Looking to level up your product management game?
In this episode, Hannah Clark is joined by Shamsheer Shergill—Senior PM & Coach, ex-Pinterest & Thumbtack—to talk about the two essential tools for successful product management: emotional intelligence and accountability.
Tune in to discover the significance of feedback and its effective delivery, the importance of context in stakeholder communication, and how to hone emotional intelligence to grow your influence as a PM.
- Introduction and Journey [0:55]
- Shamsheer graduated as an engineering major and worked as a software engineer for a couple of years.
- Transitioned to product management after working with product professionals and witnessing their impactful decisions and user-centric approach.
- Relocated to San Francisco and held various product roles, ranging from a five-person to an 80-person product team.
- Notable career highlights include experiences at well-known companies like Pinterest and Thumbtack.
- As her career advanced, she got the opportunity to coach both engineers and product managers in a senior role.
- Transitioned into coaching analytically minded individuals, focusing on unblocking obstacles and driving impactful results.
- The Power of Emotional Intelligence [2:57]
- Shamsheer encountered difficulties in three distinct areas:
- Internal collaboration with other teams, facing obstacles and resistance.
- Close interaction with leadership, especially vital in a bottom-up culture for upward influence.
- Influencing the overall team, particularly the engineering and design units, to align with a devised strategy.
- The common thread across these challenges was the theme of influence and the need to guide others toward a product direction for achieving desired outcomes.
- Overall, the challenge was navigating and overcoming resistance to move teams and projects in the desired product direction for optimal results.
- Shamsheer encountered difficulties in three distinct areas:
- Emotional Intelligence and Influencing Others [4:22]
- The term “product therapy” is introduced, emphasizing the importance of understanding the motivations and common interests of the individuals involved.
- A recommended approach is to engage in collaborative sessions, such as brainstorming, to involve all relevant parties in decision-making processes.
- Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in influencing stakeholders, understanding their deep motivations, and framing ideas in a way that resonates with their language and concerns.
- The importance of discovering common ground is emphasized, where the shared goal of driving results for users becomes the foundation for collaboration.
- Shamsheer highlights the need to avoid a one-sided approach and instead find a path forward where all stakeholders have buy-in.
That’s where the emotional intelligence piece comes in. It’s not just about the idea; it’s about who’s on the receiving end, and how I can ensure their understanding without any loss in communication.Shamsheer Shergill
- Importance of Feedback and Accountability [9:12]
- Instrumental feedback approach: frame feedback in a non-confrontational manner by focusing on behavior rather than the person.
- Before giving feedback, consider where the person’s focus lies and how the feedback aligns with shared goals.
- Depersonalize feedback: focus on the impact of behavior rather than making it about the individual, creating a constructive environment.
- Framing feedback around shared goals: tie feedback to the collective objectives, emphasizing mutual success and clarifying roles and responsibilities.
- Consider the open-ended environment: understand the reasons behind certain behaviors to find collaborative solutions that address the root cause.
- Leadership perspective—when managing other PMs, use feedback as an invitation to collaborate, avoiding surprises and creating an environment for effective communication.
When you’re giving feedback, sometimes it’s helpful to understand where the person’s head is at.Shamsheer Shergill
- Mastering the Art of Receiving Feedback with Emotional Intelligence [13:19]
- Depersonalizing feedback:
- Emphasizes the importance of viewing feedback as someone’s perception and opinion rather than a judgment or fact.
- Encourages individuals to consider how they might feel if receiving the same feedback and to remove themselves from the situation.
- Reflection on consistent feedback:
- Suggests that consistent feedback may indicate areas for improvement, prompting individuals to reflect on potential areas of growth.
- Acknowledges the difficulty of giving feedback and emphasizes the importance of slowing down to consider its value.
- Emotional response to feedback:
- Acknowledges that individuals may experience a range of emotions in response to feedback, such as anger or feeling judged.
- Encourages allowing oneself to feel these emotions and exploring the reasons behind them.
- Depersonalizing feedback:
- Shifting from Blame to Accountability: Cultivating a Positive Culture [16:54]
- Blame vs. Accountability—discusses the challenge of being accountable for results and how it may sometimes be perceived as blame. Differentiates blame as a closed-off and dead-end conversation, while accountability is a two-player game.
- Accountability in partnership—explains that accountability involves both parties working together to deliver results. Emphasizes the need to clearly define accountability roles, tailored to the specifics of each team.
- Fostering Positive Cultural Shifts in Product Teams with Emotional Intelligence [22:22]
- Sustainability in self-expression—stresses the need for sustainable self-expression, avoiding compromise, and recognizing that one should not act as a “fake person.”
- Navigating different expectations—clarify and discuss individual and collective interpretations of processes like sprint planning. Illustrates the importance of open communication to find common ground and adjust approaches based on organizational needs.
