Nicole: Hi, I'm Nicole Brolan, and I'm the product director for SEEK.
Suzanne: Okay, so in North America, I've never heard of SEEK. Is that to be expected?
Nicole: Yes, that is absolutely to be expected.
Suzanne: But it's a big, global company?
Nicole: Correct. Correct.
Suzanne: Just not in North America.
Nicole: Yeah. The actual SEEK brand itself is only in Australia and New Zealand, but then the company have bought other employment market places in Asia, Brazil, Mexico, but they all have different brands.
Suzanne: Alright, so what is SEEK then?
Nicole: So SEEK is essentially an employment marketplace. So it's essentially where hirers can post opportunities where they can proactively go and look for candidates and candidates apply. So it's a jobs marketplace. Say, for example, in the United States, that's a very fragmented market whereas in Australia, SEEK has actually been the clear number one for many, many years.
Suzanne: Got it. So you're leading the recruitment frontier basically.
Suzanne: What is SEEK doing to change the way that people find and get jobs and making that process innovative?
Nicole: Yeah, for us, a lot of it now is around how we use ... We have massive amounts of data 'cause we've been around for 20 years. So what we understand about candidates and about roles, nobody else in Australia has that depth of knowledge. So really what we're doing now is how we can build algorithms, how we can use AI machine learning to pretty much power as much as the experience as we can. So we're trying to create efficiencies around throughout the whole process.
Nicole: So a practice example would be we have an algorithm that can predict whether you will potentially be in the top 10% of applicants for a particular role. So we can actually, on the candidate side, we can encourage you as a candidate that we believe you should apply for the role because you would have a good shot, and then on the hirer side when you actually get all of your applicants, we can actually tell you which ones to look at first.
Suzanne: Okay. So we gotta come back and dive into this because getting the job is a really big theme that we explore on this show, and I think there's a great opportunity to hear directly from the recruitment marketplace about how you can do that effectively and maybe not. But I wanna talk a little bit more about you. You've spent most of your career at SEEK. So your story of coming into product management is one of, what I would say, pivoting from adjacent role to adjacent role to adjacent role into product and then up to director. Can you take us through that story arc a little?
Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. So I have been at SEEK for close to 14 years.
Suzanne: 14 years?
Nicole: 14 years.
Nicole: It's crazy. It's crazy. I was far younger-looking when I started, and I actually started in customer service. I actually had other job opportunities at the time, but I was really looking for an organization that I thought I was gonna be able to move up the ranks and be able to learn and develop, having no idea it would take me where it's taken me. So started out in customer service, moved into a sales support role, and it was actually in that role where product started to catch my attention, and at that time, I think we had two product managers, maybe three, but they were working on things for the site that involved my area. I just loved the problems they were solving, how they were trying to go about it, that blend of needing to understand what the business is trying to do, overlaid with, "Is this actually gonna work with customers? Is this what customers want?" So decided then that was the journey.
At the time, because we only had like two or three product managers, there was no associate programs, there was no entry pathways in, so it was actually really tough. So I spoke to a lot of product managers and actually decided to do a degree 'cause I hadn't actually studied outside of high school. So I did a degree whilst working, and it was about a year into the degree that I moved into a product launch go-to-market role, and that was for about nine months. Then I became an associate product manager from there. And so from that, moved up all of the ranks and I've been product director for just over year.
Suzanne: What would you say is the biggest challenge that you face in a director role as opposed to being in the trenches of just day-to-day product management?
Nicole: I think when you're in the trenches, and essentially, somebody like me, I'm highly, highly outcome driven and highly motivated, and so when you're in the trenches, there's so much of it that you can drive through yourself. There's so much that you can really own and you motivate the team, but there's so much in terms of getting what customers want and then getting the teams to do it. You can really own and drive that. I think, as a director, and I have a team of 110 made up of product managers and designers-
Suzanne: That's it? Just 110?
Nicole: Just 110.
*Nicole: Just a cruising 110. The challenge is that you very quickly work out that you are one person and that actually, the best way you are going to deliver value and solve problems is you have to inspire, motivate, and lift the capability of all 110, and so how do you do that at scale is definitely a big challenge.
