Harnessing Imposter Syndrome in Product Management
Sophie Lalonde: "And we're hard on ourselves and PMs, in particular, just, we're the hardest critic than ourselves. And so it's more of an internal versus external impostor syndrome. And the reason why I think there's a few reasons that PMs in particular, have impostor syndrome. And the first is, we're just perfectionist, like we want to improve we love. We love growth, right? We're just trying to constantly be better. And so it feels uncomfortable to not know the right thing to do, especially when we're ramping up in a job. So a lot of this, the content that I wrote about is how to be patient while here and reframe the thinking around impostor syndrome when you start a job. "
impostor syndrome, people, product, pm, customers, trust, ramped, folks, job, feel, points, improve, talking, important, peers, questions, good, podcast, customer lifetime value
Intro (the phenomenal Sandra Segrest - if you need a voice actor, she's the one) 00:03
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 voices.com. And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.
Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. You know impostor syndrome is one of those things we hear a lot about in product management and tech. It's when a person doubts themselves or feels that they don't quite belong or deserve the place that they're in their job. For example, I'm excited about this conversation today, because my guest has a unique take on impostor syndrome and one that frankly, I find quite healthy and productive. So I'm excited to learn more about this. Sophie Lalonde is Group Product Manager at productboard. She has a unique point of view when it comes to product as she began her career in venture capital and management consulting at Bain, helping entrepreneurs strategize, building products to different industries. And then was the first ever gm of churn at box where she was responsible for 100 million SMBs. Sophie, thank you for joining me.
Thanks, JJ. I am a real podcast nerd. So I'm happy to be on.
I love it. I love it. Okay, so let's start with just kind of laying the groundwork impostor syndrome seems to impact folks in product management quite often. And I know there's this like campaign around us to, you know, stop talking about impostor syndrome so much. But I think that your take on it is really interesting. So I'm excited that we're talking about it. But first and foremost, why do you think it's such a prevalent thing in our product management world?
Sure. So I'm glad that you brought up the caveat, because I think this idea of canceling imposter syndrome is really interesting. And so the first thing that I would say is, there's a difference between imposter syndrome that is caused by external forces, like a leader in a company making a statement that doesn't make you feel welcome like that just, it's not great. All leaders across the board shouldn't have safe spaces for people to try to learn to succeed, to fail to learn, etc. But then there's this other part of impostor syndrome that even if there's a safe place, it's just it's going to be there. Because we doubt ourselves. And we're hard on ourselves and PMs, in particular, just, we're the hardest critic than ourselves. And so it's more of an internal versus external impostor syndrome. And the reason why I think there's a few a few reasons that PMs in particular, have impostor syndrome. And the first is, we're just perfectionist, like we want to improve we love. We love growth, right? We're just trying to constantly be better. And so it feels uncomfortable to not know the right thing to do, especially when we're ramping up in a job. So a lot of this, the content that I wrote about is how to be patient while here and reframe the thinking around impostor syndrome when you start a job. But then the second reason is because PM is a weird role, there's not that many people that come into product management, just straight out of college. In fact, I didn't know what product management was, when I went to college, it feels like people will have a third of like the pm stack that you need, right? They might have the strategy and the analytics, but they don't necessarily have the technical, or they have the technical, but they don't know how to talk to go to market. And so I feel like there's always people coming into this in this function, that don't have the entire tech stack and feel uncomfortable that they don't, even though it's just something that you build over time. So I think that's what really contributes to the internal causes of imposter syndrome.
Yeah, that really resonates with me, I think you're spot on. I think it's just so easy to not feel as if we're quite prepared no matter where we come from, or what our roles were before. So that makes a lot of sense. So as I mentioned, I love the way that you look at imposter syndrome and how it can actually be a good thing or at least something that we can harness and use to our advantage. So tell me more about your thinking on that.
