This is the 20th episode in the CPO Rising Series, featuring Teladoc CPO Donna Boyer. Donna speaks with Products That Count CPO Renée Niemi on leading change in telehealth. A key theme is leading by looking forward to the next horizon, rather than wallowing in what has come before.
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So Donna, speaking of fast pace growth and change. I have to imagine now that you’re, you know, over a year on your journey at TelaDoc, that you’ve had to make a ton of change. And I know how hard that can be. I would just love a few stories. And maybe a bit of your philosophy on how you viewed this as you walked into your current role. And kind of how you framed up how to move forward and drive change with efficiency.
I think the first thing always about leading change is recognizing that we’re gonna walk into a situation that needs to change. Right. So I think that’s the first part. And that usually means that things are not, you know. They’re not optimal. And that I think the most important part is to not be critical of where they are, and to look forward. I think a lot of what forts Change management is a lot of well, how did this happen? And why are we here? It really doesn’t matter.
I think you really have to assume that the people who came before you were smart and made the best decisions, given the circumstances at the time. And now it’s just about the next horizon.
That really helps bring people together. When I think there’s a lot of fear of change. That stems from in part because of the concerns about, Well, how am I going to be judged by where things are today. So the very first thing I always try to do is, it’s just no judgment. It just is. How do we actually pull things looking forward.
And that’s just really a culture that I’d like to set in terms of psychological safety. But also looking for where we can improve things and creating a culture where we are, you know, appropriately critical. And celebratory of where we are today. And that having a culture to do that, I think, is part of what opens up cultures to be able and ready to change. Without the sweeping things under the rug, or, you know, making excuses.
It really just doesn’t matter. If you assume that the people before you were smart and made the best decisions for the circumstances, the circumstances are the thing that changed.
And whether that’s a new market, or whether that’s a new, you know, victim of success, because things have grown so much. That operationally the wheels are falling off the bus or the market shifted away from you. Those are really circumstantial and not people decisions. And so I think that’s the first part to really make it safe.
The other thing in leading change that’s been helpful for me, and a message that I have to keep reminding of myself and to my team. Is that in any change, there’s a from state and a to state. And you will be wallowing in the from state for quite some time. And when you’re envisioning the two, it can be frustrating that you’re still in the from, and that takes a while that is the change that you’re leading. So really recognizing that it is a two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, ten steps back. But you’re going from from to to and just reminding yourself that that is the change. If you were already there, it wouldn’t be a change anymore.
So I think that is the thing that you have people on your team who you can remind each other of that. You pick each other up because it is hard. And that’s what we’re all here to do is to lead change. Because we’re creating things that are new. We’re creating opportunities to make things really better in the world, whatever your product does. There’s a level of uncertainty and ambiguity and a little bit without a safety net involved in that. The important thing is that we’re safety nets for each other and going forward. If there were a blueprint anyone could do it.
Leading by looking forward
Right. There were so many pieces of that that I really liked. But that framework of change in a from and a to. And the psychological safety. I think are two really big nuggets there. You know? Is there a process that you went through when you went to evaluate what that change might be? And who did you involve in that process?
You know, one of the things that I’ve found is there is an implicit process. And for me that’s really figuring out sort of the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs of what needs to change, right. And it’s really just spending the first 30, 60 days listening. Absorbing when there’s so many factors that are, you know, opportunities and options for change. Really figuring out what’s the most foundational pieces that you can change? And what are the winds, that helps people quickly understand what it could look like to change.
So both having a short term success that can bring people in and bring people along. And a longer term foundation is really what I look for, in my first 30 or 60 days. I was like, What is the most fundamental foundational thing that has to happen? And what is a thing that we can do quickly that can illustrate what that looks like? Rather than presenting a process diagram or a racy chart, or whatever.
So really bringing people into the success tied to the vision of what we’re trying to do. That has worked better than any process that you can put in place. It’s really looking for fundamentally, foundationally what are our first principles? And then also, at the same time, what are the things that can show? Not tell. What that might look like in a small quick way.
That’s really important, that whole quick win. Because it gives a sense of accomplishment very quickly. And we know we can’t, you know, move mountains. A pebble at a time. But if you show the pebble and show the impact of the pebble. Then that in fact the motivation to move, the mountain is bigger. I think that’s so smart.
When you look at your team, specifically. How do you think about the structure? And how do you think about how you put leaders in place and their teams in place? To either facilitate your vision of where you want to take the products.
