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The Leadercast Podcast
The Leadercast Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

57. Networking and Cultivating Culture with Christopher O'Donnell

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

A good leader is humble.

 

A good leader takes responsibility for the losses and gives away credit for the wins.

 

In this episode, we interview Christopher O’Donnell, Chief Product Officer at HubSpot, about fostering his team’s HEART:

 

What we talked about:

 

- Making diversity & inclusion a given among your teams

 

- What the “E” in HEART used to stand for

 

- Being generous with introductions & connections

 

- Product management insights from a humble industry leader

 

Check out the full podcast with Christopher O’Donnell by clicking here.

 

If you don’t use Apple Podcasts as your audio player, you can also find every episode at this link.

This is the leader cast podcast, helping you become a leader worth following. Hello everyone, and welcome to the leader cast podcast. I am Letaja Brown, and today we're going to talk about networking and culture with Christopher o'donnald, chief product officer of hub spot, musician, speaker and technologists. We're going to dive into what it takes to build a network, balance relationships and explore the art of identifying, honoring and leaning into the strengths of others, while allowing them to do the same and much more. But before we get started, how are you improving your skills to become the leader you've always wanted to be? Here's one way you can become a leader worth following. Attend the Digital Leadership Conference that Forbes says you don't want to miss. Visit leadercastcom to learn more about leader cast ripple effects. Now let's get started. Christopher, thank you for joining us today the Taser. It's great to be here. I'm really excited for this. We're really excited to talk to you too. So your life seems to be filled with an inspiring community, from hub spots growth over the past decade to the fans that love your music with the providers to family and friends. Your network has a bass spectrum of amazing people. How did you create such a fulfilling network and community? Well, that's a great question. I am I guess I'm I hadn't thought of it, but you're right. I'm really lucky to have some amazing people in my life, you know, and and spend most of my time with my family and with a handful of close colleagues at work, but it is nice that there are so many voices and sort of collaborators and in my life and I'm lucky that, you know, when I need help, I can, I can reach out to people who maybe gone a little bit further than I have and are, you know, generous with their time. And then I just try to do the same thing when people ask me for my opinion on things. And...

...so, you know, I think it's a huge time commitment to basically just be having human conversations really for any reason. You know, I end up spending a lot of time with my friends and and also at work talking about careers, you know, and I'm just really passionate about people's careers and so my friends and family and, you know, obviously the people on my team. We end up talking a lot about career growth and just sort of finding a fit, you know, finding the fit in your day to day at work that at least a really fulfilling work week and Work Day and one that fits with the rest of your life and, you know, works out financially and all the rest of that. So I find myself very fascinated about that and that's probably most of what you know I engage with my network about is sort of their career growth. Now that is so important with how, not only personally but professionally, as you propel your own path, that network that you build it's just so key. So speaking of passionate, about being passionate about careers and talking to your networks about career growth in and building that up. I did notice the pinned tweet at the top of your twitter profile and how it says diversity builds the best team, inclusion encourages the best ideas and belonging keeps it happening. Are these your key values for leadership and if so, why? I think definitely, just as a capitalist, you have to, you know, attract an amazing team and keep them around if you want to do anything at scale. You know, there's only so much you can do on your own, and that's why leadership is so interesting me. You know, I've never been the most talented musician in the room by a long shot or the most talented designer coder in the room by a long shot.

And you know, I found my niche trying to be the person with the most excitement and, you know sort of energy and bringing it into a project. And in my career that's translated into trying to attract amazing people and get them working together and ways then lead them to do things that are way cooler than anything I could have come up with or, you know, any one of US could have come up with. And so, you know, a framework for that around diversity, inclusivity and belonging is is pretty good, I think. You know, if you have a very homogeneous team, it's going to be tough to get that to be a high performance team. If people have the same behavior as the same backgrounds, the same communication style, the same sense of humor, even the same way of looking at the world, you're just much less likely to get a you know, a rich innovative result from from that creative team period. And you know, all the research in the world that's ever been done shows that pretty clearly. And then inclusivity. You know, you can have a diverse team, or maybe not. Everybody feels safe to try things, you know, or to or to fail. I actually, just just before this conversation, I was doing some email and I wrote back to someone, you know, and I said, Hey, look, it was worth the shot. We tried something together somebody in another department. We tried something, we put a bunch of work into it. It didn't go anywhere and that's okay, you know, and that needs to be okay to you know, to take shots and, you know, try things in the name of being innovative and so that psychological safety and inclusivity, patients listening. You know, a diversity of communication styles, written word, presentation, the synchronous stuff, videos, you know, it's really having a rich way of communicating. It's really important. And then the belonging piece, you know, I think is is twofold and really least about retention. It's about keeping people around. Our team has really good retention and and that means that people can really dig into their mission and get a lot of institutional knowledge...

