And from an individual standpoint, they wanna know, well that's good. I understand. What does it mean for me? What about me? And people have families. People have visa situations. They need to know and have the security, the psychological safety to know, is my job safe? What does this mean for me?
Welcome to the Managing Made Simple podcast, where I bring a decade of experience working in some of the most influential companies in tech to help you navigate the ins and outs of being a people manager from conflicts to feedback, to delegating and more. We will leave no stone unturned when it comes to what makes us love managing, kind of hate it and everything in between.
Doesn't matter if you're a new manager looking for some tips or a seasoned manager looking up their game. Everyone is welcome to hang out with Managing Made Simple. Let's go. Let's go. Let's go. Let's welcome back to this show today. I am so excited because I have Jen Lou with. A product executive and seasoned product management leader who I'm so excited to be bringing to you today.
Jen is a product management executive who's worked as a SVP of product and chief product officer at prominent Silicon Valley startups, and as a senior director of product at Google. She's also a career coach, drawing on her experience in product management and executive leadership to help individuals reach their full.
And what I loved about Jen when we worked together back at Google was how she balances setting high expectations for her teams and delivering incredible results like growing product, listing as at Google into a double digit billion dollar business while being a compassionate leader. And she truly understands that the best work comes when there is psychological safety on a team.
And I couldn't be happier to have her on the show today. And she's a mom of four, which further reinforces how awesome she is. So welcome Jen. Thank you. It is a honor to be here. Thank you Leah. Well, we've been talking, I think, in the background around what's all that's going on in the workforce in general, in the tech industry, in with all of the change uncertainty.
But I wanted to start kind of setting the tone around, you know, you and how, you know, what shaped you as a leader. I'd love to ask, you know, what had a bigger impact on you as a leader, your best manager or your worst manager, and if you can share a story. Ooh, that's a really, really good question. I've had probably as many managers as years of experience, so quite a few.
I will say that my best managers have served as role models. And they've been there to guide me, to support me, challenge me, motivate me, and still to this day, some of those managers I still carry with me all the lessons that I've learned from them. But I dare say that it's probably been my, well worst managers that have really provided me with more clarity as to what type of manager and leader that I want to be years ago.
I won't name names, to be honest as, especially as I reflect this is not a good versus evil situation where I was working with a manager and in order to succeed in that organization on that. I would have to really put aside my superpower, so to speak, and really lean into areas that I did not wanna go in.
From a leadership standpoint, it's like leaning in with your weaknesses and pride, your strengths, and as I thought about it for both the short term, could I do well, could I survive? Possibly, but in the long term, with the type of leader and manager that I wanted. I felt like it would be moving away from that direction.
So my advice to those, especially in tricky manager situations, is actually to step back and think, well, what can I learn from this? And what do I wanna take away, but also what do I wanna learn that I don't wanna do, that I don't wanna pass on to others when I become a manager or as I manage others too.
Yeah, I love that. And I mean, spoiler, like that's why I created this question because I think we, as you called out, we often learn. More from the experiences that were harder, especially about, you know, what we wanna reinforce or not do. Sounds like that was really the case for you. And I think as you say, taking every experience as a learning, especially when think folks that are listening, if you're managing managers, you're kind of situated between two worlds and, and you have a lot of power to help your own direct reports to our managers.
Figure that out for themselves how they want to be. Yeah, I know it can be frustrating to have a quote, bad manager, but it's also an opportunity to better clarify what type of manager you want to be. Yeah, exactly. So in your career, you know, you've worked at big companies, you worked at Google for a long time, you've worked in a number of startups.
What did you feel were the, some of the biggest differences between leading teams in each of those different environments? First, I'll say not all startups are the same and they, not all big companies are the same. Drastically, depending upon the culture, the leadership values, even who is the leading the company at the time, can drastically shift a particular culture and how people work in that environment.
The clearest kind of difference is the, the sheer number of people at a start as a larger company, there's just a lot more people. I was talking to somebody and I was saying, you know what a big company, imagine you have 20. And you have to go through each of the 20 doors, maybe find a window, way to knock, way to barge.
So in, unlock the doors. And then if you see, get through all the 20 doors, ah, then you can launch, and then you do it all over again for the next one, next one. And at a startup or a smaller company, there are fewer doors. Perhaps there's one big door or perhaps a couple people to be able to get alignment on or to make a decision on.
Perhaps it's something where the PM can just make a. And make a call as to what we should do to move forward. And so I think the difference is primarily the number of people involved and therefore how you go back about navigating the decisions that are made, which certainly impact the velocity of the team and how things get done at a company.