- Exploring Different Flavors of Product Management [28:46]
- Growth PM role:
- Focuses on driving metrics such as activation, engagement, retention, and sign-ups.
- Emphasizes fast-paced work with many simultaneous small tasks that have a significant impact.
- Core Product PM role:
- Centers around understanding the product’s purpose and building on that foundation.
- Tends to be slower in nature with a deeper focus on long-term projects.
- Platform PM role:
- Involves working on internally facing products, often tools used by other PMs or stakeholders within the company.
- Growth PM role:
Meet Our Guest
Shamsheer Shergill has spent 8+ years building consumer products within social media, subscription services and marketplaces. Her focus has been largely on product led growth and she’s worked on products at scale like Pinterest (300MM+MAU’s). She’s an expert in growth best practices such as data informed ship decisions, iterative development via A/B testing, and stakeholder management of other key stakeholders to power long term success of her products.
So that’s really what feedback is—it’s not a fact or a judgment, but rather someone’s observation. You’re free to take it or leave it.Shamsheer Shergill
Resources from this episode:
- Subscribe to The Product Manager newsletter
- Connect with Shamsheer on LinkedIn
- Check out Shamsheer’s website
Related articles and podcasts:
Read The Transcript:
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Hannah Clark: Hey, can I get you some feedback? Those seven words used to put me all the way on the defensive. And to be honest, because it was so hard for me to hear them, I also dreaded having to say them. On the flip side, I've also worked with people with zero filter. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how that goes. See, both of these approaches are flawed, but there are two sides of the same coin. They signal that our emotional intelligence needs a little tune up.
My guest today is Shamsheer Shergill, a Senior Product Manager and Coach who has put emotional intelligence at the forefront of her client work. In an industry where just about everything from job titles to features means something totally different depending on who you're talking to, it really behooves us to first understand how to work better with other people.
And if emotional intelligence as a term has just always sounded a bit wishy washy to you, you are actually the perfect audience for this episode. Shamsheer's concrete examples and strategies are really going to transform how you work with your product team. Let's jump in.
Welcome back listeners. We are joined today by Shamsheer Shergill. She is a senior product manager and coach and she's joining us today from the Bay Area. Is that right?
Shamsheer Shergill: That's right. I'm in San Francisco.
Hannah Clark: Awesome. So, Shamsheer, we always start out the same way. I would love if you could just walk us through your professional background and how you ended up in your current role as a coach.
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, for sure. I'll take you on the journey. So this starts way, way back when I first graduated. I was an engineering major and I was actually a software engineer. So, I did that for a couple of years and it was super interesting because when I was coding, time would stop and that was really cool to start my career that way.
Ultimately, when I was working with some of the product people in my org, I noticed that, some of the decisions they were making and how deeply in touch they were with their users was driving a lot of impact and how they were interacting with different stakeholders to piece something together was super exciting to me.
So it was like taking the best parts of engineering, which is breaking things down into their essential parts to come up with something, build something new while being deeply connected and understanding your users. That was really exciting for me. And so that's when I transitioned into product.
And also when I moved to San Francisco, I've held a number of product roles over the years, everything from a five person product team to an 80 person product team. So it's been really cool to see at different scales how product works. And a lot of the companies that listeners would recognize are like my time at Pinterest and Thumbtack like the highlights of my career.
So after I did that for a few years as I got more senior, I got the opportunity to coach both engineers and product managers as part of my more senior role. And I really enjoyed that. It was like taking some of the things that I do as a product manager, like asking really good questions and pulling out insights to drive actions forward. I got to do that with people.
And so that's when I transitioned into coaching product managers and other like analytically minded folks. And really, the purpose is to just help them unblock themselves and drive a lot of impact. So that brings us to today.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, and so happy to have you here and hopefully you can do the same for us. So today's focus, we're going to be talking about emotional intelligence, which is something very near to my heart. And it's something that you've mentioned has really strongly benefited your career overall, through all the iterations that it's taken.
So what was the lightbulb moment for you when you realized that this is like a skill that's really worth leaning into?
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah. I don't know if it was one specific moment versus like a series of moments that kind of brought it together. But I saw it happening in three different areas. So it's I kept hitting the wall over and over again, and I couldn't figure out how to move forward.
The first area was when I was working internally with other teams and like partnering on things together. It was really difficult to move things forward. There would be a lot of resistance. And then, naturally a part of that, that brings us to the second area, which is interfacing really closely with leadership.
Especially in a bot and subculture, it's actually much more important because you're trying to influence upwards which was the case for me at Pinterest and Thumbtack. And then the third area was really around influencing my team overall. So getting my engineering and design team on board with a strategy that we've built.
These are all correlated, but these are like the three areas that, that it showed up in. We've been talking about influence a lot. So it was around being able to influence the people that I'm working with to move into the product direction that is going to help us drive that result forward. Does that make sense?
