Top Strategies to Advance Your Product Management Career Rapidly – Part 3

Many of the techniques mentioned here are things I’ve seen used by my peers that have worked very successfully. Some are ones that I have used. Some are common sense. Some took me many years to figure out. I’m hoping that by sharing them with you, it will help you move forward toward your goals and what you’d like to achieve.

Those who truly care about people and do what they can to help others, always seem to get the lucky breaks.

Truly Care About People

There are some exceptions to the statement above, but for the most part the people I have worked with who are genuinely good people have reaped much success.

I can’t even tell you how many favors I do for people every week. I have a network of over 5,000 people in my contacts database. Favors come back to you tenfold. Everyone who you do favors for and all of the people you work with will reappear later in your career, so the favors you do now will always pay off later.

Don’t burn bridges

One piece of advice I would give you is to never, ever speak badly about anyone. I’ll give you a simple example. When I was working at a company years ago, a new employee came on board who had transferred from another division. I thought he was the biggest jerk in the world. I thought he was arrogant. I thought he was incompetent and I almost spoke out publicly a couple of times about him. But I bit my tongue.

Interestingly, I found myself 4 years later with him as my boss, through a strange combination of circumstances. It turns out he ended up being one of my best bosses, and he helped promote me. Had I spoken out against him earlier, it’s possible he would have fired me.

You are going to work with all the people you are around right now for years and years to come. Do them as many favors as you can because at some point, you may need to call on them to do you a favor and that may be the way you get your next great job.

Always Be Professional

This may seem pretty obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people overreact and come across in an unprofessional manner. Don’t make issues personal. Don’t make it about the person you are arguing with—make it about the issue. Get your perspective before communicating. I do this constantly. Oftentimes when something comes up I’ll write a response email and put it in my draft email folder and just sit on it and wait for a couple of hours before I send it. Inevitably when I read it again I re-write it before I send it. You don’t want to be known as somebody who goes off the handle in an unprofessional manner.

Active Listening

I won’t say much about it here, but if you don’t know the concept of active listening you should look it up and learn about it. It is an incredibly powerful tool. It is a way to defuse situations that are emotionally overcharged and to get people who are very upset to calm down and get to a solution much faster. I was lucky to learn this technique early in my career. Learn it and use it—it will save the day many times for you.

The Last Thing You Do

Back when I was with Apple years ago, there was a Product Manager who had done just a phenomenal job. She had done excellent work for the company and had a great reputation. Then there was a re-org and she got some assignments she didn’t like and she disagreed with who her new boss was going to be. The result? She walked off the job that day with no notice because she was so frustrated.

It’s funny, but for some reason you are always remembered by the very last thing that you do at a company. When people talk about that same Product Manager they always remember that she walked off the job, but they rarely remember all of her great accomplishments. You’ll be surprised at how many people you see that make this mistake.

When you leave a company or job you want to make it stellar. You want to leave with class. In fact, you want to go out of your way to do something particularly good because that will be the lasting impression.

Don’t Stay Too Long

Don’t stay too long in your job or your company. I was guilty of this early in my career, and there was a certain point where I became pretty jaded. If you can’t be positive and have that combination of a great attitude and productivity—then you need to get a new job or new company.

If you stay too long and you become branded as being negative it can really hurt you. I’ve only ever seen one person who turned around the perception of being jaded, and she was able to do it successfully but it was not easy because everyone thought of her as a problem employee.

You also don’t want to stay too long because there is likely to be an invisible ceiling for you. When you join a company you are perceived at the level you are currently at. Some people break through this perception, but most don’t. They might get one or two levels above their current level, but in many cases the whole company will perceive them as a more junior person. If this is the case you may have to switch companies in order to break through.

Don’t Sit on the Fence

Life is just too short to be in a job or a company where you aren’t happy. If you are unhappy make the change sooner rather than later—you will be glad you did. I certainly was every time that I faced the fear and moved on to the next opportunity.

Correspondingly, don’t sit on the fence. If you’re in a job then commit to it. When headhunters call you, just say, “No thanks.” The grass will always seem greener, and if you are not committed it will show in your work and attitude. Make a commitment to stay and work hard or to leave, but don’t try to play both sides at once.

Build Your Safety Net

The only safety net you have is your network and your reputation. This is the only kind of job security there is these days. Even companies that were once famous for keeping employees on for life, like IBM and Hewlett-Packard, no longer provide any kind of guarantee. People are treated as assets and they can be let go at any point in time. It may have nothing to do with your competence, performance or dedication. You can be terminated just because some vice president had a bad day or played his political cards the wrong way.

Join Product Management associations. Network with other people in other divisions and groups in your company. Take them out to lunch. Meet them for coffee. Network with other people in other companies that you’re interested in. Join LinkedIn and some groups there and participate. If you have to and you get backed into a corner and your company has layoffs, this is the way you’re going to get through it and actually thrive.

Know What You Are Good At

The last concept is to know what you’re good at. Make sure that you hire and recruit people to complement your skills. And do what you like. For example, I’m not a detail person. I’m a big picture person. Put me in charge of details and I’ll get it all wrong. But put me in charge of the big picture, vision and strategy and I will hit it out of the park.

If I have a good detail person working with me we make a great team. Figure out what you and your team are good at and what you all like to do and split up the work that way. You’ll be ten times more successful and much more satisfied.

Wrap Up

To learn about these strategies more in-depth and receive a Product Management Career Plan Template, sign up for the webinar – How to Accelerate Your PM Career, Part 1: Top Strategies to Advance Rapidly on September 27, 2019.

NOTE: This webinar has passed, you can view the slide deck below:

About the Author

Brian Lawley - Founder of 280 Group

Brian Lawley
Founder of 280 Group

Brian Lawley is the Founder of 280 Group. He is the author of six best-selling books, Product Management for Dummies, Optimal Product Process, The Phenomenal Product Manager, Expert Product Management and 42 Rules of Product Management and is the former President of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA). He was awarded the Association of International Product Marketing Management Award for Thought Leadership in Product Management, and has been featured on World Business Review and the Silicon Valley Business Report. He is the editor of the Optimal Product Management blog and newsletter, and also writes guest articles for publications such as the Software Development Forum newsletter, Softletter and the SVPMA newsletter.

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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