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  • JJ Rorie

Building a Healthy Product Culture

Episode 072

Get ready to unravel the true meaning of culture within organizations with our incredible guest, Tatyana Mamut. Tatyana breaks it down for us by highlighting how culture is much more than workplace benefits - it's the environments and structures that leaders establish, shaping what their teams can or can't achieve. So, if your organization isn't hitting the mark, it might be time to consider the top leadership's influence on the culture - a factor you might have overlooked!

As we continue the journey with Tatyana, she enlightens us on the importance of understanding a company's culture when you're eyeing a leadership role. Be prepared to dive deep into self-reflection, as it is crucial to know your values and be open about them during the interview. But, how can you figure out the culture of a company you're yet to join? It turns out, asking questions about past successes, failures, and existing systems can provide a sneak peek into the company's way of life. Whether you're a seasoned leader or an ambitious product manager, this episode is packed with insights and advice to help you navigate and shape your company's culture for the better. Buckle up for a culture ride with Tatyana Mamut - it's one you won't want to miss!



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Episode Transcript:


culture, product, leader, organization, product managers, mechanisms, work, amazing, outcomes, create, teams, company, good, behave, innovation, process, environment, question, understand, humans

Intro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest): 0:03

Welcome to Product Voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources to help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests, or to submit your product management question to be answered on our special q&a episodes. That's all at product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management.

JJ 00:36

Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. I am so excited about my guest today. Tatyana Mamut is just an amazing product leader. And I know you know her well. So I'm not going to go over, you know, the huge bio that she probably deserves. But the truth is, you all know her very well. So thought leader, just an amazing executive. For many years, she's worked at companies like Amazon, and Salesforce, and IDEO, and next door and just really amazing product leader, product thought leader. And I'm excited to spend the next little while with her. Tatyana, thank you so much for joining me.

Tatyana 01:10

Thanks for having me.

JJ 01:12

Yeah, it's gonna be fun. So. So one of the things that you talk about a lot, and I just I love your thoughts on this is culture, and what that means, like culture in product teams and organizations. And you know, how organizations can build healthy cultures and cultures that lend themselves to, you know, successful products and innovation. So, I want to start there, like, just give me your thoughts on your general ideas around culture, you know what it means? And I know that sounds like such a basic question, but it's culture is one of those words that we use a lot, and we throw around a lot, but what does it really mean to an organization? So start there just kind of lay the groundwork for me on? What's a healthy culture look like? What's culture mean to an organization? And then I think that will drive the rest of the conversation.

Tatyana 01:59

Okay, so this is a great question. And something that everybody's talking about, like culture, this culture, that what's a good culture, what's a bad culture, and I really want to take the words good culture and bad culture off the table. Because what's good for one person is bad for another and what's bad for one person is good for another. So like carte blanche, there is no good culture or bad culture, that's the first time.

Tatyana 02:25

So culture is not the kombucha on tap. It's not how many days of vacation you have, it's not whether you work remotely or not, although that does play into it. Culture is what we anthropologist called the field of possibility possibilities that create the environment by which people can do certain things or cannot do certain things. So it's basically the structures that you create as a leader, that create the field of possibilities for what your team can do. That is culture. And why that matters so much, is because in an environment where we work, especially, that field of possibilities that you create, as a leader, create your business outcomes and create the outcomes for how authentic people can be for what kinds of people you attract into your organization, for how collaborative people are, or are not, you know, some cultures are not very collaborative, and they work very, very well like Apple, for example, right? Other cultures need to be more collaborative to work well. So all of those structures that you create, as a leader actually create the field of conditions, so that certain your employees will work a particular way or will not work a particular way that will yield different outcomes. And I can give you an example. So the example I love to bring up in terms of what is culture is if anybody has ever been over the bridge, from Singapore to Malaysia, you will understand what I'm talking about. So on one side, right on the Singapore side, when people are driving in Singapore, everybody follows the rules. They're you know, they drive you know very much by the rules very, very, in a very rational way. As soon as the same driver this very same driver goes over the bridge into Malaysia, they start driving like a madman. Right? Why is that it's the same driver in the same car. It's the cultural context has changed, the cultural field has changed. And people we as human beings are hard wired to respond to the cultural context and do different things in different cultural environments. And great leaders understand this. And great leaders create that cultural context so that their employees and their or teams will behave and get the outcomes that they want.

JJ 05:05

That is fascinating. And I love that example. I was recently in Singapore, but I didn't cross the bridge I should have now I will next time. So, okay, so we leaders will set that conditions. And I love that definition. By the way, it's it's fascinating. And spot on. Like, it's so good. It's not about the ping pong table. It's not, it's not about the days off. Okay, you've got a leader who is needing to, to set reset culture, right? Do you start with the outcomes that you want? And then back into the environment you want to create to make that happen? Or is there some DNA of the organization that you've got to take into account? Like, how would a leader go about that?