Hannah Clark: Yeah, that makes sense. And I want to dig a little deeper onto that when we talk about emotional intelligence as like a stakeholder management tool.
So can we talk a little bit more granularly about some of the strategies that you've used, maybe like through anecdotes or like some more specific stories about, ways that you've interacted with stakeholders in an emotionally intelligent way that was able to drive an outcome and what the outcome was?
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, absolutely. So let's take an example of, there's like a lot of big situations where this is going to happen, but let's take the example of trying to come up with a strategy for what you're going to work on for the next, let's say, quarter or six months. A lot of product teams set their goals within that time structure.
Now, you may have an opinion about how things are going to move forward or what you think needs to get built, but then leadership has a different vision or opinion around what they think should get built. And then like your eng team thinks something else should get built. Maybe your design partner thinks that you should move in a different direction.
So there's a lot of voices and opinions in the room. So that's like a very tactical example that a PM is going to experience over and over in their career. And it's really around, I like to call it product therapy. Sorry to show what I'm looking for.
Hannah Clark: Like buzzwordify?
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, buzzwordify it. Oh, but it's really like that.
So for me, what's been really effective and what I teach a lot of my clients too is you really want to understand the person on the other side and you want to understand like what are their motivations. What are some of the outcomes that they're trying to drive? And how can you discover the common interests and motivations that you have?
Because if you're going to go and pitch someone a strategy or a vision without really understanding where they're coming from, or what are the things that really make them tick, it's just going to be really hard, and also next to impossible. But if you're able to have that conversation and discover it together, it's just going to be so much smoother.
This is actually something I learned from a design partner that I worked with, where we had a really strong relationship working together. We would come up with a problem that we were trying to solve together, and then we would hold brainstorming sessions. And we would invite everybody that we thought should have an input, or that we wanted to influence, to this session.
So, for example, at Thumbtack, we were trying to decide what's the mission and vision for our team. So, you might think that as a PM, I'm gonna sit down and have some deep thought, come up with this beautifully crafted document. But that's actually not a very effective process. So, the question here is, what's the mission and vision for the girls team at Pinterest?
And so we invited our engineering partners, design partners, other content. So, product marketing and basically everyone that we wanted to have a stake. And we, together, we brainstormed. Why does your team exist? What do we want to accomplish? How do we then think about this in the context of the broader teams and the org at Thumbtack?
And throughout that process, we iterated like three or four times. No idea was a bad idea. And we would just come up and think about what we wanted to say. And then afterwards, I would tease out like common themes and we would iterate on that until we arrived at, oh, this is our mission and this is our vision and this is our goal.
And it was like, crystal clear. Everyone was 100% bought in because they were invited to participate in that process from day 1. And that's really how you influence and use that emotional intelligence. So to circle back to what I was saying earlier, let's say you're trying to influence leadership.
This is something every PM has to do, and it's a difficult skill to learn because no one really teaches it to you. So what you're going to do is you're going to try to understand what are the deep motivations of this leader. Let's say it's my CPO or the CEO. What do they care about? What are the things that keep them up at night?
Where does my problem stack in the rank of their overall problems? And then when I go to them and I learn all these things, and there's like an idea or a vision I have, I'm going to try and frame it in that way, so like the language that they're already speaking, I can fit it into that. Let's say, for example you really like soccer.
And I want to explain a concept to you that is really product heavy. I'm going to try and frame it in soccer terms, and then you're going to internalize it way better. So that's really where the emotional intelligence piece comes in. It's not just about the idea, it's about who's on the receiving end, and how can I make sure that they understand, and it's not a lossy communication that's happening.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, I can see that same approach really influencing all the way through to the deliverable that the user is receiving. Like you're really trying to put yourself in your colleague's shoes, in your user's shoes, and flip the script on what are my motivations or how can I marry them with your motivations?
Shamsheer Shergill: Exactly. So it shouldn't be one at the expense of other, right? It shouldn't be just mine and just theirs, but it's about discovering that common ground and obviously my CEO and my CPO care about driving results for users, and I do too. So that's our common ground. How we do that might be different or how we think we should approach that might be different.
But once we can agree on that, then we can find a path forward where we both have buy-in.
Hannah Clark: I love that. Okay, I'm going to switch gears just a little bit because when we're talking about working with teams, naturally, leadership, working with teams, feedback is inevitably going to pop up. And I think it's something that a lot of people struggle with, especially, well, both giving and receiving, honestly, depending on the personality you have.
So can you walk me through a mindset shift that like, when we're looking at emotional intelligence as a tool, how we can be more emotionally intelligent with how we give feedback? And then I'm going to ask you again, if you can talk, walk me through some receiving feedback tips as well.
Shamsheer Shergill: For sure, for sure.
