Does your company have a value system that it truly lives by? Or does it simply have platitudes stuck on a wall?
In this, the eighth episode in the CPO Rising Series, Atlassian Chief Product Officer Joff Redfern talks about the importance of values. Why? Because a company’s culture sits on top of its value system. This comes into play in hiring, communicating, and working out problems. The strength of the culture is largely determined by the strength of the core tenets at its base.
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On why defining a value system is the first place to start
First off, Joff points out the importance of a strong company value system. This has been true at his previous company LinkedIn. It is true at the companies he advises. And it is true at Atlassian.
“I would say that, for companies that don’t have well articulated [values] and aren’t really breathing and living their culture, that’s the first place to start. There’s a number of startups that I wound up advising over the years, and that’s one of the first things that I tell them: you’ve got to set the vision for the company, all the way down to the values of the company. And what’s that one statement that describes the vision that you’re going after?
“That vision in Atlassian’s case is to unleash the potential of every team. At LinkedIn, for example, it was to bring economic opportunity to every member of the workforce. So those visions are the high guiding principles that really express the reason why we’re coming into work. And then down at the value side, these are the types of people that we want to work with. If you don’t live up to those values, you’re not really part of the type of company that we’re trying to build.”
On the #1 skill for product leaders
Especially important to creating a strong culture is communication, as Joff points out next. “The most important skill, as a product leader – it’s so important that it makes sense to just start with that – is communication skills. And I just can’t stress that enough. I’ve run surveys with my product teams in the past where I’ve asked them, What’s the number one PM skill of the top 5% of PMs that you know? And every time I run that survey, communication comes back as the number one skill. It always wins.
“So you have to be a strong communicator. If you’re not, then you should be spending a bunch of time trying to improve your speaking, writing, and presentation skills first. Because it’s so important.”
Along those lines, Joff points out the difference between collaborating vs. commanding. He says, “I think one of the reasons why it’s so important, is that product managers, their leadership is through unity of effort. And not unity of command. And what that means is that a whole bunch of people that are needed to build what it is that you’re you need to build, as a product leader, they don’t report to you. That’s unity of command, like a military concept. Like you have to do what the General says, no matter what. And in unity of effort, it’s about, How do I convince people and influence them? And that’s an important skill. When you think about what’s the number one skill to convince people, it’s somewhere in communication.
On creative confrontation
One of the main traits that Joff attributes to his success is a concept called “creative confrontation.” There are two facets of this idea. First is an open workplace culture, where people with diverse skillsets are encouraged to attack problems vigorously. Additionally, the key is to attack the issue, but never people on the team.
“That’s the way to build a better product,” Joff says. “And as I’ve thought about that, I’ve been thinking about, Why is that a new concept? Why doesn’t everyone do that?
“And in Western culture, we spend so much time celebrating superheroes, and that some lone superhero always saves Earth, or a project. But that’s not really the reality. The reality is that it’s always a small collection of diverse minded people trying to attack an idea, but never the people. It’s about polishing the rough edges off of that idea. And you have to be able to create an environment that enables that in your team.
“The number one criteria for successfully doing creative confrontation is to ensure that there is psychological safety in the team. Because if at any point people feel like their contributions are being judged negatively… You have to say things like, No idea is a bad idea. You have to be open minded in how you approach things. And make sure that you’re really just never attacking the person.”
About the speaker
Joff Redfern leads the collaboration product team at Atlassian - including Confluence and the Stride collaboration product. Prior to Atlassian, he was VP of Product at LinkedIn where he led LinkedIn’s flagship products through a transition from desktop to mobile. Joff was also VP of Product at Yahoo, Harris myCFO and Fidelity Investments. Joff has also worked with startups as co-founder of Flattenme.com and an advisor to SimpleBank.