Suzanne: Tell us a little bit about how the teams are structured and is there one product that you're owning at the highest level are there are multiple and then you have folks below you managing those?
Nicole: Yeah. Essentially, we are split up into parts of the experience. So I own the entire experience across both hirers and candidates and, also, the search experience. Then we basically have ... So beneath me, I've got a head of candidates, owns all of the candidate experience, I've got a head of search, and then I've got two heads of hirer because hirers are really, really big portfolio, and then, obviously, they all have teams and product managers beneath them. So pretty much I'm responsible for everything that's being worked on; however, we have focus areas that we understand are strategically important to the business, high value, and so they're the ones that you spend a bit more time on to try and make sure they're set up in the right way, are we moving at the right cadence, that sort of thing.
Suzanne: So these three heads of product, if you will, within these areas of interests and then how many designers and developers? Are they in pods that are dedicated to those same leaders?
Nicole: Yeah, so they're essentially ... We've got teams that are basically working on almost every part of the experience. So we'll have a team that looks at notifications, we have two teams that look at the mobile apps, and so within those teams, we have a dedicated UX designer, dedicated product manager, and then, obviously, engineers, and then they have shared resources in digital analysis and visual designers.
Suzanne: Gotcha. Gotcha. Now this topic of marketplace and how to divide ownership comes up over and over again. You're nodding because I'm wondering if you've gone through some org and reorg or you're thinking about that. So on one hand, yeah, it seems super logical. We have candidates and we have recruiters and you own this pile and you own this pile. But naturally, they're so deeply enmeshed. So can you speak a little bit about that delineation? Are these two people working very, very collaboratively together?
Nicole: Yeah. So I think, and again, this is the beauty of having worked at SEEK as long as I have, I've got the history, I think one of the ... It's absolutely a challenge. Having thought about this a lot, I don't think there's an ideal structure. I think every structure comes with benefits, but trade-offs. The problem that I have seen historically is where you've got product teams and heads of product that wanna solely own their space and they wanna just be able to go off and do what they wanna do.
At SEEK, we did have that for a little while. The teams weren't collaborating as much, and so the risk with that and what actually happened is, in some cases, you can go through the user experience and you can see where one team started and another one stopped. It also then means that something really important on the candidate side that's being worked on that ultimately delivers value when it's being exposed to hirers doesn't necessarily get prioritized on the hirer side.
So you end up in this weird world where one team's working on something super important, but it's not being reflected with another team. I think how I've been tackling this is I just think we're in a world where we all have to collectively own the experience, and that actually ... We don't own anything, we're custodians of it, but we have to collaborate and we have to share, so we've been focusing a lot on pulling together for core parts of the experience.
So an example I would give is the candidate profile. So a candidate creates a profile and then there's all these different things that we do to deliver value off the back of that profile. So the candidate team has to focus on getting that profile information and keeping it fresh and keeping it up-to-date and also communicating to the candidate why this is so valuable and the benefits, and then on the hirer side, we need to actually then realize those benefits.
So for me, what I've been really focusing on is forming working groups where everyone's actually coming together and we're starting to map out the problems we're trying to solve, what is the research that needs to be done, what's the discovery, and actually joining it up so it's joint hirer representation and candidate representation. What's interesting is when I started doing these sessions, the first one was just everybody get out of your heads, the problems you're trying to solve, the different ideas you've got, and the funny part was they were so aligned. They were so aligned. They just hadn't been coming together and actually been talking about it or thinking about how do we collectively go after this as opposed to me trying to push my side in isolation.
Suzanne: What is the meeting cadence or rituals that the teams are following to allow for this regular collaboration?
Nicole: So we've got a monthly check-in that I'm involved in, but then the team actually have offshoots of that, so then they catch up on the side. So I imagine that for a lot of them, they'd be catching up probably weekly in little subgroups to work on their parts. So we've moved from this world of, "I might brief you when I eventually work out that ... Hang on a sec. You haven't been briefed as properly as you should," to a real ad hoc basic two teams meeting at least weekly or fortnightly to be talking about this stuff.
Suzanne: Great. Let's go back in time to Nicole 1.0 in customer success, just so young and fresh and excited. What lessons did you learn or skills did you acquire working as a customer success representative that you think contributed significantly to your expertise as a product leader?