I think one thing that's been really instrumental in giving feedback for me personally is thinking about how to frame it in a way so that it's received in a non-confrontational way. And I think what's really helpful is to tease out the behavior rather than giving feedback to the person, right? So that's one thing.
We want to really separate that. The other thing I think that's really important is when you're giving feedback, sometimes it's helpful to understand where the person's head is at. So let's say, for example, I'm working with my engineering manager and I'm just gonna make up a problem. They keep trying to do product work and I don't like that.
So one of the feedback I want to give to them is, hey, I really need your help in focusing on more of the tactical work with the engineering team and managing like the day to day. And I want to focus more on the product strategy. You're supposed to both focus on that, but sometimes the lines can blur a little bit.
So, if I see that, that's not going to go really well, right? But if the feedback is around, like, how do we succeed as a team? So it's about, Hey, like we need to accomplish shipping this product. And the way that I think I can be really impactful is by focusing on the strategy and keeping you in the loop.
But I really think that I need your help focusing on this other piece where you're managing the engineers and the sprint timeline. So can we agree on roles here? Or, hey since you're focusing a lot on strategy what's happening here? Do you feel like that you need to take more ownership because you're scared or anxious about the results that we're going to try?
And how can we come up with a model that makes both of us feel like we have ownership and control, but we still have clear lines around who's accountable and responsible for which parts of the product process? So I think that kind of framing is super helpful. So to summarize, one is depersonalize the feedback you're giving.
Tease out the impact on the behavior rather than focusing on the person. And then the other piece is framing it around what you're trying to accomplish together. And I think there's one piece that I missed. So I talked about depersonalizing the feedback and focusing on what you're trying to accomplish together.
I think it's really around reading that open ended environment. If you want to call out a behavior that you think is not helpful, figuring out like why it's happening can maybe help you find an environment or a solution where that behavior doesn't happen anymore. And then also if you're in a position of leadership and you're managing other PMs, I think giving feedback in that open ended environment is super impactful.
You never want to catch people off by surprise. So you can start off by asking, hey, I noticed like you've been really late to meetings. What's going on? Or, Hey, I noticed like your meetings are not as effective as they could be. Do you feel blocked somewhere? How can we help you? And how can we support you?
So that's like my philosophy overall.
Hannah Clark: I really love that. I think it really contributes to an overall culture within the team within the organization because it's so easy for something that you don't intend to be particularly confrontational to just snowball into just toxic thing that kind of hangs a cloud over team interaction. But it's just like living and breathing those approaching feedback is an invitation rather than a confrontation.
I think it's just, you completely change the dynamics and mechanics of the culture.
Shamsheer Shergill: I really love the words that you use, which is, it's an invitation. And I think one thing to keep in mind around that too is, you're observing the feedback from your own vantage. Like another problem, person in that situation might not experience the same problem as well.
So that invitation is like a really great way to discover what's going on and how you can partner together to work more effectively.
Hannah Clark: I love that. And so now let's flip the script a little bit more and talk about receiving feedback, which is something that I'll be the first person to admit I struggle with it. So...
Shamsheer Shergill: Honestly, like I'm still working on this myself too. It's difficult because but earlier when we were talking about giving feedback, I really intentionally emphasized that you wanted to depersonalize it. And I know a lot of times in my career when I receive feedback, I really personalize it.
So it's like, oh no, I'm a bad PM. I'm a bad employee or something like that. But it's really not about that. It's about someone, telling you their perception and their opinion. So that's really what feedback is. It's not a fact and it's not a judgment. It's someone's observation. You're free to take it or leave it.
I think people forget that. If someone gives you feedback, it's not like they're slamming like the hammer and they're a judge. It's just like trying to see why would that person think that way? And really remove yourself from that situation and put someone else in that situation. If they were getting that feedback, how might you feel?
So I think that really helps deep, once you can depersonalize it, that's super helpful. The other thing too is if you're consistently receiving the same feedback, maybe there's something there and there's something for you to improve. I think it's difficult for people to give feedback. So when they do give it, it's really important to reflect on it a little bit and see, is there anything I can take away from here?
And it's fine if there's nothing you want to take away, but slowing down to ask that question is really going to help you level up too, because so much of your career is working with other people as a PM and how you're perceived as an integral part of how successful you can be as well.
So I think that's one piece. The other piece is, you're gonna feel your feelings around it. So you might be angry, you might feel dignified, you might feel a judge. And I think that's totally okay. You should just allow yourself to feel those things. And that's fine. Maybe trying to figure out why you feel that way.
Is it because they're touching on some edge of yourself that you don't want to acknowledge? So for example I sometimes receive feedback that I'm very quiet and I'm not very opinionated. For me, I'm a very thoughtful person, and when I'm in a room of people, I want to be really careful about what I say, and I want my words to land and be impactful.
