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A few members of our Marketing team recently attended HubSpot’s Inbound 2017 conference in Boston, one of the year’s largest events for marketing professionals. On the final day of the event, they had the opportunity to hear Ed Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar, who discussed his leadership strategies and how they contribute to building a healthy culture within an organization.

Catmull writes in his best-selling book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, that “in an unhealthy culture, each group believes that if their objectives trump the goals of the other groups, the company will be better off. In a healthy culture, all constituencies recognize the importance of balancing competing desires—they want to be heard, but they don’t have to win.”

As product managers, we may sometimes feel as though communicating our roadmap strategies and recommendations to those who sit outside of the immediate team – sales, marketing, and other executive stakeholders – resembles Catmull’s first characterization of the unhealthy culture.

Overcoming that situation is multi-faceted, but one key is ensuring people are heard – and they feel that they have been heard. To do that, you have to be able to truly understand what motivates them and speak in a way that demonstrates that understanding.

As product managers, much of our role involves evangelizing our product roadmaps to people outside of our immediate team. We have frequently detailed the value of selling our ideas and decisions with data on this blog. But leveraging data to make good decisions will only take us so far if we can’t communicate the validity and viability of those decisions in an effective way.  Understanding the way in which people make decisions – and carefully choosing our language to that end – will help us better convey our points and advance the objectives that will best benefit our companies and our customers.

Promotion-focused vs. Prevention-focused

I recently participated in a webcast with Paula Gray, an anthropologist who works for the Association of International Product Marketing and Management, the world’s largest professional organization of product managers. In her work with the organization, Gray leverages the knowledge of her field to lend leadership strategies for product management professionals.

Drawing on research from Northwestern University she told listeners that peoples’ motivation types can typically be broken down into two categories – promotion-focused and prevention-focused.

Promotion-focused personalities seek to achieve a win, while prevention-focused personalities are keen on avoiding a loss. Promotion-focused people are generally optimistic, they are risk-takers, they work quickly and are open to new opportunities. But they lose steam and get down when things don’t go as planned, according to this article in Harvard Business Review. On the other hand, prevention-focused people are prepared for the worst, work slowly, and get anxious under tight deadlines.

Leveraging Personality Types to Drive Effective Leadership

Let’s take a look at how these different personality types will best respond to strategies around three common issues we face as product managers.


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How can I best address unwarranted concerns about deprecating an outdated legacy feature?

By drilling into software usage data by version and further drilling into that metric by runtime session, you have been able to determine that concerns about ending support for a legacy version aren’t valid. Only a handful of users are using the functionality daily – and you think it is a viable approach to make targeted offers to them to move to the latest version.

  • In conveying this to promotion-focused personalities, focus on detailing how investing resources in the new version over providing backward compatibility will be a competitive advantage, and a focus on engineering and development will drive innovation.
  • To prevention-focused personalities, tell them you’ll lose ground if developers can’t focus on innovation, and you’re neglecting your responsibility to the majority your user base.

How can I encourage support for a new OS before management thinks it’s time?

After combining market research on when users are likely to adopt a new operating system with historical usage data on adoption patterns within your own customer base, you have come to the conclusion that it would be wise to begin work on supporting a new operating system well ahead of its release.

  • To convey this point to promotion-focused personality types, describe how the new operating system will allow the development of cutting-edge functionality, and position your business as innovative and an industry leader, and having additional time to develop will allow you to be more proactive around issues.
  • For prevention-focused personality types, talk about how you’ll lose momentum and have to play catch-up, as well as convey that you have a responsibility to support customers.

How do I make a case for changing licensing terms?

By digging into churn analysis reports, you have reason to believe that changing licensing around the highest tiered paid version of a product with three pricing levels would be a good business decision. You have found that churn surges before right before renewal, and have reason to believe it’s because the customers only use the marquee functionality in the paid product a few times a year at most. You think it makes sense to include this functionality in some way in the lower, tied premium version. Management feels that dropping the highest tiered version will hurt revenue.

  • In speaking with promotion-focused personality types, talk about how the change would add value, and boost premium renewal rates.
  • In conveying your point to prevention-focused types, discuss, for instance, how fewer resources would be needed if you focused on the other two versions, etc.

By considering the nature of your stakeholders, the powerful combination of language and data can help drive innovative, smart product development.