6 Ways You Can Be A Stronger Leader and Make Better Hires

Nupur Srivastava, VP of Product at Grand Rounds

Long before she ever started obsessing over product features and worrying about design deadlines, Grand Rounds Senior Vice President of Product Nupur Srivastava spent her days — and evenings, weekends and holidays — obsessing over her jump shot and running drills in her hometown of Qurain. Her hard work and dedication to the sport took her all the way to the Kuwait National Basketball team, where she played from 1999-2002 and learned the value of teamwork and how fun it is to win!

After earning her Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Nupur began her tech career as a Wireless Hardware Design Engineer at Cisco. She then pursued an MBA from Stanford and transitioned into product management, finding her passion in the health tech space. Over the past eight years, she has managed teams ranging in size from 5 to as many as 50 people. Driven by her upbringing and desire to help people, she also co-launched Impactreview (acquired by MaterNova), a community for reviews of maternal and child health products for the developing world.

Today, Nupur is the VP Product at Grand Rounds in San Francisco, where she leads the company’s product management and design teams. As Nupur explains, “the company is on a mission to raise the standard of healthcare for everyone, everywhere. The Grand Rounds team goes above and beyond to connect and guide people to the highest quality healthcare available for themselves and their loved ones. By leveraging the power of data and technology, Grand Rounds creates products and services that make it easy for everyone to get the best possible healthcare experience.

When the Girl Geek X team sat down with Nupur during our Elevate 2019 virtual event on International Women’s Day, we wanted to pick her brain and hear her biggest mistakes and learnings as a health tech product leader and people manager. She shared some great advice:

1. Hire slow and fire fast.

Nupur confessed that she made a lot of classic hiring mistakes with her first hire. She was at a small startup, strapped for resources (we’ve all been there!), and there was a lot of work to be done. Feeling stressed for help, she hired very quickly without thinking through the long-term impact.

“Basically, I hired the first person who I thought could do the job from a technical standpoint,” she shared, “…but one thing that I didn’t focus on was whether there was strong alignment with the company’s values and where we were  growing. Unfortunately, a year later, I had to let this person go because it was a mismatch. I really wish I had spent time understanding upfront whether they were a good fit for what the company needed at the time.”

The classic saying that you need to “hire slowly and fire quickly” rings true here.

2. Ask the right questions.

“A lot comes down to the types of questions you ask in the interview process as well as what you get from the references.” Finding the right fit is less about technical proficiency, and more about who they are as a person, why they have made the decisions they have in the past, and what they are optimizing for in their upcoming role.

You want to ask questions about how they’ve made decisions in their career to date, what drives them, what motivates them. What wakes them up in the morning? When they’re put in a difficult situation, what value system is driving their decision-making?

Nupur stresses that what you’re looking for in a team member will be different for different stages of the company, and for each company’s unique values and mission.

It’s important to tailor your approach to your individual situation, because the perfect hire on paper might actually be a perfect hire for a different environment, but a poor hire once your own values and needs are considered.

3. Hire for impact: seek out people who are hungry, humble and smart.

Many of Nupur’s favorite hiring and interviewing strategies came from a book that Grand Rounds CTO (Wade Chambers) recommended, called Ideal Team Player. “It focuses on this notion of hiring people that are hungry, humble, and smart, and that concept has really resonated with me.”

“At Grand Rounds, we want to raise the standard of care for everyone everywhere, so we need to make sure that people are hungry for that impact,” she explained.

“The humble component is self-explanatory. People that are low ego and prioritize the company above self are great to have on the team. In addition, if you’re hiring someone to work in healthcare, you need to be sure they appreciate that the patients we serve are suffering through things that we may not totally understand. They need humility to empathize with that struggle and build the right products for those patients.”

“And then smart is not actually what you think it may be. It’s not IQ smart, but rather people smart. There’s a base level assumption that you’ll be able to do the job, but it’s incredibly important that you do it in a way that brings people along — that makes you a teammate that people actually want to work for and with.”

One of the things Nupur has been using in her recent interviews is simply asking everyone, “What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?” Their response typically gives you a sense of their work ethic and insight into what they consider difficult. Sometimes they’ll even answer with a personal response, and it offers a good window into who the person is, and whether they’re someone you want on your team.

4. Accept that your top performers will always eventually leave.

“As painful as it is, top performers will leave you at some point. With all members of my team, I try to develop trust, care deeply about their career, and truly understand where they want to go long-term. This way, when they eventually decide to pursue another opportunity, I’m not surprised because there’s openness and transparency in the relationships.”