So for that reason, I'm very picky with what I say. But some people perceive that as me being disengaged, and they think I'm not I don't care or I don't have an opinion. And as a PM, I should have an opinion on everything. So that's been really difficult feedback for me to receive throughout my career.
And I've had to actively work on helping people understand that I'm engaged. I'm just processing what you're saying. And I'm naturally introverted. So sometimes I don't say things without having a fully formed opinion. So I've learned to workshop it with people and label it like, Hey I'm just thinking about this.
We're going to figure out what this really means. And I might have a different opinion later. And that gives me permission to share something that's less solidified as well.
Hannah Clark: It goes back to that depersonalization aspect of things that you mentioned, like sometimes a big issue is that just people don't have a window into your thought process.
It's not necessarily a judgment. It's a judgment of their perception, right? It's not necessarily, your intent or the grand plan that you might have in your own mind that you haven't shared with other people.
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, that's so true. They don't know. In this example, people think I'm disengaged, but I'm super engaged. I'm just, I don't look engaged to the way that you're, they're used to seeing an engaged person.
Hannah Clark: That totally makes sense. And I feel like I can really use this advice. So I really appreciate it on a personal level.
Shamsheer Shergill: Amazing.
Hannah Clark: So I just wanted to talk a little bit about the blame versus accountability dynamic.
Since we're on the topic of feeling a certain type of way with feedback, et cetera. Yeah, so something that you mentioned to me before is the importance of making the shift from blame versus accountability. And I just want to pick your rate a little bit about that. What does that mean to you?
What does that like shift really look like in a culture? And I feel like maybe we've talked about it a little bit, but like more in like an anecdotal term.
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, it's funny. We've been talking so much about like influence and like giving and receiving feedback and these are all like central things. And I think one of the things about being a product manager is that there is a high level of responsibility and ownership that's bestowed upon you. So that does come with certain ways of operating that exist in certain companies and teams. And just on a little tangent before I get to that question, I think that we're really learning hard skills is like a lot more accessible versus some of these things we're talking about.
It's not as easy, and it's not as openly talked about. So, diving into some of these things can really help shift the career. So, one of the key pieces that I see pop up over and over again is the blame versus accountability. So, due to the nature of the product manager role, like having that high level of accountability and ownership, the buck does stop with you.
You are going to deliver those results so inevitably when you don't people are going to look to you and they're going to ask why didn't that happen? And sometimes that can carry the tone of you didn't do your job effectively and it could feel like you're being blamed. And I think that it's really important to shift that conversation to a different type of conversation.
So to me, the word, the difference between blame and accountability. Blame to me feels like really closed off and a dead end conversation. It's Hey, Hannah, I don't think you did your hair very nicely today. Where do we go from there? So in the context of a product manager, it's Hey, like you didn't run that meeting effectively.
You didn't deliver, you didn't ship this feature on time. Your vision doesn't resonate with so and so. It's not a very open ended conversation. Accountability looks really different. When we're talking about accountability, it's a two player game. So, when we're working in partnership with other people, we're both accountable for delivering those results.
The pieces of what we're accountable for may be different. So as a product manager, I'm accountable to make sure the team is running properly, that everyone is super clear on what we're working on, and I'm accountable for removing any roadblocks that come along the way. Now notice when I'm saying it's a two player game, there's always another person on the other side of this equation.
So that could be my engineering manager, my direct manager, my leadership. We both have to bring in different parts to make this go forward. So with my engineering manager, maybe I'm accountable for running the sprint meetings and he's accountable for making sure all the tickets get completed. I don't know, it's different for every team, but it's super important to get crystal clear on what that accountability means in your specific context.
And circling back to the blame versus accountability, blame, as we said, is very dead end. Accountability is more open ended. So, you might be noticing a theme in a lot of my answers here. So accountability looks like, hey, like, why didn't that feature ship on time? Oh, that's a great question. Thank you so much for bringing that to my attention.
Let's talk about how we can make sure that happens differently next time. And let's talk about why it didn't happen on time this time. Oh, like our engineering resources were short staffed. Someone didn't flag it appropriately. Next time, we need to have more regular check ins on a weekly level to make sure we're resourced properly so that we can ship things or we need to cut down what we're shipping to make that happen.
That's an accountability conversation. Oh, yeah, what part of that process feels like it would be most helpful to you? Do you want weekly check ins? Do you want bi-weekly check ins? How about emails? Whatever that looks like in your context, it's important for you to figure that out. So, circling back to, Hannah, why didn't you do your hair nicely today?
It's Hey Hannah, how do you normally like to do your hair? Do you like to wear it straight or curly?
Hannah Clark: It definitely changes the tone.
Shamsheer Shergill: And I just want to say that if someone starts with a blame, it doesn't mean you have to continue it that way. You're an equal participant in that conversation and you can change the tone of that conversation.