Think org design, especially if you have a complex product and abroad. Product is one of the most important things that you can do as a chief product officer. Because it sets up your org design to be reflected with your engineering partners. Your data science partners. It all has to really be reflective of each other. The way that I like to structure teams is sort of like healthy dependencies. Finding ways that people do have to rely on each other as a team, but they can move forward independently.
So one of the things that I did at TelaDoc. We were organized around more surface areas, I would say, than around personas. And we have a lot of complexity, because we have both our members. The people seeking care patients, our providers, and our clients. And we really need to be thinking about all of those really as customers. They’re all users.
And our ability to really deliver and effect health outcomes is providing a great experience for the members. Making sure that the providers can operate with efficiency and deliver good care. And we’re delivering high impact results for our clients. And so I ended up structuring my team around those personas.
Because what became really clear is that all three of those needed to come together to deliver any of our product lines. So our mental health product line requires a great member experience. It requires providers to be able to be effective in treating people. It requires making sure that we understand what does success look like for our clients. And being able to report on them. Rather than having one mental health team one diabetes team. I actually separated the teams into those more persona based things. Brought people together around the product lines.
And the reason I did that was so we actually could organize around expertise and each of those things.
So I could have people who really truly understand clinical operations and the provider experience leading that people who are top of their game on consumer experience. Understanding behavioral design and designing for those outcomes.
And then understanding what the client’s needs and what I mean. Sort of a good kind of dependency. That then all three of those leaders like the product managers under those different areas. On something like mental health could come together and really collaborate. They can move forward independently, because there’s different pieces of the roadmap.
So they’re not all in the same meetings at the same time. But they have to, you know, it becomes a team sport. And so they have to move forward to launch a really great product. And I find that to be more effective than a model where people don’t have to talk to each other. But they are, in some ways, just. It’s very hard to be expert in all of those things.
And so really trying to design for clean interfaces, and clean, clean, clean team design. Where people, you know, we’re all operating towards the same goal towards the same dates and the same deliverables. But there’s degrees of freedom and empowerment to really be performing. In an area where you were, there’s a level of expertise,
So that was the biggest aha for me. There actually is very little crossover points between those. So that was what structured my org design that way is that there are results. And those results are really tied to. If you think about the interaction between the two. There’s a moment when the provider and the member come together. And that’s in an appointment or in a follow up. They each need to have an optimal experience for what they are doing.
By decoupling those, it gave me an opportunity to have a much more customer centric design approach. Making sure that we weren’t just treating it as you know, it’s, let’s just say like a mental health visit or a primary care visit, full stop. And we’re sort of least common denominator across those. If you can decouple those, we could actually really understand those needs. And design systems where there’s a clean interface that comes together when they are coming together.
But they’re both optimized for how they think and how they will respond best. What’s going to make them most effective? And so that’s really the key reason that I did it so that we could take a much more human centered, user centered, customer centric approach to this. While still allowing and empowering the teams to come together. What it’s done is it’s led to a lot more collaboration across my leadership team. Which is really the other key thing for me to try to foster. Is find ways where I can get out of the way and I need to get out of the way. But have my leadership team have to come together and solve a problem in order to deliver on the roadmap together.
And that really fosters the team being a team of peers, and not everything coming up to me to be the decision maker.
And so if you know, once they have that level of dependency. Which doesn’t happen, if you have very independent GM structures. They’re operating truly in silos. But if we can find ways where they can not have to, they don’t have to rely on each other to move things forward. Like their gears are not enmeshed. But they can rely on each other in the same way that, you know, in the team sport way. Where, you know, things all have to land at the same time for us to release as well. They end up supporting and helping each other in a way that I find to be very effective and up levels the team as a whole.
Yeah, as you were talking about that, what really comes to mind is forcing the teams to work together. Which leads me to metrics. How do you measure success in that type of a structure? Like what are some of your more important metrics? And how much commonality Do you have amongst teams on those metrics?
It’s a great question. I think it’s really important as part of that persona experience. What are you measuring and what matters, right? So all of us will come together on the growth of our product line as a whole. There’s very clear revenue metrics. And those revenue metrics are very matrix, you know. Anytime there’s a multiple sided, it’s not quite a marketplace, but similar, right. Where there’s members and there’s providers, and they have to come together, like their experience depends on all of those factors coming together well, right. And so there’s no one team that could be fully responsible for that. But every different persona has a metric that they’re optimizing for. Right. So for our member side, it’s really The usual consumer experience. Like conversion, retention, engagement, NPs outcomes.
