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Effective Product Manager - Building Relationship
This is a part of the Effective Product Manager series. As a recap, we've talked about 2 core skills:
Building Relationship is the next core skill we'll talk about in this episode.
Why is Building Relationship Important
When I was new in my product management career, I worked hard, I learned decently quickly, and in meetings I always discussed with my colleague logically, earnestly and wholeheartedly. I spent after hours catching up for work, reading stuffs that'd help me grow as PM, and thought deeply about everything from the next day to my next move in my career. I thought I had given it 110%.
Then I'd still see my peers (same or more experienced PMs) manage everything more smoothly and seemingly more effortlessly than I did. From getting buy-ins and alignment to execution. From feeling more confident to being happier at work. I started wondering if I was either missing something important, or I was flat out dumber.
Luckily, I realized it was former. (doesn't mean I'm smarter either).
I realized that what I missed was to invest in building relationship and rapport with who I work with.
I always dove right into the products, the problems, the technologies when I started a new role or a new project. Before I spent time connecting with people. That turned out to cost me effectiveness down the road. Once I realized, I started to change, and it's proven to make almost everything much easier. From learning from people, to align them on vision and strategy, to execution, to being happier at work. Some even turned longer lasting connections after the job in the specific company, which value is hard to quantify.
After all, as I've said numerous times in my blog, Product Manager is a people-centric role. One builds great teams to build great products (as you don't build products yourself). Building relationship with each and everyone on your team (and extended teams including stakeholders and dependent teams), is just an essential part of it.
Have I convinced you that building relationship is important? If so, read on.
How to Build Relationship?
Relationship, like communication, deserves a full length book to talk about and likewise I'm not a relationship guru. And just like communication and any other core skills, I'm always striving to get better everyday. But here, I'll simply summarize several keys that helped me a lot, specifically in the context of building relationship with who I work with, as a PM.
#1. Communication & Empathy
I know I'm repeating myself. But please know that both of these skills are foundation to relationship building. The better you communicate (which include to listen well), the easier it is to connect with people. The more empathetic you toward other people, the more effective it is to build the relationship upon what you know they truly care about.
#2. Bring Values
The best way to get your relationship off a great start, is to first bring value to the person (before you extract any value from the relationship). It should not be transactional, but a great relationship (especially in business) would be built upon win-win mutual values.
So what does "value" mean exactly? Well, it depends. This is also where you'll use empathy to understand what your team and each person really needs and cares about. That'll be the "value". It's what they think are valuable. NOT what you think are valuable. The values can be big or small. So especially initially, don't overlook the small value you can bring to the table.
Engineering needs you to help them connect with a dependent team and unblock them
Designer needs someone to help break the tie on two design variances
Marketing and engineering folks have communication gaps and need someone to close the gap and align on a simple decision
Or, don't laugh I'm serious, bring lunch/coffee/snacks/whatever, as long as your team actually do need it at the right time - such as in product launch war room.
The key is to do whatever it takes to help your people. That's the value you can bring.
Don't just listen to me. A experienced product veteran turned blogger/coach Ken Norton famously said it - "bring the donuts". Same concept!
#3. Know Their Stuff
Another way to earn respect and develops good relationship with people, is to really know their stuff and demonstrate that at the right time. We all love it when someone else speaks our language and shares the same frequency. And that same "language" or "frequency" is usually based on some shared understanding or knowledge about something important to you. So if you want the other person to feel that you're speaking her language or sharing her frequency, you'd better know their stuffs to some degree.
Know and be curious about some technical details (aka how the sausage is made) about your product with engineering, and even influence some technical decisions (with the proper business context and rationale)
Show your design chops being able to critique on design options pros and cons and comfortably speaking some design languages (e.g. what is an "affordance")
Being able to pull your own data and sit with your data analyst to talk about segmentation and what you observed from the data set
To be sure, you cannot possibly know everything, because not only your time is limited, often your focus should still be the core responsibilities of a PM (vs try to be be like other roles). It's more about as you're exposed to these topics, carry the right mindset to learn as much as you can. The right mindset means, being curious instead of thinking they're "none of your business".
#4. Enablement and Empowerment
A product manager is a leader. A good leader leads. A great leader enables and empowers people she leads. A relationship built with the leadership in you will be much stronger than one that's lacking it. This is especially true when you're a product manager, where a key part of your job is to make your team successful (which in turn will make the products and yourself successful).
Enablement means give them what they need to do their best jobs. Be it to provide a clear direction, to help unblock, to offer structure to problem solving, to facilitate discussions and so on.
Empowerment means give them the proper freedom, ownership, and authority to do what they do best and make their decisions. Which can include explicit delegation, creating a safe space for ideas and decision making, protect them from any risks of doing so and etc.
When people feel enabled and empowered, they will do their part in the relationship.
#5. Casual Setting
Meetings for business can help build rapport and develop relationship. But don't forget about any opportunity to connect with people casually with no for-business agenda. Over lunch, coffee break, taking a walk, or doing some shared interests you guys have together after work as you see fit. It's much harder in COVID, but you can still have remote chats too, though not nearly as good. As a PM, you should make sure you initiate some of these casual connections, whichever ways you prefer. For me as an introvert, I'd mostly prefer 1:1s.
Being in casual settings allow you both to be more relaxed, and be able to connect at personal or deeper level. You get to share (mutually) what you really care about in life, what you like to do and dislike, and sometimes even your values. These personal connections are not only fun and meaningful by itself, it actually also does help business too - that when in tension or disagreement (which inevitably will happen), it'll be much easier to get through it and reach alignment again.
Relationship building is essential for your role as a product manager. But more than that, it should be non-transactional, fun, and long lasting. So think of it less as a "chore", and more as something that's joyful and beneficial at multiple levels - business, your happiness at work, long term value and personal friendship, etc.
Can it really be joyful even if you are an introvert? Well as a deep deep introvert myself, I guarantee you: yes it will be!
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