Sure. So I love a reframe like, You got to sometimes just rewire your brain and the way that you look at things. And for impostor syndrome in particular, there's there's a silver lining, and that silver lining is that because you don't feel ramped up because you don't feel like you're up to par, you're gonna care more, you're going to be more curious, you're going to be searching for more data points, you actually might not even go into something saying, you know, this is my gut feeling, you're actually going to look for those data points to bottoms up to really give you that idea of what you should be recommending. And most importantly, like you, you're not gonna have the ego or think that you're always right, you're gonna have a different perspective. And, and I think that that is something that's always welcome to the table. And so you just have to make that flip in your mind from, I'm not sure I know, everything that I'm doing to, I have a fresh and different perspective than the other folks here. And that is welcomed. And I want to show that.
So So you have written an article on this. And so I'm going to be taking some, some things from that and having you kind of expand on them. And for the listeners, we'll link to that article as well. So you can read that from Sophie. So, so let's dig into to each kind of area of of this and how these can bring some some positive things out of imposter syndrome. So the first one is bring a fresh perspective to product discovery. Let's talk about that. Tell me more about that.
Yeah, let me tell you like a quick story about that one, right? You come into these formed teams, right? I remember when I joined my team at box, they were incredible. Every every person on that team was so good. And I came in and they'd already formed their opinion, they thought, you know, we really need to change the way that we have the cancel flow to help retain more more customers. I was like, is that true? I'm not really sure if that's true, but I could accept that. I felt like they were amazing. And they weren't. But I just kind of looked a little bit more at the data. I thought, you know, I feel like, I'm not sure yet I need to essentially get to the same place that they did in my own in my own way. And when I started to look at the data I saw Oh, like, Yeah, I think maybe perhaps my perspective is right. Actually, the customers earlier user experience has more impact on retention than trying to save them during the cancel flow or offering them you know, a free month. And then it got even more, you know, Angular than that, where it was actually the first seven days that made or break the customer lifetime value, which means it was the very first seven years of onboarding. So if I had just, you know, almost all the things are the the box seems right on, but they just weren't necessarily right on this one. And bringing my fresh perspective, thinking about in a different way ended up really increasing the customer lifetime value of our 100 million dollar book of business, which was great.
I love that story. And I think it's so important for folks starting in a new in a new role or with a new company, that to realize that to realize that, yes, you know, the people around them may know more about, you know, the product or the internal processes or the industry or whatever. But you are bringing that beginner's mind in and that is incredibly valuable. And so I love your take on that, I think it's really important for us to, to embrace that and say, Yeah, I may have some doubts in my mind, that I know as much as as the people around me. But that can be a good thing. So I think that's a really, really important one. That's awesome. And I love that story. Okay, so the next one that you've you've talked about, is let curiosity guide your interactions with your community. Tell me more about that one.
Sure. So the more ramped up, we get, we're all at, man, we all do this, the more ramped up, you get into subject matter, you tend to talk to your customers slightly less, you start to feel like you have a good pulse on customers. This is actually a great exam, like great reminder for me to not do that in the next few weeks. Because I'm trying to think of new ways to bring our customer board product board to life. But when you first come in, if you don't feel confident, if you feel like you aren't necessarily sure you're looking for those data points. And so those data points of many times can be the customer conversations. And I tend to see that new product managers are always talking to customers more than the existing ones, because they're trying to get more data points. So don't make an assumption that the person that's ramped up beside you has been talking to a ton of customers in the past two weeks, like maybe they haven't maybe you're the new the new eyes and ears. And so you're going to be more curious because you need those data points and then also use those data points to inform the team what you're seeing. So I think for for us, we have a community that's really A great to use. Scott Baldwin leads it up. And it's like, let's just talk to people through this. I also will always ask the sales and CS teams like, Hey, what are some conversations with customers that are emerging that weren't necessarily the same things they're asking about six months ago? Right? So trying to find and get ahead of those new customer trends that perhaps everyone else in the team isn't thinking about?
Yeah, it's a great point that you could use when you're new to a team or an environment. But that, to your point, don't get complacent, you know, when you've been there six months, a year, two years, what have you, because that's what happens so often is that we believe we know the answers, or we believe we, we have all of the information we need. And we stop being curious, we stop asking those questions. And so again, you know, folks that have been in a role for a while still have impostor syndrome, and they still have doubts about their ability and to, to leverage that and combat that almost with curiosity and constant, asking of questions and being in touch with your community. I think that's a really great point.