...and develop relationships and really perform. Plus there's a huge cost to to replacing folks when when they move on for for whatever reason. And so, you know, on one hand I think belonging is about respect and courtesy and, you know, a lot of the inclusivity sort of side effects on a spiritual and emotional level, like do I feel like I fit in? Do I feel like I'm supposed to be here? Is My work value? Do I feel like an imposture? You know, do I get feedback that is, you know, confirming that I really do fit in here? And then the other side of belonging is like mission, you know, and why are we coming into work and what is it that we're trying to do and do I want to be a part do I know what that is and do I want to be a part of it? And then that feels like, okay, yeah, I really belong. I belong on this team and I also belong on this kind of path. So I think it's a pretty good it's a pretty good way of keeping ourselves honest about the team culture. Absolutely that's so much they're in terms of those elements and how they really do foster business practices that or a team in general that can truly take what you're doing to the next level in a real meaningful way, and I love that you mentioned that about the culture. House. Spot has such an inspiring culture. So I'm really curious, and, by the way, I love hub spot heart. That's such a powerful root system for a culture to thrive from. How did that come to be? How is it fostered? Your teen's yeah, heart is it's something we take really seriously. So it's humble, empathetic, adaptable, remarkable and transparent. Ahaart and came right from our foundered, our mess shaw he had. He puts a lot of work into articulating our culture, not just the current state but also the aspirational state, and heart feels really...

...right to us. I think in the folks who do really well at hub spot, I think fairly consistently have this sort of flexible optimism. They're, you know, they're strong performers, but they're also very open about their mistakes, open about when they need help. I think that's a big part of the transparency pieces. It's easy to be transparent with you know your project or your initiative has just had some breakthrough or some huge month or something like that, but it's it can be harder to be transparent about when you're struggling. That's actually one of the things that makes it really fun and hub spot is being able to speak openly about hey, you know, we're trying to do the thing. We're struggling and getting a lot of support and a lot of good ideas from across the company. So it came about through a lot of reflection, in a lot of conversation, and Durmesh's famous for putting these questions out onto our Wiki, which is just this endless tone of information and transparency and really generating a conversation around what we want to be as a company and then doing a really nice job of fitting it into, admittedly, a pretty, pretty sweet acronym in one that we feel really good about. So definitely can't fromdurmash. Wow, kudos to durmash and house spots leadership. It's not easy to go down to the core of an organization, it's cultural needs and then bring that vision to life. It's truly inspiring. Speaking of how spot heart and the culture that it's cultivated for hub spot as a whole. What were some growing pains that you all had to overcome and move through in creating that. Well, it's a living it's a living document, it's an aspirational idea and we reserve the right to change it over time and have. If I recall correctly, it originally was effective and Durmesh was very thoughtful about bringing it to the executive team, into the company to say, you know,...

I think we've outgrown celebrating just effectiveness and you know, the remarkable pillar, the are for remarkable sort of covers the performance aspect in the talent and results part of it, and what we really need is to be listening to each each other more and, you know, really investing in perspective, adopting and developing that aspirationally. And so there was a thoughtful edit that happened that we all had to kind of wrap our wrap our heads around and a lot of conversation and debate about what it should be in an ended up being empathetic and I think that that's really super important. Back to this sort of inclusivity and belonging. That's a huge thing, as being able to sort of switch your perspective into somebody else's and and argue from their side and understand what they're walking into the workplace with. And and sort of being patient. Frankly, you know, loving and caring in the workplaces is really important. So, you know, we had to make that shift and maybe de emphasize individual star performance for being a team player. I think I was worth it. I agree. I think it definitely was an intentional shift to make throughout this age right now. What have you been doing to keep engage with your network, keep engaged with your colleagues, Co Workers, team's, friends, family, where you're still keeping that tightening meaningfulness from within your community, despite the fact that you may be separated personal in personal physically. Yeah, she's I think the themphasis on family has gone way up and was, you know, there was a real emphasis there always for us, for me, and it's really just massive now, sort of expanding the bubble of our world to include grandparents and...