Tatyana 05:51

Okay, so, um, yes, so if you if your organization is achieving what you want to achieve, in terms of your business results, in terms of your product outcomes, and in terms of the people, the types of people that you are attracting and retaining, don't change your culture, everything is working just fine. If people are tweeting bad things about you online, or whatever, I worked at Amazon, tons of people tweeted terrible things about Amazon stock price 5x. Lots of people want to work at Amazon, right? Like, not a lot of reasons to change the culture dramatically. Right? Right. Ignore that stuff, right? Everybody's gonna have their own opinions. Lots of people don't like a particular culture, different strokes for different folks. However, if you are not achieving what you want in terms of business outcomes, product outcomes, or the type of hiring, retaining the types of people that you want, you need to first look at, you know, what, what is happening, right? What are those different dynamics that you want to change. And then the number one thing that needs to be changed the way that you create those conditions of possibility within the organization. And the number one lever by which you create culture, is how the top leader behaves.

Tatyana 07:18

So another insight from anthropology is that we as humans, as humans have what we call mimetic consciousness, the number one way in which we learn as human beings as children, is by watching our parents. We watch and we mimic our role models, we watch, and we mimic our authority figures. So if you are the leader, the top leader of an organization, and things are not going the way that you want them to go, first, look within yourself. What are you doing? How are you behaving? And are people mimicking certain things about what you are doing, in a way that's misinterpreting what you're doing, or maybe what you say you want. And what you actually do aren't necessarily aligned all the time, because you can say all all the things that you want, but if your behavior actually reinforces something different, people are going to mimic your behavior, not follow the things that you're saying. So that's the number one thing that you do. And then I have a model, if you go to culture, I have a talk there and a model about how to change culture, How does culture get formed and shaped? So we talked about mimetic consciousness, the behaviors, and especially the behavior of the top leader, but then also the like, you know, as you cascade down, right? Who are the other top leaders in different functions, right? And are they behaving the ways that you want your cultured form? And then also the things that we know the principles outlining, not just your value system, but also what are the operating principles by which your company will function? Right? And then you want to create mechanisms, right? That actually create the systems put the systems in place, so that people don't have to remember how to behave, they automatically need to go through these systems in the company to behave that way. For example, if you're in product, you have a roadmapping process, if that roadmapping processes, every team does it individually, right? That's less collaborative culture that leads to a less collaborative culture. Then if you have a roadmapping process like we did at Salesforce where all the teams have to come together every quarter and share their roadmaps and they get together have input on each other's roadmaps and those types of things. So you want to create mechanisms or systems as well.

JJ 09:50

That's awesome. And we will link to, to that, that talk that you have so that folks can can learn a little bit more for you. Um, so curious about the leader coming in to a new company or interviewing for a new company, I'm gonna start with leader and then we'll we'll go to product managers as well. But let's say a leader is looking for their next opportunity. And they want to know if the culture existing culture in that organization is going to fit their values and really just be a good fit for them. How can an individual who's interviewing for a leadership role understand and what things can they ask and probe about to understand the executive team, the environment, the culture of an organization?

Tatyana 10:40

Yes. So the old philosophical dictum Know thyself, is the most important thing. Yeah, I know who you are first. And again, I do you hear too many people say I want to be in a good culture, or I'm tired of these toxic cultures. But a toxic culture for one person may not be a toxic culture from another one. So be really clearly specific. So for me a toxic culture in terms of how I did it, right. I am really an innovator, you know, are in many ways a rule breaker, I don't do well, with bureaucracy, I don't do well with you know, too many environments in which, you know, the, the how is more important than the what? The way for many people, when they talk about toxic cultures, it's the opposite, right? They want to be in a very nice environment where nobody ever says anything mean, or anything like that, right? I am fine with people even yelling at me, in many cases, as long as they're what is on point, right, as long as they're, they're telling their truth. You know, and they're being honest, that, to me is more important. So first of all, know yourself, and what works for you, and what doesn't work for you. And then what I do, in every first conversation about a job is I am very clear with people about who I am, what I'm good at, and what I am not good at. And in, in every job since IDEO, which that job I interviewed for that job in 2007. I've told every single person who's called me about a job in the very first conversation. I am not a diplomat, if you're looking for someone who will do things gingerly, and with a high degree of diplomacy, I am not your person.

JJ 12:48

I have a question. Did anybody say oh, you know, as probably not going to be a good fit. Thanks for letting me know.