I couldn't agree more, I just had somebody on my team come up to me and say, Hey, I think that there's a new job to be done. And it was just because she had been talking to the customers more than me, right? Like, she brought somebody in to the Vancouver office, we got to all sit and listen. And she was like, I've actually been hearing this, you know, six times. And I think that this is not a job to be done that we considered when we were building the product, and that that's massively helpful to me, right? Because I can now say, Okay, how do we solve for that, right. And so, I think that's the other tip is try to not make it solutions based. Because the thing is about solutions versus people will always give you advice on solutions, or how to fix or make incremental changes. So if I'm the person that's been here for two and a half years, I know everything that people have been asking for to improve the current functionality. What I don't know is like the jobs to be done that we're not solving. So think of all the people that we miss from getting them into our pipeline, because we're not serving specific jobs to be done. Think about all the people that they come to our website, but then they don't actually go into the trial, because it just doesn't look like we're really going to solve their needs. And then same thing that goes with trial to conversion. And so you start to think about this, and it's less about the features. And it's more than just, oh, they really wanted to do capacity planning and product board. And it doesn't seem like that's really what we're trying to solve for. So focus on the problems for your customers, not the solutions, because the people that have been there longer will understand the solutions better, but sometimes they don't they need a refresher on the problems.
I love that advice. Okay, so let's move to another one. And this one really piques my interest. Tell me more about what you mean, when you say help the product team form the right processes.
Sure. So I mean, outcomes over process. But there are just times where you're sitting there and you're thinking, this information is not getting cascaded in a way that makes sense. And I don't have the information and my peers on the right information to get their jobs done well. And so I think, you know, a really good example that I've seen recently is we went to go do a launch. And one of the PMs in Prague asked us how do I launch this, and at the time, we only had a few PMS, we kind of figured it out in our own way. And we had just reached that critical scale where you can no longer do that we were about to hire 10, more PMS, we needed a process. And so I felt, I could tell he was quite uncomfortable saying I'm not sure how to do this. But after that the output was that we put together an entire checklist for launch. And we use it to this day, every single one of us. And so don't be afraid to ask these questions. If I'm not sure how we do this. Just follow up on that and say, okay, because I wasn't sure now we're going to make that process and you have to be okay with owning that process or that change if you don't see it. I also see this happen all the time with onboarding. If you don't refresh your onboarding for a year somebody comes in, and they're like, I don't think that was great. Well, guess what, now you have to do it. So the thing is, is I would say, make sure you find the processes that you care enough about that you're willing to lead, because that will be seen as quite helpful to the organization.
So maybe tied to that. But the next one that I think is really interesting is that you say not to be afraid to enlist the help of your peers, right? So kind of in the same line of you know, don't be afraid to ask questions when you have them or help if you have some, some advice tell me kind of the context they are. Don't be afraid to enlist the help of your peers.
When you think about your peers, you think about people that are Every six months when they go in for their reviews, they're not reviewing you are hearing information about, you're putting input into your performance, right? So we're truly talking about people that it's a safe space. And I think we tend to not as PMS, we talk about dependencies between our teams, but we don't necessarily just jam out on, hey, like, how do we do discovery better together? Right, we're, we're very time poor in the job. And so we spend quite a bit of the time trying to make sure that all of our other teams are working well together. But in reality, the thing is, is that you can leverage your peers in so many different ways. So what I usually tell folks is, think about the two things that you're bad at that you want to improve. And the two things that you're a rockstar at and how you can teach other people. Now, the being a rock star, this is really important, especially when you have impostor syndrome, because you need to showcase what you're good at. And it'll make you feel better, too. If you teach somebody how to do something, you'll immediately feel more competent, I promise you. And so just doing that, and then making sure that those people are inputs to your performance and tell folks that you've been doing this, this is really important. At the same time, you want to be working on the two things that you are bad at and need to improve that. And by the way, there's some things that you're going to be not that great at that. And that's okay, you have to just identify the ones that you want to have the biggest delta and change, and you need to go and find people that can help improve that skill set. And when it comes to your performance review, make sure that the people that you know, help you helped along the way, tell you know that your performance managers, but then at the same time showcase that you found the areas that you need to to improve yourself and that you made your own action path. And here's how you've gotten better. Because at the end of the day improvement is what every product leaders looking for, like that's really what they're looking for. And this self intelligence of knowing where you're at and diagnosing where you're at, and where you need to be and how you need to get there, like that is managing up that's that that is you know, just being able to manage yourself, I guess, practically. And it's going to come across quite strongly.