...just so much. I have two small kids, I've a five in a seven year old, you know, and so that family culture is everything. Mean it's our social life, it's part of the work day, it's part of everything, and that's been really nice. You know, getting to know getting you know my inlaws better and my wife getting to know my parents better, the grandparents, spending more time with kids, the kids getting to know our pet better. We have a black lab. That's the true answer. Is really it's very rotated toward family right now. Don't talk to friends nearly as much, for better or worse, and work is it's tough. It's tough to find that human connection. Luckily, we had started at hub spot to make a big bet on remote work before this pandemic. This was, as we came into two thousand and twenty eight, big initiative for US culturally, which isn't to say that we had it all figured out when the pandemic hit. However, we were spiritually very much wanting to head in that direction and, somewhat interestingly, everybody going remote made it a lot easier for the people who already were remote. So there were some there were some benefits right off the bat in terms of our increasingly dispersed and distributed teams. Some of those interactions actually improved in quality as we all left the office and came back to our homes. And beyond that, I think we're just trying to figure it out. I see a huge shift toward the written word. You know, the combination of having to Juggle family and work and not everybody working the same hours necessarily makes it harder to have meetings, makes it harder, you know, all of these things coming together. One thing that we found is that to be very helpful is, you know, really focus on clearly articulated thoughts in the written word, in documents, and then honing that through oneonone conversations, small group conversations, commenting and updating and so forth. In these...

...kind of living documents have become a backbone of how we work in a way that they really were in a year ago. That's one thing that's been super rewarding throughout this experience, as you know, much turmoil as we're in in terms of the pandemic and everything, being able to be closer to the people that we love and our our families in a way and pets in a way that we didn't really have before. It's been really a really rewarding experience. So I agree with you there. Put the switch gears a little bit. Going into your specific expertise, I'm curious what best practices do you have for product development, like what is your process for coming up with and building the right product for for customers and where is that benchmark up? We did this right or oh no, we did this wrong. Yeah, it's a massive question and just such a fun one. I think. To oversimplify it if I could, the trick is to be very customer driven in a way that supports the business strategy, you know, so sort of meeting from the bottoms up, from the people actually on the front lines, and using the product and those voices and lifting those up and making sense of those within the context of the business, as opposed to a command and control approach where the business decides exactly, you know, down to every last feature and every last design, what we're going to do. That's really the trick and we measure that with net promoter score, basically customer satisfaction, and we hold ourselves highly accountable to that. I just got as we talk here on Monday morning, the...

...first email I get every week is our MPs read out from the previous week with, you know, the data and then the words and the names in the faces and the fee back, and I get that along with the founders, and that's something that we really rally around. We've been able to improve that, which is really exciting. It's really exciting, and so staying very collectively close to the voice of the customers is important and that means, you know, for all of us, not just having conversations with customers and individually staying close with customers, but having those conversations together so that we have a common, shared understanding of a day in the life of the customer, where we're doing well and, more importantly, where we're falling short, and then having honest conversations about it, and that makes my job a lot easier. You know, in terms of deciding and presenting on a product road map and sort of the vision of where we're going to take the product, is actually not a very controversial exercise. We're in that starting to get into that part of the year where we do it and by the time we have the the high level vision of what we want to do in the next year, everybody's kind of nodding their head, and I think the reason for that is that we're all talking to the same customers, you know, we're all having the same conversations, and so it's not a surprise when we hear from services what they're going to do to improve the customer experience or services here is from product what we're going to do to build the product out or improve the quality, because again, we're sort of working off of the the same shared primary resource, which is the voice of the customer. And then, of course, you have to have process and you have to have guard rails, you have to have ways of of breaking that into what the team's, you know, missions for each of the teams, and that's the last thing I'll say about it, is, you know, the culture produces the product, and the culture being very customer driven and starting with the realization that frontline people have the most power in the business and therefore should be able to make decisions on behalf...

...of customers. You know, of what to ship and you know whether to work on infrastructure versus features and so forth. So we try to give the teams guard rails and feedback on how they're doing and then really trust them to make great decisions on a daily basis. That results in teams that are much more productive and much more engaged. And back to the diversity, inclusive being belonging. You know, they feel included, they feel like they belong. I feel like they're part of the mission, which is good for customers. In terms of the engineers and designers, you know, and everybody working, working their butts off because it's frankly, it's fun and it's good for the business because we move quickly and the team tends to stick around. So that's really powerful in the the sense that these same elements, the diversity, inclusivity, belonging, how they literally intertwined in almost everything that we're talking about when it comes to business, networking, customer satis, fashion, making sure that you're building the right product, like those are the root elements. It's almost where it's just that common thread. But have you seen anything else that's been a common thread of when you when you've experienced successes, is there a commonality that you've seen were wow, all of these things that were successes had this nugget or this gem that's been in all of them? Absolutely, it's trust between the people who are working on that particular challenge. And I struggle with talking about trust because it's it's a fuzzy kind of notion and it's a it sounds touchy, feeling and sort of, I don't know, vague, but it's so real. You know when so we encourage our teams to really celebrate the progress that they make. You know, as those teams form and that's...

