Dealing With The Changing Business Cycle As A Product Leader – Forbes

Executive Vice President, Chief Technical and Product Officer, N-able Inc.

Over the past several months, we have seen turmoil in the markets as technology company stocks have been hit with significant price decreases. We have seen a large number of layoffs in high-tech companies, and many companies are forecasting lower growth and investment for the next year. This is the first time in more than 10 years that we have seen the technology industry operate in a more constrained business cycle, and as product leaders, we need to adapt and help our organizations deal with this changing business cycle.

We’ll need to revisit some of the leadership techniques and enablement that we haven’t had to deal with for several years. Managing the human talent on your product teams, managing the message to the rest of the business and recognizing that there will be additional pressures on you as a business and product leader are all required to be successful in these challenging times. Below are some concrete steps that product leaders can take to be successful in difficult economic climates.

1. Recognize uncertainty.

Everyone in the organization is going to feel more uncertain about business prospects than previously. Over the past 10 years, the challenge has been hiring and retaining talent. Given the layoffs in high-tech, individuals are now worried about holding onto their jobs and about the performance of the company. As leaders, we need to acknowledge the situation and help the teams recognize the value that they bring to the company and what good results will look like. Build trust by being transparent with good news as well as with bad news, and share your knowledge from past experiences. As a leader, work to help the teams focus on mission-critical work and deliver efficiently. Also, help the teams to identify key metrics and outcomes and report regularly on their progress. This keeps the team focused on what is important but also helps each team focus on the achievable.

2. Use metrics.

As teams focus on metrics and outcomes at the team level, you, as the product leader, should use those metrics to report to the rest of the business on the success of the product teams in terms of both the metrics and the business outcomes, as well as the progress the teams are making toward those outcomes. These reports work well when communicating with the rest of the business, but they can also be used internally to show the impact the product team is having on the business as a whole.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

It’s critical during challenging times that leaders communicate with their staff and organizations. Teams and employees will need to be assured that the work they are doing is having an impact. More regular communication helps everyone in the organization feel more connected to work and to the mission. The continued sharing and resharing of business priorities, expected outcomes and status is key to both building and maintaining trust, as well as keeping things aligned with the business.

4. Look for efficiency gains and invest in them.

When growth is key, priority is often given to growth-related items that will drive new revenue, new customer growth or both. However, as free cash flow and other profit measures become higher priorities, now is the time to look at what has been built and seek to optimize. The business should look positively at opportunities that can drive efficiencies. Keep a running list and look for opportunities to invest in areas that lower manual work, drive cost savings and make the business more efficient. Investing in removing technical debt or manual processes now sets the business up to chase growth in the future.

5. Evaluate your organization and workforce.

Over the past 10 years, as product leaders, we were all looking to hire as fast as possible and grow teams as we built new capabilities to drive growth. Given the changes in the marketplace, as tough as it is to think about, now is also the time to evaluate your team and understand where you have the right leadership, where you may have too much leadership and what talent you have in the organization.

With the technical job market cooling, now is the time to look for key talent that might not have been available before. Should you be swapping out low or underperforming workers for higher-performing ones? You should ensure that your business is set up for success. When there were never enough people available, you maybe could tolerate an average or below-average performer. However, now you should evaluate your talent and use the opportunity to improve your organizational structure or talent if necessary.

For the first time in a number of years, changes in economic markets are driving different concerns for product leaders. Using the five strategies above can help product leaders guide their organizations through these turbulent times and continue to drive success.


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