How do you retain good talent, especially when Product Marketing role are in such high demand across the industry
I think you have to remember that people typically stay with an organization when 5 things exist:
- A great culture that they believe in
- Sticky relationships with their peers
- Good pay & benefits
- They're appreciated and can see how they can grow their careers
- Good work/life balance
Focusing on balancing those 5 things and keeping your finger on the pulse of them is key to retaining great talent. If one or more of these aren't addressed, it can be really challenging for your team to want to stay and for you to keep them.
That's an especially important question for PMM leaders today. There are a few key components to pay attention to:
First is to ensure your people are being paid fairly. This means always keeping an eye on the market rate for people on your team and whether they are below, above, or in the middle range for the base pay. At larger companies, your HR team will be able to provide that, but at smaller companies and startups, you'll have to do some research using third-party sites like Glassdoor, Salary.com, Payscale.com, and others. If you spot someone on your team that may be below the average for the current salary you want to take action sooner than later. In some cases, you may not be able to do much (e.g., no budget, outside your normal pay raise cycle, etc.), and that's why the other two elements are super important and, I would argue, more important than the pay.
Work is looking at what your team is responsible for and their current projects. If you have someone that is a high performer and you are worried they might leave, one lever you have to use is looking at the overall scope of work they have and their level of satisfaction. Are they enjoying the work? Do they find it meaningful? Are there other projects they could work on that might keep them engaged or that provide them with a unique skillset that will be difficult to acquire at another company?
Growth is looking at whether you are helping this person grow in their career. For example, can you give them stretch assignments and projects outside their comfort zones and help them think differently? Are you providing them with opportunities for learning and development?
But the best way to keep good talent is to make sure you are thinking about the elements above way before someone tells you they are not happy or got a job offer. As a manager, you have to constantly keep this in mind. When you have 1:1 meetings with your team, you have to ask them about those things (are you happy here? do you feel like I am giving you exciting projects? have you considered leaving the company? why?).
There will always be another company offering higher salary and more perks and benefits. As long as your company is able to provide comparable compensation, it is up to you to make sure the work your team does is what keeps them working with you.
Let me ask you a question: What are the top 3 reasons people join, stay or leave companies?
- Company (culture, potential, growth)
- Job (fit, growth potential and salary)
- Manager (leadership qualities, chemistry, trust, etc.)
The first is mostly not in your control. You are limited in what you can control on the second. This leaves you with the third, which is frankly the only thing you can control in its entirety.
So my advice for you is to focus on what you can control and don’t worry about the rest.
Many studies have shown that when all else is equal (or even less than equal), employees will join/stay at a company because they like their manager and want to work with them. The same is also true for exits, a lot of employees leave just because of their managers, even when the company is doing good. I am sure you may have experienced this in your own careers.
Let's all work towards being the best managers and team members, not just to attract/retain great talent, but also because it is the right thing to do.
(PS: read my other answers for some advice on how to be a good manager)
Retaining good talent for high demand roles in a competitive market is, obviously, tough. But I think it's also easy to overthink it. Not to oversimplify, but two things I always try to keep in mind are:
- Continuously providing new opportunities: It's easy to get stuck in a rut if you feel you've been "assigned" to support a specific product or product area and all you do is manage launches and releases. There is so much more to the commercialization of product straetgy (which is how I would define product marketing in a nutshell). Giving your PMMs a chance to go deep on things like pricing strategy, market research, branding and naming exercises, and even seemingly negative things like sunsetting a product or facilitating a sticky change management release—these are all ways to keep the work interesting.
- Make them feel valued: This is (hopefully) obvious, but it's so incredibly important. Oftentimes I feel that Product Marketing can be a thankless job. In some ways, once you get past the initial straetgy building aspect, our role is to ensure that nothing goes wrong with the release. Finding ways to celebrate the seemingly little moments and efforts is important. Call out when your PMM finds a way to communicate a partciularly tricky release in an understandable way, or when they propose a name or word choice change that aligns better with the product value or user experience.
I focus on the fundamentals:
1. Opportunity - how does each person on the team have opportunity to grow?
2. Appreciation - so many ways to show appreciation, big and small
3. Prioritize the person - work is work, life is bigger. walk the walk on making it work for them to prioritize their life, whether that's encouraging a vacation when you suspect burnout, ensuring they feel safe to take time for family when / how needed, celebrating their milestones, understanding how life events impact them, etc.
And a happy hour or two never hurt ;)
But the bonus comment is - realize that it's a small world too. I once bragged about how I went through a number of years without any attrition; which felt great to be sure. but I've also realized there's reason to celebrate when someone on my team has grown and gotten a cool new role - even when that's somewhere else. And by celebrating that with them, supporting them in that growth.... and staying in touch, I keep my hiring network intact for the future.
The best way to retain talent is to create an environment where your PMM team is supported, trusted, and valued.
You do this by being a strong leader that adds value to the organization and is known for delivering results. People who are known for delivering often get bigger budgets (which means you can pay your people more) and get to expand their teams (which means you can create new opporunties for people in your organization).
The best quote I ever read on leadership is from the co-founder of Rackspace, Graham Weston.
"What eveyone wants from work is to be a valued member of a winning team on an inspiring mission"
So if you're a leader whose team:
- Feels valued (and this value can be felt from other teams like Sales and Product who understand the impact of PMM in addition to you)
- Feels that their winning (either in a strong growth segment, leaders in your category, or a team that's killing it in your org)
- Feels inspired by the mission (either from your organizational or team mission)
There is a good chance you can retain good people.
