business skills” – any idiot can let go of people to balance the books. When Jack became CEO in 1981, GE had 411,000 employees. When Welch left 20 years later, it had just 313,000 employees. GE lost nearly 100,000 jobs during a tenure that spanned two of the most robust periods of economic growth in American business history. Yet this is the guy who people read about for leadership.
While we continue to talk about UI, UX, CVP, Branding, Price Elasticity of Demand, please remember to laugh, to love, to care, and make the lives of those around you a little better. Think about what you want people will say about you at the end of your life - and live accordingly. As my father admonished me, "You need to think about others".
(I hope that you're knocking a bucket of golf balls up there, Tom.)
One of the most underappreciated and overlooked resources for a Product Manager is the Service, Training, and Technical Support staff. I very much respect my Service group since I’ve been in their shoes at customer installations worldwide. It’s sometimes very lonely out there; you represent your company and products, and your job is to make the customer delighted no matter what. I call them the true “MacGyvers” (a TV character able to solve a range of problems with improvisation, a Swiss Army Knife, and duct tape).
So why doesn't Product Management pay more attention to their Service and Support staff? Perhaps they don't want to hear about "problems"; it's not as "glamorous" as interacting with Sales; or perhaps they simply haven't even thought about them.
The Service and Support Group:
1. Knows your products technically better than almost everyone else (since they have to train and troubleshoot).
2. Sees how users interact and use the product in the “real world”. They are the real UI testers.
3. Sees what users like and dislike in your products.
4. Sees competitive products at customer sites
5. Hears what customers are saying about your products and company…and sometimes the competition. They will know the latest swear words.
6. Tend to have the most interaction with customers after the initial sale
7. Are usually trusted by the customer more than your Sales force (just a natural tendency since they are not selling anything) so they are a very credible source.
8. Usually tell it like it is.
Here's Your Actions:
1. Go out on installations and training sessions with your Service staff…and just listen.
2. Actively solicit feedback at regional or group Service meetings to better understand their perceptions and concerns, as well as gather suggestions.
3. Ensure that any product development includes feedback, suggestions, review from the Service group. Better yet, have a Service person as part of the team.
4. Engage them in your User Story, UI/UX development, alpha testing. I had a team of Service Engineers review a new software product and I refused to release it because they all came back with the same comment about a missing functionality. I knew that their reaction was based on years of customer interaction and not to be taken lightly.
5. Take them out for a beer and dinner to show your appreciation as the front-line for your company and products.
You make their life easier, they make the customer’s life easier…which makes your life easier.
I listened to 2 product managers share complaints about product release meetings. “It was over 6 hours long.”, “That objection came out of nowhere!”, “No sign-off until we answer Service’s questions.” Product milestone and peer review meetings do not have to be like this, yet they almost always are. Team members don’t walk out of such meetings highly motivated and ready to charge forward. They appear angry, beaten up, deflated, and pensive over all the issues raised.
During the OJ Simpson trial, the prosecutors infamously had the suspect try on a glove found at the murder scene. OJ raised his hand to show that the glove was much too small - which led to the defense’s famous closing statement, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit!” Legal experts roundly criticized the prosecutors for their tactic, stating that a good trial lawyer always knows the answer or outcome before asking a question or pulling such a stunt. This is no different for a major product milestone or review meeting. You should know the questions and objections beforehand.
Practice Shuttle Diplomacy
The best product or project managers practice shuttle diplomacy. Shuttle diplomacy is the action of an intermediary traveling back and forth between principals in order to bring about agreement, prevent war, etc. Hillary Clinton recently shuttled between Egypt, Israel and Palestine in order to meet with leaders in each state to negotiate the ceasefire in November. Henry Kissinger was a master of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East in the 1970s. You must talk to each of the stakeholders and key players to get their perspective, their concerns and objections, and finally their support before the big meeting. State very clearly that your objective is to ensure that you have their support and buy-in at the end of the meeting. They may still have reservations that they may voice at the meetings but you must have their consensus and vote.
