Thought Leadership

Connecting Through Culture: Spotlight on the CPO

(Note: This continues our series of blogs highlighting individual functions in an organization and how their operations within workplace culture can either promote or hinder the achievement of desired outcomes. This blog showcases the insights of Culture Partners Chief Product Officer, Brian Lee.)

When people think about Chief Product Officers (CPOs), they often focus on the most public aspect of the role—that of innovator. Icons like Steve Jobs come to mind, whose game-changing technology created new product categories and set the bar high for any would-be competitors. And while Jobs was able to pursue his vision and deliver products that customers initially didn’t know they wanted, few CPOs have as much influence or free reign to do so.

Instead, they have stakeholders who want assurance that there’s built-in and sustainable demand for what’s being brought to market. “Having a solid vision of where you want to go from a product development standpoint is essential,” says Brian Lee, CPO at Culture Partners. “But what continues to be the biggest stumbling block for most CPOs is product strategy.” He points to some common and interrelated pitfalls:

  • Seeking nothing less than the “perfect” approach to solving problems for customers
  • Trying to be all things to all people (customers and internal stakeholders), which leads to working to solve too many problems and delivery delays
  • Following a certain strategy based on a firm belief in it, or confirmation bias, without soliciting objective feedback on its true potential

As these types of behaviors become embedded in workplace culture, they can lead to an “Action Trap®” and contribute to internal misalignment with what the organization is trying to achieve.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of developing the next great product or solution,” says Brian. “Instead, the goal is to deliver what both serves your customers and aligns with the vision and purpose of your organization.”

Overcome Misalignment and Get Culture Right

At the most fundamental level, your leadership needs to understand the type of business you are in. For example, are you creating and selling products, services, or solutions? Are your offerings available via a transaction- or subscription-based model? And if you’re shifting from one model to another, what will that require in terms of change management?

According to Brian, it’s not enough for leadership to answer these questions: they must also be sure their approach has buy-in throughout the organization. That requires aligning teams around their purpose and strategy, then fostering the employee behaviors that will enable the organization to reach its goals. “Working with a model like The Results Pyramid®, organizations can determine how they need to change workplace culture—the way people think and act—in order to create an employee experience that ultimately leads to desired outcomes.”

This includes tackling issues in workplace culture that may be detracting from effectively executing on your product strategy:

  • How to improve internal understanding of the product team’s responsibilities and contribution to the organization’s value proposition, so there’s greater focus on high-value activities and less on low-level tasks.
  • How to increase interaction and collaboration with relevant stakeholders, so you’re able to strategically reduce the scope of problems being solved and better prioritize the release of new capabilities or offerings.
  • How to eliminate uncertainty over how customers will benefit from new offerings by helping develop sales enablement materials that accelerate training and promote sales

Encourage Regular Feedback

From a product development perspective, obtaining customer feedback is incredibly important. That’s why many organizations establish formal advisory groups from whom they’re able to receive regular input on what’s essential to customers. Through this more focused approach, they can better allocate resources and prioritize the rollout of new solutions and services to an already receptive market.

At the same time, there’s tremendous benefit to be had through the sharing and requesting of internal feedback. “Some product teams operate in an insular way and get too married to certain ideas or processes,” explains Brian. “Without regularly seeking feedback on what’s working and what’s not, they could keep heading down a certain development path when it may make more sense to pivot. Or they may not understand whether their approach is in or out of sync with the rest of the organization, which could cause friction.”

CPOs who actively solicit and address feedback to improve cross-functional interactions will encourage their team members to do the same. As a result, they’ll gain greater insight into how the product team is viewed throughout the organization, so they can improve team accountability based on any identified weaknesses.

“Effective use of feedback helps CPOs continue to operate in alignment with the organization’s purpose and strategy,” says Brian.

In the end, CPOs achieve the best results when they help their teams understand the “why” behind the organization’s strategic direction, while communicating and modeling the desired behaviors that will lead to greater accountability and long-term success.

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