And was there something you found, I guess, in shifting from a big company to then smaller companies, something that was surprising in making that shift or something you didn't expect? For me, uh, you mentioned earlier I'm a mom of four kids and part of me thought I must be insane to go to a startup.
often, at least I hear about folks who go to the startups and then they settle down perhaps at a bigger company. I did the opposite, and for me, I really wondered. Too late for me to go to a startup. Am I crazy? And I'd be gonna be working hundred hours. Am I gonna be not able to juggle family and work?
What am I gonna do? And what I realized was that really about how you work. Certainly there are different stages of a company and different amounts of work that you need to put in, but it's ultimately also you that set your own boundaries. How much you wanna work, how you can, how effectively, how efficiently you work.
And so what I would really dispel is the notion that startups are for the quote, younger and larger companies are for the older. I would dispel that to be. It's you who decides. What you bring, how you bring it, and to really go forward with with what you want. And the surprise for me was actually realizing it was okay.
I don't know. I'm a workaholic at a company for a small company, but also as I've grown, I've established boundaries for what's important to me in my life as well. And that's really helped to keep my sanity and keep me grounded in both situ. I love that myth busting because I think a lot of us assume like, oh, like you said, my time has passed.
I have a family now. I, you know, I'm at this stage of my career. But boundaries, when you set those, if you don't have the boundaries in any job, it's gonna be . It's gonna be really hard to maintain. So the opposite is true as well. . Yes. Yes. Well, I know we mentioned your intro. We've been talking a lot about, you know, how to support teams amidst all this uncertainty right now, layoffs and, and changes.
I mean, I think one thing I know you've reflected on is well change, this isn't new for companies in general, and you know, I'm curious. What are some of the things, tools and strategies you've deployed to help you know teams navigate change, even from reorgs to now, layoffs are happening? Yeah, so this is close to my heart.
Just at my last company, we faced layoffs and I helped support the layoffs before leaving myself. And so this is something that's certainly top of mind for myself as well as many right now in this market. I would say from a leadership standpoint. , it's important to provide clarity and then also get folks moving the direction of progress and to find a healthy way of balancing the two depending upon what the organization needs at the time.
So you need clarity. People need to know, well, what am I working on? Who should I work with? What does this mean for me? What's my career path? How do I move forward? Why were these decisions made? That clarity is certainly helpful. and then you need to start getting people to shift gears into, well, am I making progress?
And that feeling of, I'm making progress. I am launching, I am helping our customers, I'm helping with our business. And providing that translation for how individuals are contributing to the success of the business is critical. To having folks feel motivated and to feel like they are making progress in their work.
And to get in that mindset too, because it's easy to get bogged down with all of the LinkedIn. It's easy to spend hours if not more, talking about, oh my God, what's gonna happen? What do you think? What did you hear? Let's talk about. . But at the end of the day, there's also something that's empowering with folks, knowing that they have the ability to influence or at least make progress towards having the company be a success, having the team be a success, and that we're in it together.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think something I know we were talking about recently was people wanna know, like they, they do want some of the context, but they really wanna know how it affects them personally. And sometimes we get weighed down in all the context without making that connection for people. Yes, that is absolutely critical.
I went through multiple reorgs at Google Reorgs and uh, even layoff situations post Google. And the one lesson that I've learned is from a leadership standpoint, you may assume, like, I wanna explain to you why this was a hard decision. I wanna explain to you our thinking, how this is gonna be better. I wanna share all the things and why.
And from an individual standpoint, they wanna know. Well, that's good. I understand. , what does it mean for me? What about me? And people have families. People have visa situations. They need to know and have the security, the psychological safety to know, is my job safe? What does this mean for me? What am I responsible for now?
Do I have a career path moving forward? Do I even have a management path moving forward with all the cuts that are being made? And so you may not have all the answers. , but it's important to know that the faster you can get to providing individuals with those answers, The faster you can get towards having the team feel productive and getting back to that productive.
And I just wanna underscore, I think it can be tempting as a manager if you don't know everything to sort of wait to communicate until you have answers. And people start making assumptions when you do that. I think even saying, Hey, here's what I know, here's what I don't know. Here's when I will. Find out or hope to find out.
And here's the cadences I'll be communicating. That's really important because you don't have to have all the answers, but if you don't sh if you don't show up for your teams and you're not present or you're sort of waiting in the background, everybody's gonna start making assumptions. And we all know that people's assumptions are R are rarely optimistic and positive.
They generally assume the worst and. I think also if you're, you know, if you're not communicating, people assume it's really bad because otherwise you would be telling them what's going on. I agree. I mean, I think the more you can make that clear and just be there in the conversation being present. I think another thing I think is I recommend to managers is to help people see their.
Career as a bigger story, not just this role, but really supporting them. And I know, and I'd love to, you know, kind of segue into some of the coaching you're doing because I think it's a big part of that is how do you support people to see themselves as more than this job? Especially because we can't guarantee certainty.
