A manager can run a department, but the truly great product leaders have a secret sauce that makes them stand out from the rest. Many Chief Product Officers are at the forefront of steering change within many companies, including healthcare. What skills and qualities are necessary to make an impact on product leadership? Included Health CPO and 2022 Global CPO 20 winner Nupur Srivastava shares the attributes of great product leaders and how to set priorities while enabling innovation.

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On Hiring Product Leaders and Organizational Structure

Episode host and Products That Count CPO Renee Niemi wanted to get to know Nupur’s style for hiring product leaders and how leadership is structured at Included Health. Nupur gave really key attributes that every product leader and team player must have.

“One philosophy that we have in our company is to irrespective of who we are hiring. There’s this book I love called “The Ideal Team Player” that describes people that are hungry, humble, and smart. … We love people that are hungry. We’re trying to change healthcare and we want people at the company that have a hunger to have that type of impact. Humility is another thing that’s really important. I feel very strongly that I don’t want to work with brilliant assholes, so we try to give a high bar of humility and have a low ego culture because it helps you build better products. Then, when I say smart, I actually mean people-smart. I feel, especially in product, it’s incredibly important that you know how to interact with other people well and have high EQ [emotional intelligence]. And so that is the basis for everyone we hire. 

When I’m looking for senior product leaders, perhaps in addition to those core capabilities, I tend to look for product leaders that have empathy because I think you need empathy for your users and for your customers. You need strong empathy even for the team since most of the time we’re trying to rally groups of people to do work against a goal. Another thing that I look for is strong communication skills. I feel like as product leaders, most of the time you’re in front of a room trying to articulate your vision or rally the team to figure out the right strategy against the vision. So communication is quite important, as well. 

Perhaps the last element that I try and test for is influence. How do you bring groups of people along? How do you make sure that you’re hearing others out? How do you bring data and stories to the conversation to compel the organization behind a coherent roadmap? In addition to making sure we’re hiring people that are hungry, humble, and smart for product leaders, I’m specifically looking for empathy, strong communication skills, and the ability to influence.”

On Facilitating Innovation and Keeping High Energy

Healthcare is considered a traditional sector, and there is a lot of reimagining and reinventing the healthcare space in this decade. Nupur gives us insights into this process and what it looks like for leadership to keep energy high while enabling innovation.

“I actually think it’s really easy to get energized by doing product and healthcare because there are so many problems. It’s so broken. As someone that likes to solve problems, you have plenty of opportunities. The thing to know, if I had to pick one learning or insight or something that would likely help other CPOs in healthcare, is in the U.S., it’s very common for your user to be different than your buyer. There’s a good chance that the person paying for your healthcare is your employer, the user is different. You’re usually expecting your insurance to cover most things or your company to cover everything else. So when you’re doing product in that type of environment, I think the secret sauce is having high levels of empathy for both sets of users. You really need to understand your members’ pain points, so that you can build a product that improves what they care about. 

Most users actually don’t want to engage with healthcare. The common consumer metrics around daily active users don’t work for healthcare, and the sooner you realize that, the better. Nobody wants to engage in healthcare. They all want to go back to living their normal lives. As long as you build products having that empathy that your users are scared, anxious, frustrated, and would rather go back to their normal life, you will build good products. 

The other thing I’ll say about healthcare, especially in our industry, we work for a lot of users that come from very different socio-economic backgrounds. It’s extremely important to have empathy for how healthcare choices are made. That may be really different from how you and I may make healthcare choices. For example, there was a member of ours that was calling in severe pain and was trying to find out anything that they could do to avoid going to urgent care because they couldn’t afford the $75 copay and were literally waiting in pain since I was a better alternative because the other option would be not having food on the table for the family. Having high levels of empathy for your users is really important, but equally important is, whoever your buyer is, it’s also important to understand that because you need to build products that they’ll actually pay for. Their pain points are usually around removing waste in the system, cost avoidance, and improving the health outcomes of the population. 

Doing product in healthcare is actually super interesting and super fascinating, and the challenge is trying to build things that satisfy two user sets, and having a product strategy and having your competitive advantage in the market will reinforce something that works well for both sets.”

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On Setting Priorities as Product Leaders

In product leadership, time and resources can be stretched thin. It matters just as much of what you say no to as what you say yes to and gets done. Nupur shares insights into being a successful product leader and setting priorities for teams.

“One of the most important things for the product team to be successful and setting priorities is to make sure that the executive team is clear on what the priorities actually are. Even before we get to set the roadmap, the executive team all spends a lot of time aligning on, for the upcoming year, how are we prioritizing growth versus retention versus margin versus member satisfaction? Specifically, we look at what are the company-level OKRs [Objectives and Key Results] that we absolutely have to hit. Once you have clarity on your company’s strategy and what’s important to a company, and obviously product has a big voice there and the GMs have a big voice there, but once it’s clear on what the company wants to prioritize, then it becomes a little bit easier for product to have a roadmap and a strategy that supports the success of the business. 

So we take that as a pretty important input. Speaking to the product side of the house, we’ll understand the company level OKRs, we’ll understand what the GMs needs to make their product line successful, and then the product side of the house will take that and articulate a clear set of OKRs themselves that shows how the product is going to help the business. 

We tend to use OKRs quite a bit as a company and it’s quite effective. There are always things we could be doing better, of course, but on the OKR front, it helps us have a point of view on what it is that we want to prioritize as a product team, which obviously then leads to clarity of roadmap. … Saying no is very hard, but almost more important than what you say yes to. The business is certainly complicated and that’s not always easy to do. For the most part, the biggest thing that I’m constantly looking for and encouraging, and watching for is if the product needs to be aligned with what the business has agreed to that’s most important. The biggest thing that has helped us is really investing a lot of time as an executive team and getting aligned on what’s actually important. If there are hard trade-offs to make, we have the hard conversation with us as a team to try and figure out what is actually going to move the business forward, drive outcomes for our patients, etc.”

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About the speaker
Nupur Srivastava Grand Rounds, CPO Member
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