People: priority #1, always

Every company has its own culture and, within each company, every department also has its own culture. In addition, each person also has their principles and values ​​that guide their steps through life. In this part of the book, part 2 of 3, I will talk about the culture, values ​​and principles that I believe are mandatory to create successful digital products. Also, what are the 4 main values ​​that every product development team and, consequently, every company that has digital product development teams should have.

I’m going to start this part of the book by sharing my personal leadership principles. There will be five principles:

  • People: priority # 1, always
  • Leading is like being a doctor
  • Leading under pressure
  • Mentoring is a two-way street
  • How and when to delegate

I will talk about these principles throughout this and the next chapters, starting with the principle that people are priority #1, always.

People: priority #1, always

I often see companies claiming that company valuation, revenue, growth, profit, number of customers, or customer satisfaction is their number one priority. All are good priorities and each is appropriate for specific contexts in which a company can be. However, I argue that they should be priority number 2, 3, 4 and so on, because our number 1 priority should always be the people who are part of our team. Without the people who work with us, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve any other goal that we have.

People are people (source: Flickr)

We spend money and energy attracting the best people and convincing them to join our company to build what we intend to build to achieve the goal we have set. We pay these people to be with us throughout the construction process. We are usually upset when we lose people on our team, especially if they are really engaged and aligned with our goals. Therefore, the people on our team are like customers, we spend money and energy to acquire and retain them. But they are even more important than our customers, because without our team, there is no way for us to be able to deal with our customers and achieve our goals.

This does not mean that we need to be “nice” to our team, or that we should give everything they ask for. What we need to do is to balance external and internal pressures so that people can continually improve. If the external pressure is increasing, we need to create the environment and provide the tools for people to be more motivated, have more drive, and increase their inner strength. And if we have people or teams with excess motivation and energy, we need to give them more responsibilities and higher goals. In the chapter Leading under pressure, I will talk more about this balance.

Rotten apples

The term rotten apple, although quite strong, serves to describe a very delicate situation in the formation and management of teams. We call the person who negatively clashes with the rest of the team and who, with his behavior, may spoil the team.

InfoQ ( talked a lot about the technically rotten apple theme, the under-performer, the one who is technically below the rest of the team, and how the team can help this person to improve.

What to do when we come across a rotten apple from a behavioral point of view? Someone who is technically good, but who has behavioral problems? Technically this person can have enough to contribute to the team but his behavior makes the team unable to have a good relationship with that person.

In such cases there are two paths to follow:

  • The simplest is to remove that person from the team. This is an easy solution for both the team and its leader. The tendency in such a situation is for the team to isolate the difficult person until he, by himself or by the leader’s decision, leaves the team.
  • The most difficult path, but which will certainly bring more benefits to the team, is to help this difficult person to belong to the team to the point where the person is no longer a bad apple.

It is easy to welcome people who are easy to deal with. The challenge is to receive a difficult person and help them join the team. The values ​​of the team must be stronger than the values ​​of the difficult person to the point that the values ​​of the team are absorbed and assumed by the difficult person.

Frank conversations with the whole team and with the difficult person are a good tactic. Transparency is essential. If there are goodwill and willingness from both the team and the “rotten apple”, chances are good that the situation will be reversed.

It is worth remembering that, in most cases, a rotten apple does not want to be a rotten apple. He may not realize that her behavior is harmful to the team. He may have had previous experiences where her behavior would be considered normal. So it is worth investing in helping the team and the difficult person to understand each other. However, it is not possible to try indefinitely to make things right. It is important to set a deadline to reevaluate the situation and, if it has not been resolved, there may be no other option but to make a more difficult decision: dismiss one or more people from the team.

Summing up

  • People are, and should always be, the #1 priority of any company. We spend money and energy to acquire and retain the best people. Having people as #1 priority is the key to achieving any other goal. This does not mean being “nice” to people giving everything they want, but that we must be able to balance the challenges that we give people with their abilities so that people can continually improve.
  • Rotten apples can drain and harm your team. You must help these people to fit into your team and, if that is not possible, you must make the most difficult decision: get that person out of the team.

In the next chapter, we will understand what a leader’s job should be like through the analogy that leading is like being a doctor.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

Digital Product Management Books

Do you work with digital products? Do you want to know more about how to manage a digital product to increase its chances of success? While you wait for my new book, check out my Digital Product Management bundle with my 2 books where I share what I learned during my almost 30 years of experience in creating and managing digital products.

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