Nicole: Well, I think, first and foremost, just the pain that you hear from customers, just that ... It's very easy to get desensitized and you hear all these different things and you can start to think, "Well, that's only 1% of users. That's not such a big deal," but I think when you remember, as I do, having to be on the phone and having to explain to these people why something wasn't working or how inefficient something was, I think that really sticks with you and it always reminds you of how important small things can be to individuals and how much you've gotta think of the little things, not just the big things. So I think it definitely taught me that.
I think it also just taught me that to have more perspective of other people. Again, I think it's easy to form your own views of what's important and what's not, and I think having gone through the process of being in customer service, I think it always taught me that there were many, many perspectives and I had to keep an open mind. So I think both of those things have been super helpful.
And then the other one would just be, because you have been in customer service, being quite comfortable actually talking to customers because I had to do it right from the beginning. So talking to customers and asking questions is something that I was able to carry through really, really quickly.
Suzanne: My favorite part of product management.
Suzanne: What is the specific process at SEEK by which customer feedback then gets routed to the product team?
Nicole: Yeah, so we essentially have a central hub for where all feedback goes. So pretty much customer service and sales and all other facing teams will basically put that feedback up, and what they'll do is they'll tag the relevant product managers. So then the product managers are really responsive, so they're having conversations all the time with customer service and sales.
So that's the ad hoc, how we keep on track of what's going on, but then, also, we taught our client-facing teams, we taught them a little bit about agile and prioritizing feedback. So what they do is they have walls where they list common challenges, they record the number of calls, they frame it as a problem or an opportunity, not a solution, and they talk about the impacts of it, and they actually prioritize that. So they also have a board that the product managers meet with them on, and off the back of that, we've definitely had initiatives where they'll be getting hundreds of calls and we've been able to go and fix some of those problems.
Suzanne: I'm sure everybody listening right now is dying to know how you manage to get your sales people not to submit feedback in the form of specific features and solutions to implement.
Nicole: Well, what I would say is customer service is probably better at framing things as problems and opportunities than sales.
Suzanne: Okay. Got it. Got it.
Suzanne: Got it.
Suzanne: Okay. I think everyone just did a big sigh of relief in hearing that. They're like, "How did she manage that?" And so you moved from customer success into a sales support role, and then you said go-to-market, which, when I hear that, I think product marketing. Is that-
Nicole: Essentially. Yeah.
Suzanne: What is product marketing really?
Nicole: Yeah. I think in a SEEK context what this was was essentially, you had teams that were building products, and basically I was the conduit between them and between the rest of the business. So I would work with marketing on the messaging. So marketing would still play a role, but I'd basically be making sure that they understood really clearly what the value of the product was and the customer value and that that was coming through in the messaging. I would make sure that sales had been trained, CS had been trained ... A lot of times, I would be actually executing that training ... and just organizing that there was enough awareness and buzz about what was gonna be done because we all know, whether we like it or not, that impact adoption, particularly if you have a product that requires sales and isn't just gonna be organically picked up on its own, you need to create interest and excitement. So that was the whole ... So I loved the role because it was just doing so many different things, but a lot of it was about how did you make people really understand what was going on in product and how could you make them really excited about it.
Suzanne: Yeah, so you're evangelizing for the product, but you're doing it from the inside.
Suzanne: And this is so important to me. I did a workshop here as part of this Leading the Product conference yesterday and talked about value proposition design. What I'm sensitive to, as I work with various teams and individuals, is the extent to which these certain disciplines that I think are ultimately core to product management can get parsed out and escape from product people. So one example of that is talking to customers. Do your product managers get to talk to actual customers or is the line of defense always the customer success team who are being feedback by proxy?
Nicole: Yeah. No, it's absolutely the product team that speaks to customers. It's something that we're doing a lot of, but I'm actually trying to ramp up even more, particularly with our UX team. Our UX team, basically, a lot of them conduct, and we've got about 30 UXs, and they conduct their own research. So we would have customers in at least once a week and have the teams out and product managers out speaking to customers. What I would say is what I'm trying to focus on at the moment is I think we're doing that really well, but we tend to do it when we've got something we really wanna find out.
