How do you find and attract quality talent?
This is one of the most persistent conversations amongst Product leaders. The conversation has been there for years and recently it has hit a fever pitch. Gaps in our teams hold us back and can be damaging to teams and businesses.
The talent conversation typically touches on all the usual topics – salary, benefits, flexibility, connecting candidates with the purpose, use of recruiters, interview strategies, and more.
And we’d bemoan the availability of talent and the shallow market. There are just not enough Product Managers out there to satisfy the demand and the issue appears to be worsening. To make it harder still, the definition of Product Managers and methods used can shift greatly between organisations. The pool of candidates shrinks even further when you focus on the flavour of product you’re running and the culture you’re trying to curate.
The reality of this equation though is that we’re all trying to work out the best way to essentially steal talent from one another. The tighter the market, the faster this turnstile turns, tenures shorten, salaries escalate and our ability to deliver great products is impaired. Short tenures mean every piece of work is a new project, domain understanding doesn’t reach meaningful depth, slow hunches don’t happen and innovation is stifled. At scale, it can impact the ability of companies and economies to compete. We should also consider the opportunity costs associated with positions being left vacant for extended periods.
However, the only way to really solve the Product Manager supply issue is to create more Product Managers. To do this well isn’t trivial. To do this as a market or a profession even less so. But this is the challenge and with it, the opportunity. From experience, great Product Managers can and do come from anywhere but we need to give them the opportunity and support them to develop the skills.
To help with acquiring skills there are great courses out there, a veritable smorgasbord of meetups, and a terrific library of content that has accelerated in the past few decades. There are great resources available for developing Product knowledge and understanding.
However, to gain traction, more action needs to occur from within organisations. If you’re a leader this means you. We need to look at where we source talent from outside of Product and how we bring them through.
With the right aptitude your next candidate can come from anywhere and in the past often has, myself included. I’ve seen and heard of great successes from many different paths – engineers, agile coaches, design, support, customer success, implementation, finance, grads, etc.
- Make it easy for others to get involved in the Product process. Example opportunities might be ideation workshops, wireframing sessions, sprint review, and more. The limit here is really your imagination.
- Associate Product Managers – Consider creating an Associate Product Manager role or similar in your organisation with the explicit intent of incubating potential Product Managers.
- Product Operations roles – Product Operation roles are becoming more common in organisations and are focused on the enablement of product teams. Whether this is a formal role in your organisation or not there is opportunity for aspiring Product Managers to begin to get their hands dirty with everything from setting up customer interviews, producing product analytics or supporting the functions of teams.
- Short-term secondments with individuals that teams have developed a longer-term relationship can be very effective at assessing someone’s readiness for the role and their genuine interest.
The above suggestions do take time to establish and make an impact. You can make quick progress by starting the conversation and broadcasting your intent. I’ve found that other departments have generally been encouraging if you engage the leadership first. They see it as an opportunity to have more sway in what gets prioritised and a way to retain good people. When it comes down to it, Product Management is usually a very attractive role with many more suitors than there are available positions. Often it will just be about providing a pathway to realising this ambition.
A note of caution though. We want to be careful of people interested in the role just for the title, money or prestige. I’ve even had some that have chased the role because they thought it would be a cruisy role. We want people who really want to champion the customer and the product, who knows what they’re getting themselves in for and have the self-efficacy to come out winning in difficult and ambiguous situations. An early step in identifying suitability can be as simple as asking them to read a book such as the Lean Startup.
Talent is unquestionably a significant competitive advantage. Throwing more salary, benefits, and swag is a game of diminishing returns. The resulting increase in workforce churn is a net loss to the market and can leave your own talent pool vanishingly shallow. We need balanced talent strategies that include investing in pathways to grow new participants into our great world of product.