That said, even the best managers lose people. At some point, people need to embrace new challenges and we need to be open to the idea that this happens.
And that's a good thing. We should be proud when those that work for us grow. That makes us the type of leaders that help people accelerate in their careers. Working for a game-changing manager like this is highly attractive to anyone.
There’s definitely core management competencies you have to focus on that are true of any role which I won’t go into (e.g. developing your people, advocating for them and backing them up, etc.). But I think something we as product marketing leaders need to focus on is making the job exciting and fulfilling. Oftentimes at meetups or conferences — back when those were a thing — you’ll hear a lot of familiar questions:
- How do I influence the product roadmap?
- How do I get out of a reactive position where I’m just constantly launching features all the time?
- How do I get our customers to care about our launches?
As function leaders, it’s our job to make sure our team doesn’t get so focused on “doing the work, and doing it well” that we don’t make sure that we’re working on the right things and with the right prioritization — including saying no to some things so there’s time/resources for the important stuff! It’s important for us to stay maniacally focused on actually answering those questions above when they pop up rather than viewing them as out of our control or as important but something we don’t have time for. Product marketing is honestly such a magical specialty when you’re able to create the space to do it in a more strategic and meaningful way; if we can unlock that magic for our teams, it’s much easier to keep good people.
Having a culture of openness and transparency across the team. Strong support in the development and alignment with each individual PMMs career & skill development roadmap. Finally, you offer interesting and stretching projectsthat spike passions and, as a manager, give your team the guardrails to operate and then, get out of their way!
Retention is a hard topic and I personally think a healthy amount of rotation across different companies and roles is critical to develop a robust PMM skillset, so I have that in mind when I think about the team's I've managed and how to provide them with what they need to feel motivated and continue to progress in their career. A couple of things I focus on:
1) Scope breadth and complexity - People want to continue to grow and feel they have incremental impact in their roles. I make sure I work with PMMs to design a scope that balances their strengths and areas of opportunity, and where they can continue to grow over time. This can mean things like covering a bigger area of the business, focusing on specific product areas they are passionate about, having the ability to mentor others, more exposure internally, or eventually finding a path to manage teams.
2) Respect as an individual - I do not believe in micro-management and respect people and their boundaries. In an ideal scenario, I focus on providing strategy and direction and guidance on what to do next to achieve our objectives, and let people run on their own, with some consistent check-points on where things are at and creating an open space where people can feel space to ask me questions if/when needed.
3) Coaching - I am open to teaching folks how to do things based on frameworks and/or my previous experience and I dedicate time during my week to coach, regardless of the seniority of the person I manage. I also love this dynamic with my managers, to ensure that I'm continuing to learn and I get a different perspective to feed into how I make decisions and do my work.
3) Building a team culture they love and feel connected with: Culture is one of the most important aspects of loving a team and a company and has a huge impact on retention. Building a culture where people feel they belong is one of my top priorities, in particular as a BIPOC in Tech Marketing - and not only for the team's I manage but for the broader team's I'm in. I have been too often in spaces where I don't feel I'm valued, I feel judged, or where I can't connect with others comfortably can connect and this, on top of managers, are the two main reasons why I've decided to leave teams and/or jobs in the past.
“People don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad managers” is the adage a lot of folks toss around. I’m not dusting off any “World’s Best Boss” trophies on my mantle, but from feedback from my team, I know that they appreciate when I do the following:
- Celebrate wins. Acknowledge & mitigate losses. Discuss what was learned. Trust and empower to deliver a better outcome the next time.
- Give due credit for hard work done well.
- Help set priorities.
- Over-communicate, especially in terms of broader business context.
- Have very real, action-oriented career conversations (pssst . . . free template alert: https://coda.io/@they-win-you-win/career-conversations-tool), and advocate for their growth, advancement, and overall autonomy & agency at work
- Discuss what work is exciting & empowering, and what work is a slog—often, and then align to passions and opportunities
- Understand that every single person on your team experiences work in the dimensions of “I” (me at work), “We” (my team at work), and “It” (my company, its culture, and its goals); if this triumvirate feels imbalanced, understand why
Retaining talent is one of those things that has no magic bullet. I believe keeping talent, begins with hiring the right talent in the first place. Obviously you need to be hiring for someone who aligns with your company culture, mission and is talented and make sure you pay them well, give them good benefits, have growth opportunities and all that... but someone else can cover off on hiring for culture.
For me, when hiring a team, I looked for people who not only met the ability to do the functional product marketing day-to-days, but also how they would fit within the team dynamics. My team had a rockstar (someone stable, capable, and will stay in for the long haul as long as they're supported), someone status-quo, and two open reqs. I knew I needed another rockstar to give the team a firm foundation, but I also needed someone to really propel a few projects forward quickly. So I hired my superstar. I'm fully aware that I'm going to get 18-24 months out of her, but those will be full of highly productive, stellar work that pushes the team forward. As anticipated, hiring people with grit made the status-quo team member bow out, giving me the opportunity to find my next rockstar to round out the team. *IF* I end up finding a super star in the process, I'm not going to shy away from having two on the team of four, we've got a lot of work to do. Attrition is a part of tech. You can be the best boss, best company, best team, and still people are going to want to move on eventually.