So we're going when we've built a prototype and we want feedback or we're doing some upfront discovery. What I'm trying to get the team more accustomed to and better with is just how do we keep a constant flow of communication going with customers and how do we have more conversations just around, broadly, "What's your pain points? How are you using my product. Show me how you use the product." More of the general stuff because I actually think that's where you find the gold. That's where you find the stuff that wasn't on your radar. You weren't thinking about it and then you see it, and you can have some pretty big moments off it.
Suzanne: For context, what's the scale of the user base. Obviously, the recruiter side is gonna be smaller by necessity, but how many candidates are flowing in and out of the SEEK marketplace over a 12-month period?
Nicole: Well, I think to cut it even by a monthly period, from a visit's perspective, we get about 39 million visits.
Suzanne: Oh, that's it?
Nicole: That's it.
Suzanne: Got it. 39 million visits, 110 people. How come you're so relaxed?
Nicole: I really don't know. I don't sleep. Yeah, so it's about 39 million visits. From a profile perspective, we've got over 11 million candidate profiles. And then on the hirer side, the employer side, we've got recruiters, but we've also got a lot of small to medium businesses that also hire with us. So we've got about 130,000 hirers that we would have relationships with.
Suzanne: What would you say to candidates? This is not the get the job question. We'll talk about that toward the end of this interview. But a lot of what I hear ... I get people sending me their resumes all the time. I get people asking me for job advice all the time. When you're applying through the machine, if you will, not to make SEEK sound like the machine, but there is an element of that. You're the gatekeepers in some ways. What should candidates know in order to be more successful other than complete their profile, which it sounds like the candidate team is actively working on communicating?
Nicole: Totally. I think there's this interesting disconnect that often happen. When we speak to candidates, what candidates really wanna lead with, they wanna lead with what are their aspirations. So they often ... Candidates, what they want, and you see it reflected in surveys a lot, candidates will lead with this paragraph or couple of statements about who I am and what I stand for and things like that. When you speak to hirers, what they really wanna understand first up is they wanna understand your career history. They wanna understand where you've come from and where you're at now.
So what I would say is ... One of the things that I think is important is understanding that hierarchy of information, and so leading with that and then having the more about who you are and your aspirations following that because I think what's happening at the moment is you lead more with where you wanna head and what you're looking for and the hirer's just really interested in, like, "Okay, but what have you done? Where have you been?" and then they'll be interested in that information. So it's a primary versus secondary information.
Suzanne: Yeah, that's a super powerful paradigm shift even in that. It's just knowing your audience your audience and knowing what they're looking for. Of course the product manager has that particular insight.
Suzanne: What about for you as a leader hiring product managers? Can you give us a feel for what you think are essential boxes that need to be ticked before you're even willing to open up and do an interview with someone?
Nicole: Yeah. Obviously, it depends on the level that you're hiring for, but let's say we're hiring for, not an associate, but a product manager. We are really looking for people that have had product experience. I learned a long time ago the hard way you need to be really careful about bringing in people that are associates. We have a particular program that we're developing around that because you can't put an associate just on any project because these teams, they have really expensive teams working on really high value stuff, and if you put somebody in there who hasn't had enough experience, it's not fair on them and it's not fair on the team and then it's ultimately not fair on the business.
So when I'm hiring for product managers, it's really around that they have had proven product experience. I'm less concerned with where that product experience has been. Obviously, we have a bit of a preference for online product experience, so we tend to look for that. But for me, having looked at a lot of product resumes, they all look so similar and we all say similar things. Everyone knows the right language, everyone says the right thing, so I often find that you have to meet with a lot of them to really distill what somebody is actually about because somebody could say …
Look, I've interviewed people before who would say, "I'm a VP of product," or someone that you go, "Wow, you sound pretty senior," and when you probe into what it is they've been doing, you realize they're in an organization where they haven't really been driving much change. It's sort of been managing a backlog, and they haven't even been necessarily implementing a lot of change. So I think product management is super tough 'cause I actually think you do have to meet and engage with a lot of people to work out who somebody actually is and what they're about to work out their suitability for a role.
