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  • Toby Sinclair

Book Summary: Hiring Product Managers by Kate Leto | Using Product EQ

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

Kate Leto Hiring Product Managers Book Summary Banner

Toby's Rating: 7/10 - Recommended For: Product Leaders

For many Product people, success comes from mastery of tools like roadmaps, MVPs, A/B testing and OKRs. Hard skills, critical as they are, just aren’t enough. The secret to success in Product is the way a product person thinks, learns, communicates and adapts. The way they make decisions and show-up when things get tough.

Product EQ is about human skills and Emotional Intelligence. This book will show you what it is and how to get it. Look beyond traditional Product Management hiring practices and become an organisation with Product EQ.


3 Big Ideas 💡

  • Human Skills are critical to successful Product Managers.

  • Instead of copy-pasting job descriptions from other companies, you should be clear on what is needed in your specific context. Who is the person you uniquely need?

  • Use behavioural interview techniques to uncover the preferences of the candidate and how they align with your desired qualities. But be open to new behaviours your organisation might not be familiar with. Don't hire for culture fit.

2 Most Tweetable Quotes 🎤

"The key to understanding product management is to think of it as a practice—somewhat like a doctor practising medicine or a lawyer practising law."
"Changes to how you hire will create changes to your culture."

1 Top Takeaway 🍔

Hire for Human Skills. These are skills such as influence, empathy, ability to learn. These skills, combined with technical skills, are essential. If Product Leaders only have the technical skills they are unlikely to succeed.

To hire for human skills it's critical to get the hiring right. This includes a good job description, that describes the desired human skills, good behavioural interviews and a great onboarding experience.


Human Skills are essential 💙

The key to understanding product management is to think of it as a practice—somewhat like a doctor practising medicine or a lawyer practising law.

It takes a lot of practice, and it takes a special set of skills to be that person who can continually experiment in times of stress and pressure. It also requires a unique type of leadership and culture to empower teams to do just that.

The practice of product management can be broken into two distinct yet complementary sets of skills: technical skills and human skills.

What a product practitioner at any level should actually be working toward is the ability to balance technical skills with human skills. The ability to influence, lead, coach, mentor, learn, deal with conflict, communicate, be curious, innovate, adapt, energize, build and maintain relationships, and continually grow as an individual. These skills describe how a product person works and must go hand-in-hand with technical skills.

The vast majority of product people and organizations base hiring decisions and advancement on a candidate’s ability to master technical skills, much to the detriment of human skills and building a balanced product practice.


Be clear on the role in your context 👩‍💼

Job descriptions—especially for roles in areas as varied and dynamic as product management—often fail to encapsulate the true purpose, accountabilities, and technical and human skills essential to the role.

Most job descriptions are copy-paste of product roles from other banks and industry leaders like Google and Amazon. A recent survey of HR hiring managers found that though 80 percent say that job descriptions are important. However, about 50 percent admit to cutting and pasting together job descriptions.

Using the Role Canvas

Role Canvas Kate Leto

The role canvas not only helps you build great job descriptions, it also helps align your team on the person to be hired.

The Role Canvas is based on four fundamental questions.

  1. What is the purpose of the role?

  2. What is the role accountable for?

  3. What human skills will the role need to display to achieve outcomes?

  4. What technical skills will the role need to execute in order to meet the outcomes and achieve success?


Interviewing for Human Skills aka Behaviours 🏢

“At most companies, people spend 2 percent of their time recruiting and 75 percent managing their recruiting mistakes.”

—Capital One CEO, Richard Fairbank

Behavior-based interview questions focus on understanding the behaviors that led to those accomplishments, the intentions behind the behaviors, and consequences and impact of the behaviors on others. According to a study by Ann Marie Ryan and Nancy Tippins from Michigan State University, behavior-based questions have the highest validity of all interviewing tools when used in a structured format.

Behavior-based questions can be tied directly back to the human skills listed in your role canvas.

Questions to explore conflict:

  • Tell me about a time when you suggested something that someone disagreed with?

  • What did you say?

  • Have you ever encountered someone at work who was unreasonable?

  • What did you do?

  • Tell me about a time when someone felt that you were unfair. What did you do?

Questions to explore resilience:

  • Tell me about a time when you decided to give up on a goal.

  • Tell me about a time when you were distracted or preoccupied at work. What did you do?

  • Tell me about the last time you were criticized at work: How did that go?

A key point with behavior-based questions is to remember that though they can help you understand how someone has behaved in the past, we need to also recognize that with a commitment to change, people can evolve their behaviors going forward.

Changes to how you hire will create changes to your culture.


Going Beyond Culture Fit 🤪

In the rush to hire people often overlook different cultures, lifestyles, and ways of thinking that are actually really important to creating a more diverse team, and better products.

Companies with more diversity in leadership out-innovate and outperform those with less diversity in lead roles.

Diversity can be defined in two ways:

  • Inherent diversity—traits that you’re born with like gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation

  • Acquired diversity—traits you gain from experiences like working in another country, which can give you an appreciation of another culture, or creating products for female consumers, which can give men some insights into women.

Research shows that organizations with greater levels of both inherent and acquired diversity were 45 percent more likely to report an increase in market share over the previous year and were 70 percent more likely to capture a new market.

Instead of hiring for culture fit, hire for “culture contributions” (IDEO) or “culture add-on.” (Spotify)

Find candidates that can offer a new dimension to the culture that might be missing. Not just replicating what you already have.

It's also important to be clear on your core values. They make up the fabric of any company’s culture and are fundamental principles for how work is done. They also signal the type of human skills we feel are important in our team members and what is missing.


Here is a list of Human and Technical Skills shared towards the end of the book.

Examples of Human Skills:

  • Accountability

  • Achievement orientation

  • Active listening

  • Active/Continuous learning

  • Adaptability

  • Coach and mentor

  • Collaboration

  • Complex problem solving

  • Conflict resolution

  • Creativity

  • Critical thinking

  • Curiosity

  • Decision making

  • Drive Effective communication

  • Emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management)

  • Empathy

  • Influence

  • Initiative

  • Innovation

  • Leadership

  • Motivation

  • Organizational awareness

  • Originality

  • Resilience

  • Positive outlook

  • Team oriented

Examples of Technical Skills:

  • A/B and multivariate testing

  • Agile

  • Budgeting and financial forecasts

  • Business case creation

  • Business model canvas

  • Competitive analysis

  • Customer interviews

  • Customer personas

  • Design sprints

  • Hypothesis-driven experimentation

  • Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD)

  • Key-performance indicators (KPIs)

  • Lean Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)

  • Objectives and key results (OKRs)

  • Portfolio management

  • Pricing

  • Product analytics

  • Product discovery

  • Product prioritization

  • Product prototypes

  • Product roadmaps

  • Product strategy

  • Qualitative user research

  • SEM and SEO

  • Scrum

  • Usability testing

  • User stories and acceptance criteria

  • Vision statements


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