Tatyana 12:54


JJ 12:55

Yes, I love that. Yes.

Tatyana 12:58

They would, like if I had taken that job, I would have been miserable. And, and you know, probably I would have quit or have been fired, and not maintained good relationships, right. The one of the things that I love about my career is that every job I've ever held, I have amazing relationships from that job. Because I was able to be authentically me. Even if it didn't work out for some reason. No, we had to part ways. Everybody knew exactly who I was. Everybody knew that I was being completely authentically me. And if we found out that didn't quite fit, that's fine, because we were all you know, upfront about it. Yeah. So I would say first know who you are, be honest about who you are. Right? And then right, really dig into the things the mechanisms like ask about the mechanisms, right, that peep that the company has in place that actually put the the walk behind the talk that they do. So if they say, Oh, we're really innovative. We love to drive innovation, for example, say, tell me about the last amazing innovation breakthrough that you have. Right? Or if they say we're a company that encourages risk taking and failure, say, tell me about the last big failure that you had? And what happened to that team. Right? Ask them, like when they say something, be really excited. Don't be skeptical. I'd be really excited. And say, tell me more about when that actually happened. The last time that that happened in your organization tells me a story. Yeah. And it's through those stories that you will see. Do you want to be a protagonist in one of those company's stories?

JJ 15:00

I love that that is that's amazing. And I think that digging a little bit is so important because an interview processes on both sides, I think, you know, both both parties are probably trying to put their best foot forward, right? I don't think enough people have the confidence and the self awareness to do what you do, right and say, This is who I am, this is this is what I want. This is you know, what I'm going to bring to the table, it's either gonna fit or it's not right. And so I wish more people would do that, you know, no matter what they were saying to be very transparent, but I don't think that's always the case. So I want to ask very specifically about product managers who are interviewing how, obviously, some of the same advice you would give them right now they know yourself, know what you're looking for, etc. But how do you think they can kind of tease out maybe some of that Leadership, Culture leaders the way that their leaders behave? Because they may not see that in an interview process? Is there anything you can ask of leaders or their teams that may be able to tease out what that culture may be? Be like in the real world day to day?

Tatyana 16:07

Yeah, I mean, I would say, one of the interesting things about interviewing for a product role is that oftentimes, what organizations say they want more innovation, more ownership, more agency for product leaders, are not the ways in which the mechanisms or the system, or at least set up in the company. So you have a disconnect between oftentimes not always, but oftentimes between what the recruiter with the hiring manager says they want and a product leader, and what the actual systems in the company, allow for a product manager to do. Yeah. And so ask about the mechanisms, right? So ask, you know, if there's like, how does, how does roadmapping work? Who gets the final say? Yeah, tell me about the last. I do like that question. Tell me about the last big product innovation that was shipped. And tell me the story. Concretely, how was that idea determined? Who approved that idea? How was that rolled out? Right, basically, who made the decisions around whether to ship an idea, because that's what most product managers really want more of in their career is that real decision making authority to drive the product decisions? And that's what most companies say that they want.

Tatyana 17:40

When you get down to the stories about who makes the decisions, however, right, you can often see a gap. And so in that gap, if you do see a gap, don't necessarily run, right? But say, Hey, I noticed that there's a little bit of a gap between the story of how proactive you want a product manager to be, and the fact that for example, the CEO, or the chief product officer made all the decisions, right in that story. What kind of mechanisms? Are you putting in place to change that? And do you want a product leader to help? Right, to create those new mechanisms? And if I were to do that, how would that be perceived? Now, you'd be taking a little bit of a risk, right? If you were doing that, but it would also potentially make a great story for your nest, even if it doesn't work out.

JJ 18:37

Yeah, absolutely. So I'm curious. The, the mechanisms, the systems, right, that need to be put in place to generate the outcomes, right, and set the kind of conditions and conditions of possibilities, right? How often do healthy teams review those mechanisms? I mean, is it is it just looking at the outcomes? And if they're getting what they want, they're good to go? Or is there they're like a kind of retrospective of the mechanisms because that that's where the rubber meets the road, I would assume, in day to day work, right? And so is there a reflection process or an optimization process that tends to happen in these healthy cultures?