Suzanne: You and I, we met the other night at the product women panel here, and one of the topics that got surfaced was this idea of conceptual product management versus actually implementing. I think there's a relationship here even in what you're describing where someone can come and say, "Look at all of this stuff that I've done," or, "Here's all of this language that I'm using that's the right language." Do you have a way of ferreting out someone who's talking a lot about it from someone who can do the thing?
Nicole: Yeah. So for us, it's a case study. We put everybody through a case study and that completely separates the crowd. I couldn't tell you how much that works because in the case study, you essentially give somebody a problem and you give them ... In some cases, it'll be related to what we're working on, but it'll be here are these three or four items that the business has been talking about that they wanna implement. Can you talk us through how you would prioritize them?
We're very clear with them that we're not interested in the answer, necessarily, though you need to have an answer and a recommendation, but it's more about the thought process. So what did you go through? What were you thinking about? Because in product management, that is what's so important.
It's like, "How are you gonna approach a problem?" Being able to understand things like, "Are you gonna go work in a vacuum on this or do you understand that, actually, a big part of the role is to try and pull in inputs of data and inputs of information from others? How do you talk about talking to customers? When does that feed into your process?" If you're not mentioning at all, that's a problem. So I have found the case study ... And 'cause then you can do things in the case study. This will sound a little mean, but it's not. You can do things-
Suzanne: We'll decide if it's mean, Nicole, but go ahead.
Nicole: But then 'cause you can also do things in the case study where you can present new information. So you can say, "Okay, so you had this assumption. What happens if I tell you that assumption is actually wrong and it's this?" You just get to see how people think on the fly and how they reassess when they're presented with new pieces of information.
Suzanne: Right. When was the last time someone put you through a case study?
Nicole: Well, for the role, so a year ago.
Suzanne: A year ago. Okay, well, you obviously did well and passed. As a director now ... So we spoke a bit about this, but I wanna come back ... what would you say is the most important thing that you're working on professionally in your growth. So surely you've become aware of yourself in new ways leading such a large team. Just go vulnerable for a moment and help us understand why it's hard to be a leader and where you struggle.
Nicole: Yeah, I think it's hard. I think it's really tough to be a leader because you get to a position like this, and I remember my boss, the CEO said to me, he said, "The skills that got you to this point are probably not gonna be the skills that get you to the next," and I dismissed that a little bit when he first said it. I shouldn't have 'cause it's actually true. I think it's hard because you're carrying all this pressure and all this weight on your shoulders about these 100 people plus all the engineers and are we moving fast enough and what are competitors doing and all that sort of thing, and you're constantly just getting feedback from your employees, from peers, from other senior leaders. So you have to generate some thick skin to get through it.
I think, for me, what I'm working on at the moment is I'm working a lot on me as a leader. I, historically, am a person that has incredibly strong throughput of work. I'm not phased with having to do lots of work. And I also, historically, haven't been phased with lots of hours and that sort of thing. But in this role, I'm really having to work out, "How do I work on the more structural elements of the team?" So things around, "How do I make my leaders amazing? How do I make them lead? How do I make sure that the teams are structured to be as efficient as they can be? And how do I free up the time and the head space for that?"
And so part of that is having to step out of things that I'm interested in and I also know I'm good at, I know I'm good at all these little things, and having to step away and step into far more uncharted territory, which is around, "How do you make these senior leaders? How do you make them even more amazing?" So that's something that I'm working on at the moment.
Suzanne: Yeah, this has shown up in the space here before that at the leadership level, the product that you're managing is the team and the process, and it is hard because we came from being in the trenches and there's so much cool work. I experienced this myself in the nature of the work that I do. It's like sometimes I wanna do those wire frames, can't. I just can't justify that.
Nicole: Yeah, exactly.
Suzanne: There's a fun little data point about you that's not broadcast on your LinkedIn profile, but you come from Thai boxing.
Nicole: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suzanne: So are there any lessons learned from Thai boxing that have helped you in your product career that might be worth sharing?
Nicole: So many. More than you would think there probably should be. Yeah, so I was a semi-professional Thai boxer for many years, had 39 fights, and I learned so much about myself and about how to be professionally via that because early on in your career, you go in and you fight and there's so much that you work out 'cause you do all this training in the gym with a trainer and everyone else, but as soon as you walk out into that ring and as soon as you stand there, it's just you, and it's really, really confronting because it's just you and across from you is somebody who you know would've done semi-equivalent training who is trying to hurt you, and not only that, it's in front of hundreds of people that could potentially see you in a really vulnerable position. So early on, I had a couple of fights. I broke my nose in my very first fight, so that wasn't amazing.