Yeah, that's such an important advice. And I really think it's important for folks who tend to be a little higher level. So maybe they're a senior manager or above. And they're getting to the point where they're comfortable teaching some of the things that they're rockstars at, right. And I couldn't agree more in terms of the confidence level it brings when you when you teach someone, you actually learn a lot about something when you cheat someone to so you're just improving your own knowledge base. But what happens, at least in my experience is that you you have someone who is comfortable in some areas, and they they tend to be even, you know, more afraid to say I don't know this. And so I need to go learn this, right. And so it's almost this manifest destiny of, of, you know, they, they don't want to admit they have impostor syndrome, so then they don't learn something so they don't improve themselves. So they have more doubt. And so I think there's this balance of folks who, you know, know, they're new enough to to be okay asking, and then you hit this kind of this threshold, where if you, you know, sometimes don't want to ask for help. And so I think that's really important advice. For those of us out there who maybe were not new in our career, but we still know we have those things to learn and to be okay with asking for help on those things.
Right. I mean, look, our careers change almost every two years. Yeah. And so of course, there's going to be new skill sets that you need. And for example, when I was a senior pm, I was good at cascading information in that role. And then I became a group PM. And it was very strange to have to grade myself graded myself at like maybe a C on it. But it was so strange because the skill set that I needed as a senior pm to cascade information was so different. And so I had to sit back and say you know at Jyotsna is the best that I know at this. I don't think I'm I'm succeeding. How can I ask enlist her help and ask her what to do to try to get myself at least from a C to a B plus. And that's hard. I was in a at it when I was a senior PM. So our jobs change all the time. And actually having a little bit of impossibly having a little bit of, I'm not sure if I'm doing this right, is good for growth like that, that and you can't just stop this doesn't just pertain to folks in you know, entry level, you constantly need to have that growth mindset and see where you can make that improvement.
Yeah, absolutely. So, final one in how we can harness impostor syndrome is trust yourself and tell me How do you coach people and can help people realize how they can build that trust in themselves? Right? So if you if you're kind of in the midst of believing that you may not deserve to be where you are, how can you kind of force yourself and really, you know, harness the strength and the ability to trust yourself?
Sure, so So the first is just to observe, I in business school, I came into business school, probably my lowest confidence level. And I remember, we, I would have these questions, and I would kind of write them down. And then I would see if anyone asked that, because I was so scared that they're dumb questions. And over time, I realized that people were asking that, I wish I trusted myself more, I wish that I thought, you know, I'm on equal footing as all these people. And I think what it took me to start trusting myself is to realize how hard I was on myself. So we did this other activity, where I hadn't even we talked about internal versus external forced imposter syndrome. I hadn't met any of my peers yet. And we had to rank ourselves on how good we were at certain activities before we went to school. And I've ranked myself in the bottom 5% of almost every single activity. Isn't that insane? And I thought to myself, Oh, I'm not in the bottom 5% of most of these, like, you know, maybe 5% of them. But gosh, like, how could I have been that hard on myself. And it was very, very eye opening time for me to have that safe space to start thinking, you know, that wasn't your peers, like your peers, you didn't even know that was yourself. And I think as I started to put myself out there, I started to trust myself more. So it's kind of a chicken in the egg, but you have to like test out your limits before. Like, that builds the trust in yourself, you have to like, kind of put your foot you know, maybe your toe in the ocean, and then your foot and then your ankle, and then like dive in, right. So it just takes some time. But noticing the symbols of what might actually make you not trust yourself is really good. So another time that I was very low confidence was when I was trying to change industries. And I started to realize, like what triggers me to start not having trust in myself. And I realized this when I don't understand what people are talking about. And so lingo has always been one of the hardest ones for me, you, you actually get into companies like product board that have even just you know, the Czech Republic versus United States, the sayings like that causes some some friction, cuz you're not really sure what people are saying. And so I always tell people, like don't be scared by these