What happens when you have an impasse with a stakeholder? Bring it up to the next level with your manager or the VP, General Manager to help mediate a consensus. (I remember a rule from Arnold Hax at MIT Sloan: “Consensus is 70 percent agreement, 100 percent buy-in.” You cannot look for 100 percent agreement; you will have paralysis. )
Think about your wedding when the priest asks “If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold you peace." You spoke with your prospective father-in-law, mother-in-law, your parents, etc. prior to the ceremony. You don’t stand there and wait for the hands to fly up.
So always get your ducks in line before your milestone meetings. Learn and practice shuttle diplomacy.
It’s hard to believe that this humble blog on "Practical Marketing, Management, Strategy, and Life" has thousands of readers since we started only one year ago. (Apologies for losing many of your informative comments due to a technical glitch. It won't happen again.)
I’m honored that this blog was selected for inclusion to Alltop!
Guy Kawasaki, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, best selling author, and Apple Fellow, started Alltop and describes it as an ““online magazine rack” that displays the news from the top publications and blogs.”
In Alltop’s own words: “The purpose of Alltop is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer."
Chris Shipley, chairman of Guidewire Group said ""Alltop is deceptively simple. The site gathers up the best suggestions from the most active social web users and compiles links into a simple, clean discovery space. For many, Alltop will replace their RSS readers."
Do check out Alltop.com and see how it can replace your RSS feed.
Here’s my website on Alltop captured for posterity (under the "Product Management" topic):
Thank you again.
Happy New Year! As you list all your goals for the New Year, shouldn’t your top New Year’s resolution be…to be happy?
Growing up in a working class Asian American family, I was taught that success was the key to happiness…and that success came from working harder than everyone else. We work hard to get the best grades to get into the best college, then work hard to get a good job, then work hard to excel in the job to get to the next level, and then work even harder to achieve the next (you can insert the next goal here).
I followed that template and got into Stuyvesant, the most selective high school in NYC. Stuyvesant was an ultra-competitive school where the goal of every student was to get into an Ivy League university. I then went to Columbia University. During my time at Stuyvesant and Columbia, I was puzzled about why many of my classmates were absolutely miserable, stressed out and focused on grades, projects, reports, exams, grd school...the “next goal”. Many of these kids were well off and didn't have to work or worry about tuition as I did so I couldn't understand how they could not be grateful. Being accepted to and attending these schools were privileges and I was thankful for my teachers and professors opening up a new world to me (my parents never completed any formal education). Thoreau, Emerson, Camus, Sartre, Timoshenko, calculus and partial different equations weren’t merely assignments but opportunities to think and grow. The proverbial glass of water always remained half empty for many; happiness was always another goal away (and unfortunately always will be).
Happiness is the journey, not the destination. Success does not lead to happiness. Most of us are brought up to have the cart before the horse. It is happiness that leads to success.
Shawn Anchors, a professor at Harvard is a leader in positive psychology who states that “90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality.” He also states that 25 percent of job successes are predicted by I.Q. 75 percent of job successes are predicted by optimism levels, social support and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.
Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, at the University of CA Riverside and author of “The How of Happiness” believes that 40 percent of happiness is determined by intentional activity (the remaining 50 percent is innate and only 10 percent by circumstance).
Train Your Brain to be More Positive.
Practice these 7 positive exercises to changing your baseline for 2013:
1. Gratitudes - Write down 3 things that you are thankful for each day
2. Journaling – Positive visualization. Imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself.
3. Simplify vs. multitasking – You can’t multitask and our brains like to do one thing at a time.
4. Utilizing Strengths – Do what you do best. Pick one of your signature strengths and use it in a new way.
5. Exercise – 10 minutes per day.
6. Meditation - Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out.
7. Acts of Kindness - Be a “Go-Giver”, Do charity. Simply write one positive email praising or thank someone in your social support network.
This means that happiness takes work. Try at least one positive exercise for 21 days (the time it takes to change a habit and rewire your brain). Shawn Anchors' research shows that if you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what he calls the "happiness advantage" - your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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