For product teams to create services and solutions that excite our customers, we must have a solid grasp of the problems they face. But it’s not just about understanding the problem – the next step is to truly understand why it is a problem. If a person or a team cares about the issues facing their customers, then they are more likely to make better, more creative decisions about how to build and maintain excellent solutions that excite their customer.
Leaders within technology companies who genuinely care about the problems they’re trying to solve can inspire and empower teams to do their best work. To achieve this, leaders must invest in demonstrating empathy for their customers and their needs, so in turn, they can share authentic and impactful resolutions with their teams. It is empathising with the why of a problem that allows leaders to exercise their soft skills – enhancing collaboration, adaptability, conflict resolution and most importantly, communication. Healthy communication is a critical ingredient for any successful initiative and helps to galvanise a team in aligning its goals.
There’s no denying that our industry is full of intelligent and talented people – and while we’re all incredibly competent in our areas of expertise, the value of exercising empathy to convey ideas is not given the credence it deserves. In truth, empathy is generally not thought about – so we haven’t placed much importance on it.
Leading with empathy
People who are very methodical and logical about designing solutions (includes most people in the tech industry) and the leaders who influence the way things are built and maintained can often forget to think about how the people building solutions go about it. If the people on the ground level building a solution don’t understand why they’re doing it, it means they’re more likely to take short cuts (think people with hands on keyboards) – this can lead teams into dangerous territory. Taking short cuts can often have the opposite effect than intended and may push the entire initiative off track. Such an outcome can be exhausting for a leader (micromanaging all the things!) and doesn’t scale with product and team growth.
The flip side of this is that by keeping the team well informed and empathetic to a customer’s needs you can keep team members engaged and inspired throughout the entire software development lifecycle.
Some other benefits to consider that come from leading with empathy are:
- You empower your team
- You build trust with your team and within your team
- You create better customer outcomes
A welcome industry shift
With the inexorable march of DevOps practices being adopted across the industry, now it’s more important than ever to truly connect effectively with your people and teams.
At Intelematics our cross-functional product teams own solutions from the cradle to the grave. Our developers, analysts and leaders strive to broaden their skillsets to include disciplines outside their specialities, to become ‘T-shaped’ – in that they have a deep understanding of their core discipline, but also a base understanding of other disciplines. For us, communicating the context of the customer problem is imperative across all phases of the software development lifecycle. By doing this, we have seen our people create solutions that excite our customers even in a B2B context, which is a challenging endeavour.
As a result, our people maintain the solutions they build and are empowered to influence decisions to create excellent products for our customers. We found that this approach has encouraged our people to think more creatively and critically, to foresee issues that may arise down the track, and provide the insight needed to resolve those tricky midnight alerts from customers and systems running on the other side of the world.
This is why empathy plays such a big part in our work, and we rely on it heavily to build connections between our people and our customers, which in the end helps us to meet our customers’ needs better.