The Secret Sauce to Hiring Great Product People by Kate Leto "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs December 12 2019 True hard skills, Hiring, Product Management Skills, product teams, Soft Skills, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 772 Kate Leto speaking at Mind the Product London 2019 Product Management 3.088

The Secret Sauce to Hiring Great Product People by Kate Leto

BY ON

In this #mtpcon London talk, Kate Leto examines the importance of emotional intelligence in individuals and teams and asks how it can be used to make better hiring decisions.

Key Points

  • Emotional intelligence is more important than any of the technical skills we use in our roles
  • If we want to build greater emotional intelligence into our product teams, then we need to design our hiring processes to look for it
  • We need to be better with our role description
  • We should be using behavioural interview questions
  • We should not stop learning about people after the job offer is made

Kate begins by referencing a theory from physicist and engineer Charles Riborg Mann in 1918 – that 85% of success is down to soft skills. It was a time when engineering was on the ascendant, applied sciences and maths were being taught, and people wanted to assess how well they were prepared for times ahead.

Charles Riborg Mann asked 30,000 engineers to prioritise the criteria for job success using:

  • Technique
  • Judgement
  • Efficiency
  • Character
  • Knowledge
  • Understanding of men

94.5% of responses (7,000+) favoured character. Mann validated this finding repeatedly and put together an extensive report. And while the report isn’t a hugely referenced piece of research, it did lay the foundation for what we now call soft skills.

There have been further developments to this work. For example, in 1995, science journalist Daniel Goleman wrote a book called Emotional Intelligence which suggested that our emotional intelligence (EQ) could be a more important indicator of success than our IQ.

Goleman defined emotional intelligence as “the ability to recognise understand and manage our own emotions” and “the ability to recognise understand and influence the emotions of others”.  It can also be broken down into 12 constituent capabilities, which Kate explains in her talk.

Kate Leto talking at Mind the Product

How Emotional Intelligence Affects Teams

Kate says many studies have shown that people and teams with higher levels of emotional intelligence perform better. For example, on average, an individual with a higher level of emotional intelligence earns approximately $30,000 a year more than those with lower levels of emotional intelligence.

In addition, it’s well documented that teams with higher self-awareness (one of the 12 capabilities) better deal with conflict, make better decisions, and are higher performing.

However, the majority of conversations we have about running effective teams tend to focus on processes and activities – not the self-awareness we can bring to our work.

How Emotional Intelligence is Fundamental to Success

Kate explains the importance of making space for conversations about emotional intelligence and how it drives our behaviours. Otherwise, she says, we’ll continue to talk about the frameworks and software we’re using, rather than how we work together as people.

You can start this conversation simply by talking about how your teams:

  • Build roadmaps
  • Motivate and set goals
  • Hire people

Kate Leto talking at Mind the Product

Hiring Well

Next, Kate talks about hiring and how bad hiring decisions can be costly. People leave a job because of a lack of fit, she says, not a lack of skills or education.

We often talk about product/market fit but rarely talk about person/organisation fit. How can we hire for Product EQ so that people can fit into our teams?

1. Build a Role That Matters With a Role Canvas

Most people start to write job descriptions by cutting and pasting from other ones. As a result, they follow a very similar pattern, describing must-haves (usually hard skills) and nice-to-haves (usually soft skills). These are rarely based on reality.

A better approach is to use a role canvas covering:

  1. Purpose – why does this role exist?
  2. Accountabilities – what outcomes is it responsible for?
  3. Activities – what are the tasks and responsibilities?
  4. Behaviours – the key capabilities of EQ

Kate Leto talking at Mind the Product

2. Broaden Your Interview Techniques

Many people start interviews with questions that make them feel smart. A better way is to start using behavioural interview questions which explore common situations people have faced. The onus is then on the interviewer to probe and understand more about the person they are speaking with.

These questions could include:

  1. Tell me about a time when you suggested something that someone disagreed with. What did you say? How did you handle the situation?
  2. Have you ever encountered someone at work who was unreasonable? How did you respond?

3. Don’t Stop at the Offer

Traditional processes start with the job description and finish with the job offer. Better companies see this process as never-ending and continue to learn from it.

Some of the steps they take include:

  1. Planning for six- and 12-month fit retros
  2. Evaluating the roles that you created
  3. Asking – was it the right fit?
  4. Incentivising good hiring decisions by evaluating them