In Sync: How to manage team morale when you are changing the direction of a project
This week, In Sync interviewed Randi Eichenbaum, Director of Product at Tradesy. While participating in the Level Up 90 program for her first 90 days, Randi took on management of a brand new team. Within the first two months, she was already taking more responsibility and negotiating a promotion. We got an inside look at how she recently managed a major change in direction for a project her engineering team was working on. She walked us through the challenges of communicating the new initiative, and ensuring the team kept up morale.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
“I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to school for my BA in journalism at The University of Arizona. I moved to New York right after college to pursue a career in publishing. My dream was to work for Vogue as a Fashion Features Editor and cover the runway shows.
I did some interning at Conde Nast in the fashion closet - yes, it was like Devil Wears Prada - and then got a gig at NYMAG.com. It was there that I started as a web producer, owning the entire operations of producing online runway photo galleries for their fashion vertical, the Cut. Content packaging, re-circulation, and promotion were things I had to be thinking about constantly, and were my entry points to an Associate Product Manager role there.
I eventually moved back to Conde Nast - first as a Senior Product Manager and then a Director of Product - where I got to work with some of the luminaries I had looked up to during my journalism education, and think about the future and digital extensions of Conde Nast’s brands.
Just this year though, I decided in order to really grow in my career in product, I needed to get experience in a different industry. I moved back to the West Coast, and am currently the Director of Product at Tradesy, a peer-to-peer marketplace, focused on luxury designer resale.”
We talked about one of the major challenges of management: ensuring team morale is high as you navigate the changing business needs of the company. You recently had an instance where you needed to manage a major change to a project mid-stream. Can you tell us about what happened?
With the objective of retaining our first-time buyers, our team spent a couple of months designing and building out an onboarding experience in which we were capturing key data preferences about our users, in order to make personalized recommendations.
As we worked through the feature, however, it was starting to become apparent that there were core site usability issues that really should be tackled first (i.e. filtering) - before jumping into personalization. My manager and the CEO strongly agreed.
Making the decision to pause work on an initiative that I had felt passionately about, and the team had been working hard on was hard to stomach, even though I knew it was the right business decision.
Surfacing that decision to the team, and ensuring that morale wasn’t being impacted and that I hadn’t destroyed the trust I had worked to build with the team was going to be tough.
Can you talk a little bit about how you guided your team through the transition to the new initiative?
“I used my toolbox for communication, and put together a deck that clearly articulated the shift in the strategy and the business rationale behind it, and presented it to the team. I outlined the primary needs of our customer base, how they are shopping on our platform today, what current features drive conversion and retention today, and where we have room to grow.
I think this went a long way in giving them the understanding and all of the information needed behind why I was making the decision I was making. If I could go back in time, however, I definitely would have pulled in Engineering Managers in first, before conveying the message to the entire team. Getting them brought in early and bought in would have gone a long way.”
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