Suzanne: Sounds maybe like someone broke it.
Nicole: Yeah, somebody broke my nose. That wasn't amazing. But I had a couple of fights early on where what actually happened is somewhere in the middle of the fight, self-doubt crept in. So somewhere along the fight, I remember, I still remember this really clearly, I started to think, "Wow, I'm starting to feel tired. Oh, this is starting to hurt. I don't think she's as tired as I am." I lost those fights. We were of equal fitness, equal skill capability. So for me, that was a real turning point where I realized that to be successful, I actually had to work out how I was gonna get past that.
So for me, that was a lot of positive self-talk. It was around visualizations. Before fights, I would go and visualize. It was such a turning point. So I think, for me, what I learned is you've gotta back yourself. You've gotta be strong. You've gotta have self-confidence. It is amazing how far that will take you. But also, you've gotta do the work. So you can't just be all talk. You've gotta do the work, and if you do the hard work, the results will show for you. I think I have always brought that through in my product management career.
Suzanne: So speaking of getting in the ring and being in front of hundreds of people, we're here at Leading the Product conference in Melbourne, and you're speaking today. What is your talk called?
Nicole: My talk is called Unshackling Product, so going from monogamy to playing the field. I should remember my title a bit better. It's essentially around my company's journey to implementing OKRs.
Suzanne: Okay. So OKRs are implemented fully?
Nicole: Yes. Correct.
Suzanne: How long did it take you to do that?
Nicole: It took probably ... It took two quarters. So one quarter where we had pilot groups, so we had about six or seven 'cause we've got ... I don't know. It's probably about 23 teams. So we had about six or seven teams as pilot groups for the first quarter, then the second quarter, we rolled it out across the board, and so now, it's in and every single team is doing it.
Suzanne: Would you say that you're being very prescriptive insofar as the OKRs are truly cascading down from the company vision to departments to leads to individuals to whoever?
Nicole: I'd say we're still working on that. So the business has our priorities and what it is that we're trying to do, and so everything that's being worked on does ladder up to that, but we're probably still trying to do some work around the measure of success. How do you measure the success at the business level that these three or four different teams working on OKRs ladder up. So I'd say we're good on the objective front at the top level, but we need some more work on the metrics still.
Suzanne: Got it. What do you think is the hardest thing about implementing OKRs within an organization, especially a large scale organization like SEEK?
Nicole: The first part that is hard is getting the buy-in for it because you are asking ... To do this well, you are asking everybody that interacts with product, so senior stakeholders all the way down to sales and service, you're asking them to have to think about the world different because really what you're asking is, "We are not gonna talk about solutions anymore and we're gonna talk about outcomes and objectives of what we're trying to achieve," and so everyone has to be bought into that. So that can be pretty challenging.
I think, for me, what I did is I kept leveraging stakeholder sentiment around ... They were starting to question, "Are we being bold enough in how we're thinking about things? Are we moving fast enough? Are we really clear on if these things are actually working?" So in all of those moments, and there were many of these moments, I would keep stressing the point that no, we're probably not, and a big part of that is because there are too many of us involved. All our opinions, all our views, we keep slowing the machine down. So I think that's definitely a hard part.
Then I think the other part is when you move to OKRs, all of a sudden, what you're asking a team to do is to say, "We want you to have this objective and we want you to have this key result and there are many ways that you might go about achieving that. Isn't it great? Isn't it great? You can go and think of all the different ways that you might go and achieve that." The reality is though that's pretty challenging when you as a business prior to now haven't really wanted that and you have been happy with people honing in on one solution pretty quickly. So there's a big mindset shift that needs to come with it that we're definitely still going through, and I think that's the part that takes a really long time.
Suzanne: Give our listeners, especially those who don't have the benefit of being with us here in Melbourne ... By the way, everyone, it's been raining here, so I don't know that you're ... Does it rain here a lot?
Nicole: It does.