On the provider side, its efficiency. NPs clinical quality, in the middle, and this is where we deliver value for our clients, it’s what outcomes did we achieve. And that requires a great member experience and a great provider experience. Because what changes the behavior. What leads to outcomes is what happens in that interaction. what happens, you know, before and after that interaction to keep people engaged. And so really thinking about, there’s an experience that leads to delivery of good care, there’s an experience that leads to engage membership. those things coming together is going to result in outcomes.
It’s not just my team, but it’s all of their cross functional partners. And that, to me, is the secret sauce. If there’s one thing, that is the big change that I think coming into an organization that is not, that has not historically had a product team. It’s the concept of a cross functional team being your first team.
That team is not stakeholders, they are your team.
So data science, in our case, clinical is really critical to the success. So our clinical team that really comes to this with a clinical strategy of how are we going to achieve these outcomes is, you know, it’s absolutely essential that they are not just, you know, included or consulted, but truly part of the development team along with design and engineering. Having that true mind melding, to me is the secret of product.
That part is outside of my team’s organizational structure. how do we foster and empower and really insist on that diversity of thinking coming together to make that happen. So it’s not just my org design, partners are design that has to also align with that.
That’s where it becomes a lot of influence and a lot of alignment to make sure that teams can come together and act as holistic, persistent teams to solve a problem over time, that’s probably the biggest amount of change leadership. going from operating as individual functions to operating as truly a product team is the bigger change. And so the org design, not just of my team. but the org design of how we influence that across the org is usually the biggest part that has to change.
I’m so glad you brought up that cross functional team. And I love the way that you don’t call them stakeholders. you truly call them, you know, extended team members. And I think that that really speaks to the culture that you’re trying to develop and foster TelaDoc. Can you share with me a little bit more around your philosophy on culture? And, how you as the chief product officer, how are you supporting the company, broadly speaking, in terms of your role, facilitating the culture?
I think the very first thing is modeling it. Especially with my engineering partner, my chief technology officer partner in crime. like, really, it can’t be a versus product versus or people will talk about, you know, the tension between product and engineering. And I just don’t buy into that paradigm. Like I don’t say I don’t, I don’t. the word versus is not a word that I want to be a part of our lexicon. unless it’s versus, you know, a disease that we’re trying to get better. But the it’s just not. there’s, there’s no versus. it’s, we are going to complement each other and solve the problem and the solution together.
And we’re going to bring to it our collective expertise in solving that problem the right way. And so I think the first thing is really just modeling that and how we show up together. and how we problem solve together. You know, that’s was data science and clinical and operations and really thinking about this as truly a team.
The way I like to talk about it, aside from just you know, trying to live it is. the shift is if you were wearing a, you know, a baseball jersey, and a baseball jersey had your team name on it. your team name is not your function. Your team name is the problem you’re solving. And that’s a big shift, right? so that you have a professional expertise. and your professional expertise is product management or product design. In our product operations or engineering, or data science. and that’s your functional expertise. And that’s, you know, where you learn and where you develop. and you have career professional development. Then your team, your actual, like, home team, is the problem that you’re solving.
Can people really have a T shirt that has the name of what they’re working on together?
Then very tactically speaking, really, as a sort of a tactic to move this forward is there’s one roadmap, you know, there’s not an operations motive and a data science roadmap and engineering roadmap, the roadmap is also the team name. And there’s different, you know, there’s different tracks on that roadmap. And there’s different deliverables on that roadmap, but their roadmap is the roadmap towards the destination, and the destination is, again, the problem that you’re solving.
So keep bringing it back to the why. Keep bringing it back to what is the problem, what is the definition of the problem. Having people really be focused on solving that problem, bringing together their, you know, their training, and their points of view. That’s the fastest way now of doing it. Just setting up that structure, where the first thing is like, who’s on the team? If you can put names not roles, but names on who is on the team, that really helps bring people together very quickly.
Yeah, that sounds really fun, and an environment that I would love to work in. So that’s fantastic. So, you know, one of the things that I’ve been hearing a lot about is talent, and recruiting the best talent, and equally important, grooming the right talent, like how do you grow the talent that you have? And making sure that the talent you have is happy? So retention? What are your philosophies, any insight you can provide on how you attract and keep the world’s best talent?
You know, I think we are all really trying to adjust to what that looks like in a world where it’s hybrid. And we’re spread, you know, throughout the country or throughout the world? So, you know, I think the answer that I would have given you a couple of years ago, is different from the answer now. I think it’s important for people to stay connected to the mission as much as possible and find ways to connect to each other. I think it is really critical.