Yeah. And especially in this environment, I've personally benefited a lot from coaching, but I've also seen how challenging it can be. Sometimes you can't say everything I wanna overcommunicate. You wanna share as much as you can. On the other hand, sometimes as a manager or as an individual, you can't say everything to your manager, to the c e o to your team.
I don't know what, it's hard to communicate that to your team or any in uncertainties or even insecurities that you. And so what's benefited for me a lot is to have somebody to talk to, somebody who's not necessarily in my management chain, who's not on my team, not necessarily even a peer in the company, and preferably not your spouse either.
hearing all of my stories. That's not fair to him as well, but somebody you can really lower down your. and talk through hard situations, talk through your anxiety, your fears, think through what's rational and not. And so I'm a huge fan of coaching. I've certainly benefited a lot from it and I'm excited to give back to folks who are interested in it as well.
Yeah. What are some of the things that, themes that you're hearing in coaching folks? Like what are, what are some of the things that people are, have top of mind that you'd want managers and leaders to have on their radar? There's a lot of fear, I would say, whereas in previous times it may be, oh, okay, I read the news.
Now it's, I know a lot of people, or at least certainly some people who have been directly impacted, and so it's becoming very, very real and this creates fear. . Now from a business standpoint, this also means that people may not be a hundred percent productive. They may be interviewing on the side, I'm not sure.
So I'm gonna interview on the side. I'm gonna spend some time on the side. I'm gonna have a plan B, especially critical to provide that clarity to make sure that if you are making cuts, you cut deep, cuz multiple rounds. That's the fastest way to lose trust. And an organization and to find ways to make sure that people understand what this means for them so that they can figure out if their real is real or imaginary and Right.
A lot of uncertainty so people feel, at least the folks I'm hearing, probably you're hearing as well, feel somewhat stuck. It's a, it's a bad environment. If I. Don't like my job. I feel stuck. If I like my job, will I still have it in another few months? What's gonna happen? There's so much uncertainty and I know there's a lot of open questions and not all questions you can't answer.
You can provide clarity. You can have people understand how they can make progress towards helping the business or helping the company. For those who are interested, whether management or from an IC standpoint, having somebody to talk through to process all of this can be tremendously helpful and just protecting your sanity.
Yeah. Well, I love the point you made earlier of reorgs or layoffs might mean that someone's whole career path has changed. So even if they themselves have, you know, the same job, a relatively similar job, their whole, everything they knew might be different. And I'm curious, you know, if let's say there were cuts or reorg, and now folks show up Monday morning and you're leading a team and you're trying to keep people, you know, engaged and motivated, what are some of the things that you can do in those first few?
Overcommunicate. Sometimes people think that means one big, all hands and you're done carefully crafted. I made the slides, I have the talking points, da, da, da. I'm done. And especially depending on the size of the company, but typically with an all hands, it may not be a safe environment or people may still be processing.
It may be hard to really ask the will questions that are not being asked. And so my recommendation would be overcommunicate at different levels. , communicate at the all hands level, go to different team meetings, have ask me anything, type forums, questions, talk to folks. Also, give an opportunity for you to hear what people may be worried about in a smaller forum, and then certainly at the individual level, whether you're having it or whether you're making sure that it's being done.
Translating to individuals, what does this mean for them in their job and in their. I love it. So any managers out there take notes because hey, whether or not there are layoffs in your company, there is uncertainty and people are impacted by the layoffs going on. Everybody I think right now is, is Jen called out, is thinking, uh, is it gonna be next here?
And so, you know, Gallup is, has reported employee engagement perception and scores are down engagements on the rocks right now. So we all need to be doing better at, I think, overcommunicating and as Jen. Showing people you know what their path is, even if it's not forever, but you know what it means for them and keep the dialogue going so it's not just a one and done, especially when there's uncertainty.
Managers may not have all the answers either, but keep the dialogue going and have that mix of clarity as well as progress together. Yeah. I love it. So, shifting gears a bit, I'm curious in all of your, in all of your time as a, as a leader and and leader of leaders and managers, what have you found as an underrated leadership skill that great managers deploy?
It's really hard to pinpoint one. I mean, there are certainly areas that I lean more towards and areas that I lean less towards. What I would actually recommend to folks is to really sit down and understand what are your super. and then what are your areas of development? And I don't mean from an interview standpoint what you're gonna say, or even from a performance evaluation standpoint, what are you gonna say?
But really just for yourself to understand what are my strengths that I bring to this job and what are my areas of development? And then you just, you shine with your strength. It's very, it's hard to take an area of development and suddenly make it your. . And so you take your strength, whether it's your business acumen, your understanding of the industry, whether it's the analytics, the technology, maybe it's the empathy, maybe it's the user experience, whatever it may be that you feel like is the strength that you bring to the table.