Suzanne: Okay, thought so. You're not missing anything. It's raining in Melbourne, but that's typical. What's one salient part of your talk, one great nugget of wisdom that you can share with our audience on the road to metric polyamory?
Nicole: I love that. One nugget of wisdom. I think the nugget of wisdom is you've gotta be committed to the journey, but you've also got to, in some cases, this sounds strange, but not overthink it and not micromanage it, particularly if you're a leader and you're tryna implement something like this. So we were very careful on things like don't wordsmith teams' OKRs because they spent hours coming up with them. In some cases ... I had one example where a team took seven hours because they've never had that depth of conversation before. When they come out with seven hours, they're pretty attached to those OKRs, and so really what you look for is the intent, right? Are we all aligned on the intent? But let's not go and crush their souls and try and micromanage this situation. I think that would definitely be my biggest piece of advice that comes through in the presentation.
Suzanne: Yeah. In my experience, a big part of the OKR journey is also discovering when they're crafted wrong.
Suzanne: It's almost like you have to write them wrong and then not achieve the outcomes and then recognize the correlation between those two so that in the next quarter you can shift the syntax a little bit. That's the iterative journey there.
Suzanne: Tactically speaking, is there a specific tool or software that the organization uses to create transparency around the OKRs at all levels?
Nicole: We're essentially just doing it on our online hub. So we've got an online hub that's called Jive, and essentially, we just have all of the teams post it within there, so we're not really using any specific tools. I think one of the big tools is we used Radical Focus, the book, heavily, heavily, heavily.
Suzanne: Yeah. Thank you, Christina.
Nicole: Thank you, Christina. It was amazing. And implemented the matrix around how you review weekly, how you're going on OKRs, so all of the teams implemented that, and that's been hugely successful. In the pilot group, what we found, the teams weren't adhering to the weekly check-ins and that was one of the biggest reflections they had of what wasn't working well.
Suzanne: Interesting. Interesting. Yeah, it's so easy in quarterly to get off of cadence, and then suddenly, the quarter's almost up and you're like, "What were my OKRs again?" and, "Do I have time to complete these?" and if you're there, the answer is definitely no.
Suzanne: Okay. Few more nuggets of wisdom. We do a segment on 100 PM called Get the Job, Learn the Job, Love the Job. So question number one is what advice would you offer for somebody listening in who wants to break into product management from an adjacent role such as customer success or such as sales support? They're like, "What do those cool product people doing? How do I get that?"
Nicole: Yeah. I think the benefit you're coming from if you're in an organization and an adjacent role is you're in the organization. So the first part I would say is nail your actual job. So whatever it is that you're doing, nail that because people always look at that first, but leverage people. People, particularly product people, I'm always amazed at how much they love giving up their time to help others. It's such a giving community.
So meet with them. Understand all the different perspectives. Understand the role and understand what they think the requirements are and then, as much as you can within the sphere of what you're doing from a role perspective, ask for opportunities. Sometimes that can be shadowing them. Can I come along to some of your meetings? Can I understand better? Sometimes we reached an arrangement where we had someone from our legal team that started doing a day of week in product, so push for those opportunities because you get those opportunities and you do them well, and somebody in the team will back you. Someone will take a shot. So that'd be my advice.
Suzanne: Great. I love the part about nailing the job first-
Nicole: Yeah, it's important.
Suzanne: ... because that can be ... We're so busy looking out that we're not checking on what's here at shore.
Suzanne: What about hard lessons learned on the job? Do you remember a particular moment of, "Oh, product management is not as easy as I thought it would be," or, "Oh, that was a real big screw-up. I'll try not to do that one again?"
Nicole: I think, for me, the big learning I had was one of the areas I worked on was optimizing our job posting flow, which is a massive source of revenue for the business and actually hadn't been looked at for years and years and years, so it was this amazing opportunity with high expectations, but a pretty low base you're working from. Up until that point, and unbeknown to me a little bit, I was a product manager that thought I had the answers. I trusted my gut a lot, and so I would speak to customers and I would do the work, but then when I thought I was on something, I backed it. I backed it and was pretty positive that it was going to work.