So let's say for example, if my CPO or my VP of product comes to me and they say Hey, you're not doing this. I'm like, Oh, okay, great. Thanks. Let's talk about it. How can we make that differently next time? So you can absolutely change the direction of where things are headed. It doesn't have to stop.
Hannah Clark: I love that. I love that call out because I think it's really easy to get to engage and match the energy of the person that's coming towards you. Especially in a more of a confrontational or feedback context where that person maybe has not done a lot of inner work on their EQ. And, we tend to get reactive, especially for, the work is really close to our heart, or we've put a lot of effort into it, or we have this grand plan in our mind that they're not privy to.
And, yeah, to take a step back and go, you know what, I have influence on the tone of this conversation and I'm also influencing this person on how they can handle that conversation the next time.
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah. And honestly it's not easy to do all the time. I'm going to be the first to say that I can't do it 100% of the time. Sometimes I react defensively and what do you mean? It's not my fault that didn't happen. So it's okay to like just practice over time and you'll naturally get better at it.
Hannah Clark: I think that you're really onto something with that. This is lots of fun. So I did want to talk a little bit about cultural shifts within an organization now that we're on the topic of influencing the culture around you and setting the tone for the culture of your product team.
So naturally, when you enter a product team that pre exists you, you're entering into a culture of its own. You're also encountering people who have their own cultural norms within, their maybe cliques or niches or even just the cultural standards and the kind of baggage that you bring from your home life.
How do you reconcile some of these obstacles, let's call them challenges, in an emotionally sensitive way and kind of ease friction and promote some better communication and outcomes using your EQ?
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah. I think that it's really difficult, and I'm not going to lie, it's something I'm still working on. Personally speaking, I grew up in a culture where I'm not actively encouraged to share my opinions, but being a product manager, that's like a central part of my job, right?
So it's really difficult for me to navigate how do we exist in environments, two different environments where the expected behavior is like such a big contrast to the other environment. And I think one way that's helpful is first of all, recognizing and labeling it that Hey, this is what's going on.
For the longest time, I wasn't able to do that. I was like, this kind of circles back to what we were talking about earlier when I'm quiet and I'm listening. I'm processing because I want to give that powerful opinion. For the longest time I didn't know that people love hearing your workshop thoughts. They want to hear what you're thinking.
They want to be a part of that process where you're thinking through something. And so I think labeling, first of all, what was going on oh, hey, this is an environment where opinions are welcomed. It's people want to hear what I'm thinking and I'm processing, whereas maybe in my home culture that's not the case. So recognizing that these two environments invite different parts of me was really helpful. And then I think also, this is something that's worked for me. I don't know if others can resonate. I have like different personas sometimes that I identify with when I exist in different cultures and different environments.
So sometimes they express themselves differently in both, with both environments. So, for example let's talk about the opinionated one. I can be, like, very outspoken and quiet at the same time. So, in environments where I'm working as a product manager, it's an opportunity for me to lean more into the outspoken person and identify with that a little more.
And then in my home culture, I can still do that. But it looks different, so I can express my opinion in in a more quiet way, and do it directly or indirectly. So I think that circling back, it's recognizing and labeling that environments expect different things from you, and then finding ways to express how that feel.
Like you're not compromising who you are or being like a fake person to do that because you need it to be sustainable. Otherwise, you're not going to be able to do it for very long.
Hannah Clark: That makes sense. I think a lot of people can identify with the idea of having different personas that emerge in different environments and around different people that influence you in certain ways. I know certainly when I interact with work people versus my friend circle, we're talking about different things.
We're energized about different parts of, so I think it's natural to tap into that and to recognize, well, good to recognize too, that those are natural phenomenons that don't make you, any version of you less genuine.
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, that's very true. Hannah, I think you touched it that we're naturally all really doing it probably without even realizing it. The way you are with your friends versus you are with your coworkers, you do bring out different sides of yourself.
It's just that this is an extreme example where like cultures at home and your personal life and cultures at work might be at odds and different ends of the spectrum. So it's like more pronounced, this difference.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, I suppose so. And then if we're looking at things more from the perspective of folks who are working with teams where there is diversity of any kind really, like how can we bake like just sensitivity into our process where we're really thinking about those things and intelligently putting ourselves in other people's shoes and like managing a group dynamic in which, multiple like you're saying, like multiple kinds of versions of what's expected might exist.
And I know that's like a complex question, but it sounds like you maybe have dealt with something like this before.
Shamsheer Shergill: Of course, I mean, we touched on this at the beginning, right? That was the first question you asked, like, how does emotional intelligence impact the work that you do as a product manager?
And what's interesting is that because the role of a product manager is so nuanced and it's, I think of it as a glue function. It looks different in every team stage of the company and like different industries. So there is no clear cut way to do product management. And that also means that a lot of your colleagues might be used to working with a different flavor of product manager than you are.