You shine with that. and then make sure that your errors to development are good enough and continue to improve those as well. But I think often people think that there is this shining trait from a manager standpoint. And yes, there are certainly certain skills that are helpful, but I would say the best managers know what their strengths are and they shine with those.
And so know what your strengths are and you. And I'm curious, if a manager was struggling to identify, you know, maybe you've had some setbacks or you've, you know, you're not sure if you even want to be a manager anymore, how might you start, start to identify those superpowers? I think talking to people is a good first step.
There is, and people that you trust. It could be folks you have previously worked with. It could be folks in your peer set or your manager. It could be a coach or a mentor talking to folks. And on one hand you can listen to their feedback. On the other hand, you can also listen to yourself as you speak.
And sometimes through that dialogue you start to crystallize one, what are my strengths and what are my areas of development? And then two, the other dimension to that is, well, what do you. What do you want to do? Do you wanna be a manager? It's not all sunshine and rainbows, certainly not either. What do you want from your career as it is a big part of our lives?
And so asking that core question, but having the dialogue sometimes helps in figuring that out for yourselves too. . Yeah, I love that. I mean, I think there's, so there's a need for feedback, both to go two ways, but for manager, I think to be soliciting that on an ongoing basis to really understand, am I showing up the way that I intended?
Am I, I think especially if things are a little bit rocky with being a manager, if you're not, if you're finding it's a struggle, but I think also, , even if you're really enjoying it and thriving, it's important to understand why and what are some of the things that you're doing so that when tough times do sort of come across, then you're ready to go.
And I think one of the reasons I wanted to create this conversation with this podcast was because I kept hearing from managers that they're feeling burned out, that they don't have support, that they're caught in the middle between having to navigate all of the unc. Meanwhile figuring out their own careers.
And so I think this is such an important piece of that is as a manager, getting the support that you need and having that dialogue around feedback so that you really understand where, where things are going well, where you need to really fine tune and what the perception of you is overall. . Yeah, I love that.
And I love this podcast. So excited for you. Opportunity to really open the dialogue and talk about some of these hard topics. And as managers, leaders, even, I see sometimes these are things that are hard to bring up. in a corporate environment and, but it's certainly things that impact our work and impact our motivation and how we feel.
Absolutely. Before we wrap, I'd love to hear more about your coaching and how folks get involved with that and what you're doing in that space. Yeah, so I mentioned earlier I coaches have been just instrumental in my career, actually dating back to when I first became a manager, all the way to even the present.
And for me, this is an opportunity to give back and it's a part opportunity to do the best part of the job. I love talking to people. I love connecting with people, hearing their stories, helping to support them. I've been blessed to have worked with folks who have transitioned a product and have flourished folks who have excelled and exceeded me in the way of the thinking about product and intuition.
And for me, it gave me great satisfaction and great. And helping people be their best selves. So this is a new chapter for me. It's a second career of sorts, so it's one that I feel very passionate about and I'm excited to embark upon. That's awesome. Well, people are so lucky to be able to work with you in this capacity because I know you had such an incredible impact on folks at Google and, and I think also on women seeing what's possible.
I mean, it was, you know, you were very involved in our women's employee resource groups in different aspects and. You set an example of, you know, I, it's a cliche to say, doing it all, I know that's not the kind of goal, but it's, is really achieving, having all the things and, and there's more turn up the dial on one thing in one moment and another in another.
And I think it's just really inspiring to me as a woman in the tech space, as a woman leader as well. Oh, well thank you. I'm, I certainly don't have everything figured out. I'm figuring things out, but I've also benefited so much. Women mentors, people who have supported me throughout my career, and so I feel like this is an opportunity for me to give back.
Yeah. Awesome. For folks that wanna get in touch with you, should they go to website, LinkedIn, what's the best way to reach you? Just go to LinkedIn, ping me, send me a , send me a gem. I am currently also working on my certifications and coaching credentials, so this is something that I do take very seriously and it's also an opportunity, as I said, just to really give.
Awesome. Well, I will include your LinkedIn profile on the show notes so people can find you. Before we wrap, is there anything you'd like to leave our listeners with? I would say a plus one to this podcast. I'm excited for this podcast. I have the opportunity to really. Open the dialogue and share with people and have different stories of how people are thinking their stories for the challenges they have come across, and to be able to talk about the unspoken.
So super excited for this podcast. Everybody subscribe. , thank you so much. Uh, well, I am so excited for you to be here and as one of my first guests, there was no one I'd rather have to have this conversation with. Yes. See you all next time. All right, bye. That's all I have for today. Thank you so much for tuning in to the Managing Made Simple Podcast where my goal is to demystify the job of people management so that together we can make the workplace somewhere everyone can thrive.
I always love to hear from you, so please reach out at liagarvin.com or message me on LinkedIn. See you next time.