But you know, in terms of talent. It’s so important that you can attract and can retain and engage and inspire people who are truly just top notch. It’s just when you’re solving hard problems like that ability to think critically to creative problem solve to really understand or recognize patterns to be able to synthesize effectively, like all of those hallmarks, whether it’s product management, or product design. And really just hone in on what’s going to make a difference. Makes all of the difference in the world between how quickly you can move and the impact that you have. And so, you know, I think part of it is just making sure that you can attract that. By being really clear and upfront about the culture that you want to have and what you’re looking for in the team.
But also being transparent about where you are, you know. I think that if you’re going back to that change management, if you’re, you know. If you are not realistic about it. I want you here to help lead this change. I think that’s a really big factor and figuring out, is it the right fit for people?
More than anything else, there are phases of a company and there’s types of change, that are just not where people want to be and want to thrive. And that is totally okay.
So I think the most important part is to really be honest about where we are, what stage we’re in what it’s going to take to get to the next pace and make sure that the people that you hire are the people who are excited about that, not just for it, but excited about it, because it’s hard, right and so you’re on your your hard days, it also needs to be fun.
You can have your best day and your worst day all on the same day. Like that’s the nature of leading change is that you know, its ups and its downs. And it’s you know, it’s constant. And so I think that the first part in terms of retention is being really honest and being transparent and being authentic about being all in it together. I think that goes a very long way. And then creating a culture where we can talk about the issues. I think that is the part that is harder remote, right? Because it’s harder to build trust and safety. Then also, you just don’t have the casual drop by time. So I spend a lot of time thinking about it.
And I still have quite a bit of work to do on how to foster that. How to foster where someone can just ping you. And, you know, casually dropped by. Even though it’s, you know, over whatever virtual messaging system you’re using, right? And how do you do that?
And how do you still maintain that element of, you know, we’re all in this together?
And it’s not, you know, it’s not, it’s always going to be hierarchical to some extent, but it doesn’t feel like hey, we can’t just drop by or we can’t just talk about things.
Because my team is big and spread out. I don’t have the vibe of how people are doing, or what’s the chatter. And so I have to rely on my team being okay with telling me and sharing things with me. And that is hard, you know, when you’re just meeting people for the first time, you’ve never seen people in person, it’s, you know, you have a little bit of a, you know, you’re all squares on the screen, and then you hit leave meeting, and then that’s it. And so you don’t have the, you know, walk down the stairs together catching up from stuff.
I think that is the thing that’s very much on my mind is how to create a culture where people are able to move things forward, and they’re able to talk about what’s not working so that we can change it, because there’s always going to be something that’s not working, you know, we just when you get it fixed, then something else isn’t going to work right.
Just normalizing that and making sure that we can continue to lead that change together, is I think the most important thing. And people know that, you know, their voices will be heard, and that there’ll be something to do something about is I think the secret to success of creating a culture for people who want to lead change and are part of it. And you know how we do this. I think it’s going to still take me another year to really figure it out.
I could not agree with you more, when you said that one of the critical elements is that, that ability to make it safe for people to give you honest feedback. Where are you on that, that journey? And do you have any insights or tips that you could share?
You know, I just started using this tool that I really like. And I’m typically not a tool person, like I don’t think about tools solving everything. But it’s a way of just structuring like weekly check ins and one on one notes. I used it when I was at Stitch Fix and really liked it. We were, you know, in person at the time. I like it because it’s just like an easy, you know, you kind of like back and forth on one on one topics or follow up on checking things or flagged things for follow up.
But surprisingly, what I found is people are giving me a lot more feedback, like a lot of last week was a mess. And here’s why. I really appreciate it. And it’s not that it’s anonymous. It’s just structured in a way that makes it easy and open to give that feedback. I’m really appreciating it. So I’m not really sure what the form factor is, it’s making a difference. But I feel like finding ways that you can async also have a place where it’s just you and it’s private is actually really helping a lot because one on one time is really limited. And it tends to be you know, these half hour slots, and you don’t have that time to foster it.
To foster really deeper conversations about what’s happening unless it’s an emergency. That’s not what you want. So I’m finding just asynchronous ways to keep running like, okay, let’s talk about that has been helpful.
That’s super helpful. I know that it’s always going to be a work in process, but I do feel that for those who are able to unlock that open door, it’s magic. Because you can’t react to something that you don’t see or can feel and that was hard enough face to face. So thank you. Thank you for sharing that. All right, I only have you for a couple more minutes.
So I thought what I would do is shift gears real quick and ask you a couple of quick questions. These are a little more fun and designed to be a little more quick in nature. So the first is when you kind of look out. What future innovation has you really excited?