...that's hard for our teams when they first come together. We have a designer and three or four engineers in a product manager and they get together and form this unit that is going to go tackle some you know, some product mission and work on it for years together. And you know, we really encourage them to recognize any win that they have, any progress, any value that they delivered together and really celebrate that together, because it's out of those promises kept in, out of those shared wins, is that you can get through the harder times. You know that you can get to a point where a product manager and engineering leader have to make a big decision and one of them feel strongly in the other one says, Hey, you know what, you're not always right, but if you feel strongly about this one, I'll back you. Let's try it your way. You know, I heard an engineer say that. A technily'd say that. One say you know, so and so, my pm cheese. He's not perfect, but if he feels really strongly about something, I'm going to follow his lead, you know, and I know he feels the same way, and so I think that trust and, on a human level, sort of not having to look over your shoulder, you know, not having to feel like you're perfect, you know, but just being in it together and being willing to try things with that gets is great ideas, it gets momentum in terms of people getting excited and doing work and building things, and out of those, of course, come the great results. In the best results come from places you wouldn't have thought. You know, certain parts of the product are really popular or particularly well designed. And whenever that happens, it's not, I can tell you, it's humbling and leadership, but it's it's never surprisingly good because they did it exactly how leadership would have done it. You know it's because it's a little bit different and it because they found a better way, they found something really interesting to go after and have the trust together to be able to take that chance.

Let's talk about how that trust comes through during a failure. How does it help navigate a failure so that you're coming out better on the other side? There's one behavior that makes this all possible and if you don't do it, it makes this, this all impossible. When there's a failure, people up the chain need to be pulling that failure onto their face and name and reputation and not pushing it back onto the team. You know, we need to we as leaders, we need to take the failures and take responsibility for those failures and give away the credit for the winds. I was in a meeting the other day and and something came up at frankly, it was a situation where I had made it. I had made, you know, a judgment call on pro product Roo map that that wasn't my finest hour and on the call our CEO took said, well, I know that this was my fault. You know that I pushed us to do x, Y and Z, and so that's the kind of thing. When he does that around me, it makes me think, okay, I see that if I try things and I fall short, that they're not immediately going to be held against me in these public ways. And of course I try to do the same thing in our group. Product managers will try to do the same thing and so forth. That's really the important thing. If a team shoots for something falls short, they're immediately going to be looking to see if it's held against them and if there's good humor and leadership sort of sort of taking that and saying, you know, Geez, I I asked you to do too much, where I send you off in the wrong direction or whatever it is, then the team's going to kind of breathe that side of relief and go back to doing really great work without having to look over their shoulders. So I think that that's the biggest thing around trust and failure is not having, not having...

...the team's feel the brunt of that failure. And then the teams, you know, have a culture of learning from it and doing, you know, post mortems and retrospectives and being very transparent about those, which is tough to coach, you know, when that doesn't come naturally to folks. I've had this conversation with product managers many times where you say, you know, look, you're not going to get fired for failing and learning a ton from it and raising your hand for help and having a Wiki page about it, all this kind of stuff. You could get fired for quietly failing for a long time with nobody really knowing, you know, how how much you need the help and or being able to give you the help, which of course, happens much less offten, and so that's kind of how I think about it. It's really about the leadership behaviors that happen after a failure set you up for what that cultural expectation is going to be in how safe people actually feel. Thank you for that insight. That complete really makes sense. So many successful teams and networks have a reliable trust within them that allows for healthy failures. But let's go back to what you mentioned earlier about the time it takes to create a network. I see people looking at at all levels being very aspirational about getting time with someone who is like they're they're idol and in some sense you know somebody who is twenty, thirty years ahead of them in their career. And one of the things I feel like I was lucky enough to kind of experience early in my career. So got to work with some really talented people who were more like five years ahead of me, and those people were close enough to what we think of as like the ground game and close enough to the tradecraft of what, you know, I was doing at that point in my career that they could give me a much more mature perspective around it and also concrete ideas of what to do in the workplace, you know,...