things, like by lingo by all this stuff, because it isn't the crux of the content, or what you're actually trying to get through, and you will learn these things. So a great example is Trent like, you know, when you have to conjugate words, you know, you get there, it's just like, it takes some time. And so did I know it b2b SaaS meant like, no, I really didn't. Did I know what all of these, you know, acronyms word? No. But it comes with time. And really what you have to focus on is, what are the skill sets that I need to be good at something? And do I have? Those are the things I'm interested in improving? Like, you can't get too stuck on this lingo or differences, you just have to figure out what is core about whatever new endeavor thing that I'm trying to do? And like, is that a good match for me? If so, I trust myself to have that ramp up period. Like I trust myself to go and try something new, and not really know what I'm doing for three months. And the most interesting case studies to me, are people that just can go and start new jobs and start new consulting cases all the time, and they don't feel stress. They're kind to themselves, they know they're not going to know everything. And they make sure that they aren't too hard on themselves. So I think to summarize, like with the trust yourself, one, don't be that hard on yourself. And then to trial and error, just find small ways to try it and medium wise, then larger ways.
I really appreciate what you said about kind of finding the triggers, what are the things that you that you identify as the things that make you doubt yourself, and then work on those? I think that's, that's a really great example and a great point. And one of the things I've loved about this conversation is that and frankly, learning from from folks like you is, is the intentionality that you have. You're You're quite intentional, and I'm sure like everybody else you you know, you know, missed the boat from time to time, but you're very intentional about the way you approach things and the way that you, you learn and you move forward. And I think that's a lesson for all of us is that, you know, we're never going to No at all. But if we can be intentional in the way that we approach things and the way that we, you know, give ourselves grace, I think that's a really important lesson for all of us. So, so this has been amazing. I've loved the conversation. Final question for you is in addition to your resource, which again, we will link to the show notes into product voices.com. So you can read the article and get more detail. But in addition to resources, you've created yourself, what have you found valuable other people's resources, other, you know, communities, people to follow books, etc, etc. You know, anything that you found valuable as you've navigated your career, and frankly, found your way to having such a healthy, unique perspective on things like impostor syndrome?
Sure, so I think the first thing is, don't be shy to read those like self help books about confidence about you know, individuality. I think those are all great. There's a whole I'm so excited for the next generation. Like they're so confident and, man, it's so cool. There's tick tock personalities like Tinks like there's like tick tock personalities that teach people how to be more confident and how to go into the workplace. So like, really, you can find this stuff anywhere. But then the other thing that I think is just so key, in order to not feel like you don't know what you're talking about, just buy a book about the lingo. Like just, you know, even if it's just crypto for Dummies, I promise you, you'll feel so much so much better. And I know I am on a podcast, but the best way to get information is always podcasts, they're incredible, people are gonna be a little bit more raw and unfiltered, you're gonna see what they care about. So, you know, whenever you're trying to say you're trying to get into venture capital, one of the hardest places to get into, like, just getting into venture, just search that in podcast, see what you see where you get, like, you're gonna see how so many people before you failed before you got there. And then you can kind of take those lessons or even just Googling it, you'll be shocked. Somebody has made a Google sheet of, you know, all of the different VC funds and whether or not they accept interns, you know, things like that. Just be really curious and resourceful, just like you would if you know, you have impostor syndrome. These are things that if you're overconfident, you're probably not doing right. You're just like, oh, no, I, I know that this is the way to do it. No, nobody knows the way that you have to do things, right. So we have to crowdsource those ideas.
Great advice. I love it. Sophie Lalonde, thank you so much for joining me on this episode of product voices and for sharing your insights and your experiences.
Of course. Thanks for having me on.
And thank you all for joining us on product voices. Hope to see on the next episode.
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 product voices.com And be sure to subscribe to the po
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