So I think there's nothing like working in an optimization space to bring that crushing reality in, but that you are so wrong. And so I remember we had this really big test. It was about how you converted people to choosing a product, and my whole thing was, "We're not doing enough to sell them on the why. If we just sell them on the why, this is gonna be amazing." We did this whole page redesign. So I learned two very hard lessons.
The first one is that I was completely wrong and the test didn't work. The other really important thing I learned was in that particular experiment, we made too many changes, and so it actually got very hard to work out what worked and what didn't, which is very, very important in any type of optimization role. So I think that was a very humbling experience for me, and so I have spent almost every minute in the organization since reminding everybody that even though we're pretty senior people sitting around tables talking about very important stuff, it's all ideas, it's all assumptions, it's all hypothesis. We actually don't know.
Suzanne: Yeah, I call that embracing a mindset of maybe.
Nicole: Yeah. Correct.
Suzanne: I try to instill a culture of adding maybe to the end of every statement that people say, especially in those kinds of meetings. But I love that you bring up this topic of multivariate testing because, yeah, inevitably, especially those who are efficiently-minded, can't we just combine all of the changes that we want, and the answer is yes you can, but if it doesn't work, and most of the time it doesn't work first time out the gate, now you have to spend all of this time untangling and unpacking, so there is something to be said for building up from one or two variables rather than unraveling 10 or 12, so great advice. What about product do you love? Why are you still doing this?
Nicole: I learned a long, long time ago that I am such a problem solver at heart and I love challenging problems. If I ever got to a world where things were BAU or status quo, that would kill me. So I think, for me, I love that the work is never done and the problems just seem to get more and more complicated and get more and more angles on them. I love that. Then combined with it, I love that there's this community and these group of people that I work with who are so passionate and so hardworking and committed, and that just resonates so well with me. That's how I approach my professional career, and that really sticks with me. So it's the people and the problems.
Suzanne: At 100productmanagers.com/resources, we have a growing list of recommendations from our guests: books, blogs, podcasts, other speakers. Are there any that have been incredibly impactful for you on your journey? They don't have to be product-specific, but just that you would say, "Do yourself a favor and go and do this." You brought up Christina's book, Radical Focus, but are there others?
Nicole: Yeah. So I think from a book's perspective, I think definitely Hooked, the book talk from-
Suzanne: Nir Eyal.
Nicole: ... Nir. Yeah …
Nicole: ... was just amazing because ... And I actually did sessions with my entire team where we went through the workshop that he suggests you go through because I just think in a lot of cases you think about product and you forget about all the hooks and triggers that you actually need around the product to make the product successful, so that's a really fantastic one.
A book that I'm actually in the middle of reading now called Decisive, which is about just how you make good decisions, really fascinating and quite confronting because it basically talks through how pretty much all of us are really coming at things from a narrow mindset and we're actually ending up with two or three options, and the reality is that there were probably like 10 or 12 other options that we just didn't even consider because of all of our biases and the way our brains work. So that's really fascinating.
And then not related to product, but there's another book called Lost Connections, which is about depression and anxiety and mental health, but the guy's fantastic. He approaches it from a really scientific perspective and goes and looks at all of the smaller research that isn't being done by the big pharmaceutical companies because, obviously, the pharmaceutical companies who are doing a lot of the research, they want us to stay on drugs and medication, so they talk a lot about some of the trends in this generation around the lack of community and the impacts that that's actually having on mental health over time, so we're starting to become more isolated, and we're not designed to be that way. So all of these different trends, which I think are just really fascinating and really important.
Suzanne: Great. All great recommends. We'll get those up on the site. Last question for you, Nicole. Is there a life principle, personal, professional mantra, side of the mug quote that guides you in your life that you would like to share with our audience?
Nicole: I probably don't summarize it very well as a quote, but it's pretty much anything is possible. Hard work and just continuing to persevere. I'm constantly amazed at how far that has enabled me to come, and so I think it's always remembering that, particularly when you get in moments of self-doubt or moments where you're like, "This is starting to feel really hard. Can I really do this?" I think it's just always reminding yourself that, actually do you know what? Just putting one foot in front of the other and working hard at this and chipping away, you're actually gonna get further than you think.
Suzanne: Beautiful. Nicole Brolan. Product director at SEEK, Melbourne. Thank you so much for being part of our show.
Nicole: My pleasure.