...in the ground game, and how to operate, and so I find myself very drawn to hanging with people on zoom or email, you know, whatever it may be, who are similar, you know what I'm like, a five years ahead of me or around where I am in my career, and being very transparent with them about where I'm where I'm, you know, running into problems. I had had a call the other day, you know, I reached out to someone who I had met and this person was is probably ten years ahead of me in a similar career. I said, Geez, you know, I'm coming up against some stuff. I don't really I don't have anybody to bounce this, you know, these things off of. Would you know? Would you be open to discussing it? And I was. I was very transparent about the parts of, you know, my role that had gotten hard and that I wanted, I wanted some perspective on, and he was, you know, thrilled to book the time and do that, I think, largely because I took the time to say, Hey, here's what, here's what I'm working with and here's what I'm up against. And so that that really sends a signal. You know, if you're reaching out to people and they are, you know, the founder of some company you really really admire and you're just trying to get a coffee conversation with no, you know, context on why that's probably not going to be a great use of time. Now, if you reach out to someone, maybe even if you don't know them in they're a little bit ahead of you in their career and he's in your gracious and you say, Geez, I really looked up to your career path and you know your role out I'd love to learn more about it and specifically, you know, I'm wondering how I handle this or design question that I'm up against your something like that, I think that you're tactically much more likely to get a response and much more likely to have a meaningful conversation then you know, just sort of trying to have coffee. So those are a couple of the hesitate to use the word mistakes, but...

...those are the things I see people often early in their career who are out there sort of, quote unquote, hustling hard and reaching out to everybody in the world that they can and trying to get time and take notes and all this kind of stuff. And at that that can be fun, but it's it's not as valuable for career development as finding somebody the company you look up to WHO's a little bit ahead of you in your career and bringing some concrete questions to them. And then the flip side is to be open when people do the same thing to you, right, and to be generous with introductions. If you don't have time, you know, find someone who would benefit from it. You know, if somebody's just graduating college and they're curious about product management, she's maybe I'll talk to them about it, or maybe I'll find someone who's three years out of school who has turned into a really successful product manager and I'll connect them and then they're actually going to have, you know, a tighter connection and a more relevant connection than I would with that person. So I think the relevance and context transparency is really key. As we wrap up, I'd like to ask one final question that relates to the mission at leader cast, which is to fill the world with leaders worth following, and your opinion, what makes a leader worth following? Yeah, I think a leader who helps you celebrate your successes and doesn't hold your failures against you. That's the one thing I really look for, you know, in terms of do I want to work for someone. You know. Do I want to follow someone on a mission? It's that kind of promises capped in psychological safety combination of behaviors. If I feel safe and I feel like I belong, you know, I will speak truth to power, I will try things, I will I will, I will innovate, I will, you know, build a really wonderful team and if I don't feel safe, I'm going to play defense and it's really not going to be fine and I'm not going to I'm not going to perform very well. So I think that's really...

...the the key to me is, is there space to fail? I love that and that's so true of being human. Like you said earlier, leaders and those that you are leading, we're all human and we need the room in the space to grow into becoming a leader worth following. It doesn't happen overnight and you need the support system and the network in order to help get you there and to become the person and become the leader that you've always wanted to be. But thank you so much, Christ for this has been an amazing discussion, so many insights. Greatly appreciate your your time with us today. I appreciate you joining us. We'll TASIA. Thank you so much for having me and hope to talk again some day. Thank you everyone for joining us today with this conversation, and I hope you heard something that inspires you to build a network that is meaningful and fulfillings of who you are, your professional path and for what you're trying to accomplish as a leader. You can connect with Christopher on twitter at market tech. This month leader cast has content based on the topic of adaptability. Check out our blogs, newsletters, webinars, videos and more by visiting leader caastcom to become a more adaptable leader yourself. And if you liked what you heard today, please share, rate and review this podcast so we can grow our following and health leaders like yourself on their leadership journeys. Check out our previous episodes and subscribe so you never miss the latest from the leader cast podcast. Again, thank you for tuning in. Now go be a leader worth following. According to research from Edelman and Linkedin, almost sixty percent of decision makers said that thought leadership led them to awarding business to an organization. Sweet fish media helps marketing teams turn their executives into industry thought leaders learn more by visiting sweet fish. MEDIACOM FLASH LEADER CAST.

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