In recent years, the focus of the Product Management role was solving a particular segment of customers’ specific needs, with a minimal emphasis on benefitting the broader world, especially stakeholders who did not provide direct revenue. However, this is changing.
As the world continues to get smaller, those same customers are redefining their needs by expanding them to include solving global and societal challenges and using their purchasing power to shift the role of business to one that helps solve these problems.
Purpose-driven product leaders realize that in this exponentially complex environment, what worked before won’t necessarily lead to success now. As CEOs of their products, they must change their mindsets and their toolsets by:
• Recognizing and solving converging customer and societal needs
• Leading with a servant heart and a systems mind
• Adopting practices that integrate diverse perspectives and view problems and solutions in new ways
Why do customers want the role of business to change? Consumer sentiment is low that governments can independently fix the essential issues facing humanity across environmental, social, and governance (ESG) vectors, for example, climate change, social justice, and sustainability of resources.
These problems are so critical that consumers expect companies to leverage their clout and collaborate with governments, academia, and nonprofits to effect meaningful, lasting change.
Afdhel Aziz, author and founder of Conspiracy of Love, a global purpose consultancy, notes in his recent article in Forbes that research undertaken by the Zeno Group shows:
“…global consumers are four to six times more likely to trust, buy, champion, and protect those companies with a strong purpose over those with a weaker one.”
Purpose-driven product leaders find the intersection of issues that:
• Customers care about
• The product is capable of impacting
• Align with the company’s values
In doing so, they deliver two types of value concurrently:
1. Value that benefits humanity by helping solve a social issue or by creating an outcome that improves the good of all.
2. Value that benefits purchasers of the product by solving a need or producing the desired outcome for them.
Within the inter-related landscapes in which purpose-driven products exist, a different mindset is needed to decipher the complexity and distill the necessary insights. Purpose-driven leaders conceptualize products and user experiences across stakeholders, organizations, and ecosystems, gaining a holistic view. To accomplish this, they leverage systems thinking to consider how each part will interact with the others and with the product and recognize the likely consequences throughout its life cycle.
Additionally, these leaders employ an expanded definition of “stakeholder” that extends far beyond customers and employees to include, for example, suppliers, think tanks, scientists, nonprofits, academic institutions, government…all who are impacted.
The exponential increase in perspectives requires well-honed listening and communication skills to build relationships and obtain the input and support of these diverse stakeholders. Internally, they use influencing skills to help their colleagues relate to the social issues being addressed, develop empathy for the people they impact, and prioritize their needs.
With such a comprehensive system to engage, leaders are the superglue that holds it all together. They unify the larger group’s efforts through a consistent, compelling vision and are typically more interested in team success than individual accolades. They also navigate with a servant heart, removing obstacles and successfully galvanizing and motivating teams to collaborate on joint execution and achieve shared success.
The problems solved by purpose-driven products sometimes require break-through solutions. Methodologies well-suited to this task, such as Design Thinking, contain frameworks that foster imagination, curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving. They also emphasize that the best solutions come from the convergence of highly diverse people working together with varied skills, backgrounds, and perspectives.
Due to the very nature of the problems they solve, purpose-driven teams can sometimes find themselves in uncharted waters. They know it is always best to create feedback loops and gain rapid input from stakeholders to ensure they are on track, especially when there is more significant ambiguity. They develop metrics to benchmark themselves and course-correct as early as possible.
The leaders and teams that do best in such fluid environments handle uncertainty and change well, learn and assimilate knowledge quickly, and chart a path based on the implications.
Fortunately, the growth of technology and new methodologies continue to drive operational efficiencies in Product and Development teams, freeing them to focus on higher-skilled tasks. For example, AI and advanced analytics can provide enormous amounts of data in real-time for Product and Data Science teams to analyze and interpret valuable insights. Modern methods such as Agile, Test Drive Development, Paired Programming, and Continuous Deployment offer opportunities to drive process improvements and increase productivity while concurrently delivering higher quality results.
As the role of business evolves in the era of purpose-driven values, the job description for Product Management is evolving. Before joining a company, Product practitioners will need to consider whether their mission and core values align with its purpose-driven mission. Additionally, they will need to adopt new hard and soft skills, for example, systems thinking, design thinking, influencing, and servant leadership, while technology and modern methodologies continue to free teams to focus on higher-value work.
A leader has the responsibility to embrace the change and guide their team through this change, achieving the ultimate goal – improved productivity through technology and increased value-add to the enterprise through data-driven decisions. – Judy Romano
CompTIA’s analysis of federal employment data showed that U.S. companies had approximately 918,000 unfilled IT jobs for a three month period last year.