Tatyana 19:22

When I'm the head of product, I really use the annual planning process to reevaluate everything about the organization. So I would say if your chief product officer or a head of product for a fairly large product area or product portfolio, you absolutely should be using your annual planning sort of time and process to be your event reevaluating. You know, is my organization designed correctly? Do I have the right people in the right roles? Do I have the right competencies that are required to take care the organization in the business into to the right level for the next year. And in addition to that, do I have the right mechanism set up in place to help me achieve what I want in the next year? So mechanisms? If you again, in the annual planning cycle, you know, oftentimes you say, well, we're where you need to, like, you know, we're going to expand, for example, into a new market, like that's my a goal that you might set in the annual planning process. Well, you might need a completely new team with completely new mechanisms to actually allow you to do that. And so that's where the natural time for product leaders to reevaluate is that annual planning cycle. In addition, if things aren't working, and relationships are starting to fall apart in an organization, that's often another time, right to really reexamine mid cycle, even if you're not in a annual planning process, whether your mechanisms are set up the right way.

JJ 21:00

Yeah, yeah, I love that. And I think it's it, I asked the question, because I tend to see a little bit of complacency in that area. And maybe it's maybe maybe the healthy cultures in the in the really healthy, you know, culture drivers and leaders don't do that and use that natural cadence. But I tend to see a little bit of complacency when it comes to systems and mechanisms and processes and that sort of thing. So I love the anything we can do to just mirror it to a natural cadence of the organization, it's going to typically help, right? Because if you're throwing another wrench in it, you know, another new planning session or what have you. So they annual processing, or annual planning seems to make a lot of sense there.

JJ 21:44

So I only have one final question for you. And it's a bit general, but but I would love to hear your thoughts on just, you know, product management, innovation, business cultures in the next three years, like, where are we going? Like? That's a huge question. I know. But I mean, there's so many things going on in the macro environment, and and down in the micro environment about you know, where we're going to work and how we're going to work and those sorts of things. Any, like any brilliant thoughts on you know, where do you think organizations and product teams are going to be, you know, over the next few years.

Tatyana 22:19

I'll tell you about a couple of trends that I'm seeing, which are really exciting. And then also somewhat concerning. The first is, so you know, that whole thing where, if you wanted to start a startup, you knew I needed a technical co founder, you no longer need that I am seeing so many amazing startups with one founder, non technical, who has been able to build an amazing MVP product with AI. Yeah, so you can get the design done, you can get the coding generator, you get the app done, you can get everything done, if you're non technical. So the programming skills are no longer a requirement for product leaders to do anything. And then the actual sort of nitty gritty pixel design skills also are not necessarily product leaders, or product managers, the people who understand what humans want, and what will actually create value, or the people who will thrive. Right, if you thought about getting a coding degree, forget it. Like, it's not necessary anymore. You know,

JJ 23:32

Maybe maybe an anthropology degree, maybe an anthropology degree.

Tatyana 23:37

Absolutely. Psychology, anthropology, sociology. Those are the fields that really help you understand the things that AI can't understand what will humans want in the future? And how do we develop that? And then the how do we develop that? Right, the AI can do that as our co-pilots. So that's one thing that I really am excited to see is so many non technical founders now not need a tech, co technical co founder, and raising tons of money, creating an incredible NVB products, because the AI can do that for us. So that's, that's number one. Learn about humans don't learn about the technology, you don't need that.

Tatyana 24:27

And so, you know, that's the big thing. Now the other pieces are as one of the things that we also see is that even as again, a lot of these technical skills as product managers, writing, prioritizing, creating presentations again, those are no longer the skills of the future. The skills of the future are learning how to tap into new knowledge about where is the excitement about, you know what humans are going to want to do. Two years from now, Where's that coming from, because everything is going to be reshaped in the next few years, everything. our relationships, our economy, where we live, the fact that just like having English as your native language isn't necessarily going to be a competitive advantage anymore in the way that it has been for the last 200 years, I mean, fundamental shifts are going to happen. And learning how to tap into where the world is going. Not just by reading things and understanding things, but by going deeper into human needs, human mental models. And then also I think energy fields, and how energy is shifting to different areas of development is going to be a really, really critical area for people to develop.

Tatyana 25:59

And so that is a place that I'm asking everyone to really understand and to evolve themselves into. How do we not just live in the world of knowledge forms and thought forms? But how do we tap into broader energy fields, and understand where the future is going? How the future is evolving? And what are the deeper things underneath the things that we say and the things that we write?

JJ 26:29

Yeah, that's amazing. Wow. Oh, exciting times, no doubt, no doubt. And I knew you would have an amazing answer to that last question. So I'm so excited. I asked it.

JJ 26:41

Tatyana, this has been so much fun. Thank you so, so much for joining me for sharing all of your wisdom listeners, we will certainly link to all of her amazing work. And so you can you know, glean a little bit more from her. But again, thank you so much for joining me on Product Voices. I loved the conversation.

Tatyana 27:00

Thank you for inviting me. It's been fun.

JJ 27:02

Awesome. And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.

Outro (the incomparable Sandra Segrest) 27:08

Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.


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