And so everyone has a different opinion about how this job gets done, because as an engineer, it's very clear cut when you deliver something. As a designer, it's very clear cut. As a product manager, it's so fuzzy, which is one of the great things about this role. Like you can really make it your own, but it's also difficult because people think that parts of your job should be things that you don't think are parts of your job.
So I think one thing that I've seen people do really well is they have a documentation around this is what product management means at this company. And everyone aligns with what a product manager means and the exercise of doing this is way more useful than having the document, right?
Because you're all talking about it and coming up with that solution. So circling back to your question when you're working with people who come from different backgrounds and have different expectations. I really think that this is the process. It's really around clarifying like, what does this mean to you and what does this mean to me and where's that common ground and does any, either one of us need to reinvent the way that we're making meaning out of this.
I know this all sounds like really complicated and like a lot of work, but it's really not. Like one simple thing might be like, Hey what does sprint planning mean to you? Do you want to go through each individual ticket? Or do you just want to review everything beforehand, make sure all the tickets are tightened up, and just have a brief conversation around assigning tickets and make sure everyone has enough work.
That's a very concrete example of how you can run your team differently based on your organization.
Hannah Clark: I think that's very succinct. I'm also very impressed by how you're just completely handling like these like big existential emotional intelligence questions and like I'm learning so much. Okay. So no problem, but I cannot let you get away with using the term flavors of product management without talking about the flavors of product management, because I think it's this is something we discussed before the call.
And I think that there's something so interesting about the ways that people self specialize according to their personality type. I mean, people do it just in their career in general, but then when you talk about specialties of product management and you're right, there's no one way to product manage and it looks different at every organization.
If you don't mind, let's talk about the different flavors of product management as you see them and some of the people who you think would be most drawn to those and I'm I have the associate product manager in mind, like the folks who are listening, who are just like looking for their place in the world.
Shamsheer Shergill: This is really for anyone in their product career, because even after I found my footing, I shifted a little bit. So this is not just for the APMs, like any person in their career can find this useful. And there's so many different ways to cut this and say, Oh, like product managers belong in this category. But I'll just talk about two or three that I've encountered in my career, and I'm curious to hear if you have anything to add to this as well.
One framework that I find particularly helpful is thinking through the growth PM, the core product PM and the platform PM. And there's another vertical here, which we can cut across, which is the B2C and the B2B. So what I mean by that is like consumer facing or a business facing product.
The way that those two function looks really different too. So let's talk about the first three, and then we talk about the other two. So Growth PM is like hyper focused on driving metric. This is like your PM focusing on activation, engagement, retention, sign ups, that whole flow. And they're usually really focused on driving a specific metric that either talks about like indirectly correlates to revenue or like just overall boosting like the active users of your product.
This type of work is pretty fast in nature, but you're also working on a lot of things at any given time. So here's an example for you. When I was at Pinterest, I was on the growth team. I was running about 40 A/B tasks at one point, and that was just my team. There were eight other growth teams probably running that many tasks as well.
Those tasks are small, but they drive a lot of impact. So a lot of the growth work also unfolds as you're building it, depending on like your role as well. Sometimes like growth PMs can focus on implementing a referral strategy for a quarter, but sometimes they can get much more granular than that.
So that's one flavor of product manager. And I think the people that are attracted to this level of work tend to be like really numbers driven and they get a lot of reward from moving the needle pretty quickly. Then we get to our core PM, which is like what you might be familiar with as like the traditional PM flavor.
And that's really like around understanding the reason that your product exists and building on that, it tends to be a little bit slower in nature, but it tends to have a little bit more depth than the growth PM as well. And keep in mind, these are just my experiences and my generalization. So I hope nobody comes for me and...
Hannah Clark: It's okay. Leave a comment.
Shamsheer Shergill: What if I'm a core product PM and I'm listening to this and I'm like, what do you mean? My work is fast too.
Hannah Clark: I mean, prove it.
Shamsheer Shergill: I love it. So, that's really like more on those long term projects. So, for example, at Pinterest, that might look like building out the repin feature, or optimizing how the home feed provides you content.
Then we have our platform PM and these PMs work on a lot of internally facing products. So that's either used by like other PMs or other stakeholders in your company. And they tend to be really focused on building those tools. So for example, at Pinterest, we had our own in-house A/B testing platform that was built out by one of the product teams there.
So that's an example there. And then, as we said, there's a way to cut this well from B2C and B2B, so consumer products are built a little bit differently. It's like a bit of an art and science. You're trying to understand what your user wants. Sometimes you're guessing, you're just running a lot of tasks to gather data and feedback to see what's working and resonating with your users.
And then with B2B, it's a lot about asking your users what they want and trying to find like a way to build it. And sometimes like you'll have 10 users and like they want five different things and your job is to prioritize and figure out like what should get built. So it's a little bit more, they tell you what you want and then you go build it.
