What it Takes to Become a Chief Product Officer (CPO)

Diya Jolly, CPO at Okta, Shares Her Journey to the C-Suite, Challenges as a Woman in Leadership, and Secrets for Success


In the third event of the series How I Lead - Office Hours with the C-Suite I talked to Diya Jolly Chief Product Officer (CPO) at Okta about the skills needed to succeed at this position, the importance to empower the team to drive product innovation, challenges as a woman in leadership.


You can watch the full event organized by the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Silicon valley here.

How to Become a Chief Product Officer in Tech
How to Become a Chief Product Officer in Tech

Diya's interview was very insightful as she responded to many questions from the audience regarding career, change, stepping into management positions in big tech versus start-ups, and how she evolved as a product manager in various B2C and B2B roles at Google, FreeWheel, and Okta.


Here are the 3 key takeaways that were more valuable for me:


Optimize For Experience, Not For Titles


When sharing the skills that helped to achieve the C-suite, Diya mentioned that the product management foundation that she got from hardware and B2B and B2C software and platform organizations was key to her career progress.


Managing stakeholders, and not taking 'no' for an answer while developing leadership skills also helped her career progress. She mentioned that being eager to learn and choose opportunities that will allow you to grow while cultivating sponsors that will help to amplify the great work you are doing in the organization is also important to move up the corporate ladder.


Diya emphasized that you should optimize for experience, not for titles. In her own words:

The title is meaningless, especially in the Bay Area

Is a senior product manager at a start-up or at Cisco better than a product manager at Amazon? There's no way to really compare that.


Understand the Organization's Culture and Team's Dynamics Before Joining


Diya mentioned that there's no good or bad culture. Everyone should try to understand what are your priorities and look for a culture with values that align with those. For example, if you prioritize collaboration, innovation, and growth you should look for organizations whose cultures are aligned with those.


She mentioned her experience at Google, which has a bottoms-up culture that drives innovation. When moving to Okta she had to adapt to the culture that has top-down decisions and align the expectations with her team.


Although this culture was different from what she has experienced before, it was still aligned with her core values, thus adapting has been part of her growth process


When looking for a new role you should ask about the company's culture same way that recruiters review candidates' references during the hiring process.


Experiencing the organization's culture increases the sense of belonging and fosters collaboration. As the future of work seems to be moving towards a hybrid model, Diya mentioned that organizations need to find ways to keep the culture alive, otherwise employees may feel that they are freelancers instead of part of a team. Some companies have been able to succeed at keeping a strong culture with the remote or hybrid model, but there's no formula on how to make this work yet.


Embrace Failure, So You Can Succeed


Diya has prioritized growth opportunities throughout her career and she advises that if you decelerate the progress, it may be time to look for other opportunities.


She mentions that people need to be OK with failure in order to succeed. If you are not failing, you're not doing something hard enough and you are not growing. You can't let the failure define you, it's just a consequence of trying something really hard.


Having a framework for decision-making, helps you to move forward fast, without overthinking. Diya's framework is growth, impact, and people. If the opportunity or decision in front of her is aligned with that, she goes for it and moves on.


When asked about moving from B2B Product Management to B2C, Diya suggests that you show value to the organization before even applying for roles. In her words:

Write a five-page paper and send it to the team saying - here are the key things that I would do if I was the product manager for this product
 

In a recession scenario Diya believes that the B2B areas in tech-related to cybersecurity and infrastructure to generate more innovation like AWS, and Google Cloud will have a better chance to prosper than faded trends in B2C, especially products that haven't been proven yet.

 

This was a very interactive event, I suggest you watch the video to grasp all details of the conversations and all the precious advice provided by Diya.


In case you missed the recap of the previous How I Lead - Office Hours with the C-Suite, check out the posts:

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