We are thrilled to be working in an age where companies who want to excel recognize the need for end-to-end coherent visions of the experience customers will have with not just the product, but every facet of the business. From the outbound marketing, to the sales funnel, to the initial experience with the product or service, to the support experience, and more. Creating a seamless, and consistent experience across every customer touchpoint is hard. And more companies than ever, large and small, are recognizing that they don’t have someone who can do that job. How do we know? Because we work with our clients every day and see them challenge themselves to find this talent in house, or bring it in from the outside. And in many cases, for a time, Jenny and I perform this function for our clients as they build their organization.
We’d love to take credit for this next insight as if it was the result of a deep, intentional, thought exercise. But it wasn’t. Our customers kept asking us if we knew people who could do the role, or in some cases if we wanted to do the role ourselves. And in truth, we do want to do the role ourselves, but, we also love working here at Jackson Fish Market. And that leads to this crazy notion, could companies looking for Chief Product Officers be willing to have them not be fulltime employees? We think the answer should be yes. And here’s why.
Finding True Chief Product Officers is Really hard
The fact is, that people who have a broad and deep knowledge of business, technology, marketing, and design as well as product and people leadership skills are relatively rare. A high quality Chief Product Officer is a high bandwidth communicator with the ability to rally teams as well as collaborate with very senior peers and CEOs. There are plenty of talented people at different roles in organizations. It just happens that the breadth, depth, and seniority required for a job like this means that there just aren’t that many people out in the marketplace who can do the job.
Qualified Chief Product Officers Want to Work on a Broad Range of Offerings
Of the people that have the cross-domain perspective needed in business, design, technology, and a fair amount of human psychology, most of them want to work on a broad range of products and services. These are people with incredible attention to detail, but they also have a zillion ideas they would like to see to fruition. This is why many of them work at agencies. Agencies work on new products all the time and keep the interest level high. Ask yourself a really hard question: does your company really have the breadth and depth of offerings that will keep a qualified CPO interested enough to dedicate all their time to you for several years? For most companies the answer is no. Not because their products aren’t interesting or a good challenge. But it’s simply a matter of scope. Qualified product people really want as broad a scope as possible. Recognize that the narrower your scope, the more it limits the talent you can bring on board full-time.
Chief Product Officers Create DNA, Build Teams, and Get Out of the Way
It’s true that there is an important, engaged, and ongoing role for a Chief Product Officer. Steering the ship requires a constant hand on the wheel. But the companies we work with are not building sailboats. They’re building aircraft carriers. Great CPOs create a value system, genetics for an organization. And while they make sure that the products reflect those values, even more importantly, they make sure that everyone in the organization lives and breathes those values. Because products and services that are expansive and impactful almost never get made by individuals — they get made by teams. If the CPO builds a team that needs their guidance every day, then the CPO has failed at building a great team. But once they do build that great team, their job is to get in the backseat, periodically point to the destinations where they should be heading over the long term, but let the team execute execute execute.
Chief Product Officers Need Every Political Advantage They Can Get
It’s not just the scarcity of talent for this position that should make you consider the compromise of having a CPO that’s not a full-time employee. There are actually advantages to having them be from the outside. When a company is looking for a CPO, it’s often because they’re ready for a change. Change can be hard. And change can be especially hard at the top of the various fiefdoms as every potential change is laden with the calculations of how those changes not only benefit the company, but the careers of the people involved. Bringing a CPO from the outside means their advice is exempt from the usual political fears that come with change from permanent employees. And that means they can make change in an organization much more quickly, efficiently, and collaboratively because they are not building empires, they’re measured solely on doing the heavy lifting of a new CPO.
So given that really great Chief Product Officers are hard to find, want a broad range of responsibilities you may not be able to offer on your own, and that over time great Chief Product Officers build organizations that run without much interference, we believe that bringing on someone who’s not a full-time employee to be your Chief Product Officer is actually a credible solution to a really hard problem (and as we mentioned above there are even advantages). Even now, when we work with clients, we focus on one major client at a time. This is because the heavy lifting of defining a new product, a new set of values, recruiting a team, and delivering that product to customers does require that kind of focus and attention. But over time, the daily interaction required turns more into weekly interaction required. We see our engagements with clients tail off in just that fashion on a regular basis. We think of it as having taught the team to fish, rather than just fed them a single meal no matter how delicious it might be.
And finally, we believe that the world is moving to a new model where full-time vs. contract employment is really a mirage. We’re all temporary. We’re all doing a gig. We’re all here for what Reid Hoffman from LinkedIn calls a “tour of duty” in our jobs. We sign up for a tour, and then hopefully sign up for another.
We at Jackson Fish Market, Jenny Lam and Hillel Cooperman (that’s me), humbly offer ourselves for this purpose. We have a very particular set of skills, and we are ready to be your Chief Product Officer or Chief Design Officer. We only mention this because in effect, this is the work we already do for many of our clients. Perhaps, it’s time you considered having us do it for you.
Photo credit: Patrick Tschudin