There's a less guesswork involved. So I think the types of people that kind of get attracted to both of those tend to be different. I've seen a lot of people go into consumer product where they tend to be like super curious, and this is not to say that like B2B PMs aren't curious, but these are just my experiences.
They tend to be super curious and really curious about like user psychology and understanding why they do the things that they do. And I think with B2B, a lot of gratification comes from finding out what someone's problem is, building it, and then seeing them use that solution. So it's like a different reward.
And then circling back to the growth, core product, and platform PM. I think for core product, it's a little bit similar where when you're deeply understanding what the user wants and you're building for that, you do tend to have that gratification. Versus where growth PM maybe like when you get your metrics or you see a strategy working like that's super rewarding.
And then for a platform PM, maybe it's like people using your tools to drive their product forward. You'll find that really impactful. So sometimes it's like the velocity at which these teams operate tend to attract a certain type of person. And sometimes the way which product gets built overall. So I tend to sit somewhere between like growth and core products.
I do appreciate like the nature where you optimize numbers and you can really see the results you're driving. But sometimes you can over optimize for that and forget who is the person at the end of this process that's using my product? What do they care about? And what is the problem that I'm solving for them?
So for example, like when I was at Pinterest and we were optimizing how quickly the home feed refreshes. It's very easy to lose touch with who's using the product on the other end, because you can like literally optimize that forever. And so it's not oh, like sometimes people want to come back to the content that they're seeing and we don't need to optimize it.
It's like really combining those two is like the bridge where I like to stay personally.
Hannah Clark: Do you think that there's any, like, when we talk about platform PMs, any kind of a personality type that feels really gratified by being that close to the user base and being able to enable people who are on the same team to do better work?
Shamsheer Shergill: Yeah, for sure. I think if I were given the opportunity or I wanted to seek that out, I would personally find that really rewarding too, because you're like driving impact across your users as well, but there's like this other layer where you can drive that impact. So let's say if I'm working on the platform that enables A/B testing at Pinterest, like how cool is that?
Without my platform, a lot of my end users, which are other product managers, engineers, designers, they can't run effective A/B tests and get their learnings to then ultimately drive value for our users. So I think that's super cool as well.
Hannah Clark: Yeah. We recently published a really cool article about platform PMs. And yeah, it's like a really interesting psychology, I think just that kind of flavor of product management, in my view.
Shamsheer Shergill: I guess folks that are, like mixed panel, for example, that could be a flavor of platform PM because they're building tools for other product managers and builders.
Hannah Clark: Yeah, I think, and in the context that I've understood it, it's not an area that I have any experience, honestly, is the idea of building products for your internal team.
I mean, in a way, the way that we work at my organization like at the product manager, we're doing that all the time. Like in every organization, the work that you do stacks up and people, leverage it for their, for the business to work. It's just a foundational part of how a business ecosystem functions.
But I just find it's very rewarding, if you are able to deliver something or ship something that is empowering other people to do their job better. And then you are, might encounter them at a work retreat or a water cooler event or something like that. And they actually can give you feedback directly about how your work has impacted them.
There's just no closer feedback. You have to really seek out a user to get that kind of information. And to have a personal relationship with the end user is like a really special thing.
Shamsheer Shergill: I think you're touching on something really important, which is like, when you're at like, the growth PM or consumer level, sometimes you do feel not as close to the user versus a platform or a B2B PM.
They're probably talking to their user day in, day out. So that's a pretty cool vertical to consider as well if you're gravitating towards one or the other category.
Hannah Clark: So we've really meandered around, ran the spectrum of emotional intelligence. So I guess we should probably wrap it up in the service of our precious listeners time, but I'm sure I feel like there's probably like tons more that you have to offer.
So I would love if you could share where people can find you online, if they want to follow your work and get in touch.
Shamsheer Shergill: Sure. You can find me on Twitter with my handle is @shamsheerks. And then if you have a curious about getting in touch with me, I also have my website or you can find me on LinkedIn. My website is growthwithshamsheer.com.
Hannah Clark: Awesome. Well, this has been a super fun conversation. I really appreciate you coming on the show and enlightening us with all this emotional intelligence and I hope we can have you back sometime.
Shamsheer Shergill: Thank you so much, Hannah, for allowing me the space to talk about this topic, which is very near and dear to my heart.
And I'm glad that some of this stuff resonated with you. So I'm super excited to have listeners listen to this as well.
Hannah Clark: Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Shamsheer Shergill: Thank you.
Hannah Clark: Thanks for listening in. For more great insights, how-to guides, and tool reviews, subscribe to our newsletter at theproductmanager.com/subscribe. You can hear more conversations like this by subscribing to The Product Manager, wherever you get your podcasts.