I’m really excited about voice right now, specifically for healthcare. I think there’s a real opportunity for voice to be used to provide a lot more access and equity. It’s a much more conversational way of engaging. It’s early days, in terms of using it in terms of adopting that. But I think the technology’s there. figuring out the right natural interaction for it, I think is going to make a very big difference in healthcare.
So just so I’m clear, so when you say voice, you’re saying natural language? Interaction naturally?
Awesome. Yes, I plus one on that. Can’t wait to see how that evolves. Are there any particular tools that you’re using right now that are super helpful? That you really think are making a difference with you and your team?
Well, I just mentioned one. I’ll give a plug for it. It’s called 15 Five. I think it’s fabulous. The design is really good. Gven how spread out we are, we are also using product board for roadmapping. That I’m really appreciating. I’ve never done roadmaps on anything other than, you know, a whiteboard, sticky notes and Excel. And it’s always been good enough. With the number of different types of communication and the level of complexity, having something that’s all in one place that’s allowed me to let teams have whatever process they want. But at the end, it just gets rolled up there and works pretty well to allow things to be both empowered, consistent.
And I would say that, surprisingly, I am really, really liking SharePoint. And when I say surprisingly, that’s not a knock on SharePoint. I’m just finding that having a place to put everything that is not just a file server, but is, you know, you can really just make your own little corporate website in a time when we’re all so separate, I’ve found to be just really helpful in a way that I you know, if you’d asked me, you know, four years ago, would that ever be a thing that I would feel like, you know, spend time really thinking about what’s the best way to structure and organize this so people can collaborate and also communicate really well. I wouldn’t have that.
Remote and very diverse sets of teams serving a lot of different needs has really made a big difference.
Yeah, interesting. A really great mix. I’m gonna have to like that. 15 Five, it’s great. I’m not familiar with them. So all right, so what product do you admire most?
So this is a sign of the times. But there is a product from Abbott that does remote proctored. COVID testing. And it is incredibly well designed. I just think it’s very thoughtful and well designed. And also just a very fast reaction to a need, you know. It’s designed for the whole return to work or travel where it’s not just taking the tasks. Taking the test in a proctored way that, you know, the operations of it.
The ease of use of getting the test is how you get to the test to download the app. I think they’ve done an amazing job of solving a real need and an operationally very complex problem in a fairly brilliant, seamless way.
Wow, I love it. And I’d like the reasons too. So in your opinion, what makes a great product?
Frictionless. I think what makes a great product is when you don’t have to think about it as a product. When the technology and the experience just recedes into the background. And that the service that it’s providing is what’s at the forefront. And it does it really well is what I look for in a great product.
I really liked the word frictionless. I’ve heard a lot of people use the word simplicity, which, yes, our Big Easy Button I’ve heard, but I really think frictionless kind of captures a whole different layer of essence there. Are there any good reading materials? Like what are you reading any podcasts thought leaders you follow? Any one you would recommend?
There are so many of them. I got a dog in the pandemic like many other people. I would say that I have actually done a lot more audiobooks than I would have ever imagined. And so there are some really good ones, you know. Just anything that is via like biographies of entrepreneurs, is my favorite right now just really hearing people’s stories and can.
That’s like just getting a little bit more insight into people is really, you know. I like Lenny’s newsletter. I think it is fantastic. Or maybe like I am a huge Lenny fan. And I think if I had to go to, you know, one source of just the tidbits that I really trust the most. I would go with that.
Yeah, yeah, I read Lenny’s newsletter, too. It is really good. It’s really good. Awesome. Okay, last question for the day. But the big one, what makes a great CPO?
You know, I think you just have to stay curious. It is a huge amount of responsibility. And I think it’s very easy to get removed from the product, given the number of you know, everything from administrative to recruiting to in just metrics and presentations and out there selling and, you know, all of the strategic aspects. I think it’s really easy to get disconnected from the actual customers and kind of the nuts and bolts of what the team is going through.
And so I think just staying curious about the why. Making sure that you’re staying connected to the technology and innovations in the technology. Staying connected to the problems that your customers are facing and staying connected to the team. What is happening? Why is it happening and really just digging deeper to not just look for the superficial answer. The question behind the question is, I think the hallmark of a good CPO.
I cannot agree more. And very well said. Listen, Donna has been such a pleasure spending time with you today. I want to really thank you for taking the time. I know how busy you are. And I just think you’ve been able to share a ton of really valuable insights. So thank you.
Thank you for having me.