There is a great chapter in the book Rework called “Hiring Managers of One,” which is a concept that I think is critical for success and product management. The authors state: “Managers of one are people who come up with their own goals and execute them…They don’t need heavy direction…They don’t need daily check-ins…When you leave them alone, they surprise you with how much they’ve gotten done. They don’t need a lot of hand-holding or supervision.” To attract the best product managers, industry marketing, strategists, creative designers you need to provide recruits with a position of respect and authority. To do that often requires hiring managers of one, particularly in smaller organizations.
First, titles matter – especially externally. You need your key marketing and product management professionals to be viewed as thought leaders by customers, analysts and media. Setting a press interview, analyst briefing, customer presentation with a VP or Director of Product Management will be much more successful than trying to establish a meeting with a Senior Product Manager.
Second, titles matter internally, especially in product management. Product management leaders are asked to perform the very challenging task of asking peers in other organizations to accept change or assume a greater workload, often with little to no incremental budget. Stakeholders in finance, sales, engineering and customer service will give much more respect to a Director or VP level marketing resource than one with a non-management title.
Third, you need experienced professionals with appropriate backgrounds to lead your product and marketing strategy. These individuals are setting the product roadmap, defining the value proposition and building the brand. You will not attract these types of individuals without the appropriate title. Furthermore, does trying to save $30K per year by hiring a junior resource, without sufficient experience to do the job really pay off? You may get lucky to find a recent MBA-graduate for $85K that turns out to be the next Seth Godin. But it is highly unlikely. There is far less risk in hiring someone with 10 years of experience for $120K and providing them with a Director-level title.
The key challenge with titles is that in many small and midsize companies there are often not enough people on the team to turn these respected positions into true supervisory/managerial positions. Human Resources teams hate the idea of having managers (or directors or VPs of one) because it doesn’t fit with their traditional metrics of having 5:1 or 7:1 ratios between supervisors and employees. HR generalists can’t comprehend why a marketing department would hire a VP level executive who does not manage anyone. But in my experience, these are consistently some of the most effective and productive employees in the marketing organization.