When product managers think about setting goals within product teams, we can shy away from accepting if we have set the bar too high, for ourselves or others. We are ambitious individuals and want to meet or exceed the goals we set. How do we normalize mistakes, failure, and human error? Shopify Vice President of Product Mamuna Oladipo shares opportunities to pivot within your goals when faced with mistakes and failures.

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On The Power of Learning from Mistakes and Pivoting

The first thing to remember when setting goals is to be realistic, but also ambitious, Mamuna said. We have to remember a number of things when setting goals for teams, including everyone’s different levels, and that there is a human element in there. Connecting with team members to guide them is important.

“When I’m approaching setting goals, I always want to do so ambitiously. I want to keep in mind the company goals and I want to keep in mind our ambitions, but I also want to balance into that any resources. People are normally going to be uncomfortable to ambitious goals, but you want to make sure that you’re realistically ambitious. As your teams are working toward figuring out how they’re going to do it … you’ll offer your input to ensure that they have the right resources, they have the right directional thinking. I’ve been on the other side where I failed to hit a goal or fail to do a thing. There were a number of factors that likely indicated we weren’t going to get there and deliver on time, but with our heads down, we were pushing a path we thought it was right, we didn’t consider other options, we made assumptions about audiences, we picked some interesting numbers, you name it. I remember at one point, my manager was upset that we didn’t hit our goals, but couldn’t really offer much guidance as to how we could have done things differently. I found this very interesting. 

Today when I’m working with goals and start working with teams to get to their goals, I want to set the high expectation, but I also understand that no one’s perfect, and there’s going to be something that’s missed or something that happens. My role is to push you there, but also help to guide you, and there’s two in that room so we have to think about things together as they start to make me fall apart. I want to listen and see what you say. I expect that you’ve done your research to understand what happened and why it happens, you have a plan forward, you’re able to communicate how you’re going to avoid it in the future. I want to also hear what you’ve learned. If you don’t learn from the thing that happened, it’s it is going to happen again. You’re going to make that same mistake, or you’re going to have that same experience. I want to ensure that we can communicate a plan that helps us to at least avoid the thing that we’ve just experienced.

In both worlds, it takes two in that conversation to get there. A lot of times when you’re too close to the problem, it’s hard to maybe see what’s happening. So it’s good to have a leader that will help you pick apart that thought. … Sometimes you may hit a goal and you realize that maybe the goal wasn’t ambitious enough, and you want to keep going, but it takes that constant conversation to get to that fine point.”

On Learning from Your Team and Including Them In Leadership

A good product leader knows when to go to their team and get feedback. An even more effective leader takes the team’s advice, creates connections, and pivots where needed. This is what Mamuna did when she realized she was pushing goals but also pushing people, and she needed her teams to be part of her leadership.

“As a leader, I’ve brought some good management improvements, leadership improvements in myself, just as I learned a lot about myself through last year. COVID taught a lot to a lot of people in terms of the workspace and a professional setting. At the beginning of COVID are always trying to figure out, what am I doing myself? How am I going to show up to work but then also when you’re leading teams, you’re navigating a number of things that are changing, whether it’s how do you lead teams remotely, how do you ensure people feel psychologically safe, and maybe your company went through layoffs, whatever it is. For myself personally, I was just trying to figure out, okay, how do I get through the next hump here? How do I get the teams moving forward? How do we deliver against these things? I was not slowing down to look at the people. I really started to see the teams fracturing. I asked my direct reports for feedback. They said you’re missing the ball here, there are some real problems down here on the teams. 

So that was my a-ha moment. You can’t lead a team without the team. You have to bring your team along. So I had to be human and treat my team as human and slow down, spend one-on-one time with each person, develop personal relationships, understand what needed to be said for them to be brought along in the journey. I carry that forward with me now, even as I onboard into new roles, it’s important to know who you’re leading. It’s important for them to know who you are, as well. Because when you’re speaking to a larger group, you have more people who know where you’re coming from, and they can now, when you leave that meeting, advocate on your behalf, or help to explain something when you’re not in the room to do it yourself.”

On What to Consider When Pivoting Into Product Leadership

Mamuna makes a point that you can’t make every person happy all the time. This goes with leadership and pivoting into those roles. It is good to test an idea, but once a decision is made, it’s important to stick by your choices.

“There’s a quote by Steve Jobs that said if you want to make everyone happy, sell ice cream. that’s 100% true. You can try your hardest but you’re probably never going to make everyone happy. Everyone’s different. So you can’t just blanket and say, you know this one thing is going to suffice for everyone. 

The biggest thing is having conviction in your decision-making, your thinking. It is ensuring that you’re scaling your thinking. So when you have a thought or something that’s going to affect multiple people, maybe testing it with a couple of folks who you trust or a couple of folks will give you that real opinion, and tweak accordingly. Once you have it out there, being decisive, not feeling like you have to have everyone like everything. You have to be okay with not having everyone be okay to an extent. You have to just understand how to approach your work through that.”

About the speaker
Mamuna Oladipo Shopify, Vice President, Product Member
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