The week before we sat down with Nupur, someone she’d worked with for four years left Grand Rounds. She was an extremely high performer, and she let Nupur know of her intentions to leave four months in advance because they were actively talking about where she wanted to go and what drives her. The team member had joined when Grand Rounds was a 50-person company. They’re now over 500, and she was ready for something different.

“I think the most important thing is to have that level of trust with your team members, such that you understand what their career goals are and you’re together making the decision about when is the right time for them to leave. If you adopt this approach, you can prepare for their departure in a way that is not disruptive.”

“It can feel like a painful punch in the gut when someone tells you they’re leaving,” she lamented, “but I think the least we can do is just not be surprised by the decision. At some point, maybe for their own career growth or evolution, or other things that they are optimizing for in their lives, you want them to leave. And as long as you are open and honest with each other and there is trust and transparency, it’s not the end of the world.”

Nupur’s general philosophy is one we could all benefit from adopting: “Everyone has different goals in life. The most we can do is be an advocate and great manager for our direct reports when they work for us, and help influence what they do next, so that you and the business are prepared for employee departures.”

5. Create an environment that welcomes diversity of thought and personality types.

“One of my biggest learnings as a leader over the years has been … beyond diversity based on race and gender, there’s tons of diversity in personality types and the way people like to do work.”

At Grand Rounds, the Head of Data Science asked various team members to take a StrengthsFinder questionnaire, then put everyone into groups of people that are alike so they could discuss things they wanted to teach other groups who were different from them.

The entire product team has also used the DiSC assessment to better understand their behavioral differences. “This exercise gives you empathy for how different people want to show up, and how they want to debate ideas.” 

“Not everybody is comfortable being presented a problem and immediately jumping in and giving their thoughts. Some people want to think about a problem, spend a day organizing their ideas, and come back with their thoughts prepared.” 

“For me,” Nupur admitted, “the first step in improving my communication and collaboration with others is simply awareness. Where do people fall either in the DiSC profile or with StrengthsFinder? What do I need to be aware of as their leader so that I’m creating a comfortable environment for them to speak up?”

“I can remember the first realization I had when I recognized, ‘Oh, everybody doesn’t like coming into a room and talking loudly about their ideas? That’s interesting. I thought everyone was exactly like me!’ and that’s obviously not the case.”

“Using some of these frameworks has been incredibly important because it not only helps you understand others, but it also helps you realize how your type may be showing up for that person and what things you may need to temper, especially as a leader, because you’re setting the tone for the team.”

Nupur has a team member opposite her on the DiSC profile, and she’s started running ideas by him to make sure that he can offer feedback and criticism before she takes it to the team, because as she says, “I’m just hyper-excited and trying to tell everybody everything as soon as the thought occurs.” And that freaks some people out. It is important to understand where others in your team sit in the DiSC profile so that you can personalize your leadership style with them.

6. Let people know where you want to go!

One of the questions we hear asked at Girl Geek X events time and time again is about how to get ahead or move into a management role when you don’t have previous managerial experience.

Nupur’s advice is to make your manager aware that you want to be a manager, and make your goals explicit. “If someone wants to be a manager, you need to make sure that there’s an opportunity and a business need, and an opening in the company for a manager. Have open conversations, and make sure that you have the skills, training, and support of your manager.”

“The biggest thing is raising your hand and making it clear that that’s the path you want to go. Then hopefully if you have a good manager, and you are ready, they’ll make that opportunity for you.”

If you’re having open conversations about your goals regularly — say once per quarter — and you find yourself in a situation where the promotion doesn’t feel like it’s ever going to happen, or you start to feel like you’d be better off somewhere else, you’ll be in a better position to move on gracefully and with a reference you can count on time and time again.

Want to work with Nupur?

If Nupur sounds like someone you’d love to work with, you might be in luck: she’s looking for a passionate Sr. Product Designer to join her team, and Grand Rounds is hiring for dozens of other roles across a wide range of functional areas!

For more hiring and people-management advice from Nupur Srivastava and other Girl Geeks, check out the full video & transcript from her panel on “Building High Performance Teams” at Elevate 2019, and subscribe to the Girl Geek X YouTube channel!

About the Author

Amy Weicker - Head of Marketing at Girl Geek X

Amy Weicker is the Head of Marketing at Girl Geek X, and she has been helping launch & grow tech companies as a marketing leader and demand generation consultant for nearly 20 years. Amy previously ran marketing at SaaStr, where she helped scale the world’s largest community & conference for B2B SaaS Founders, Execs and VCs from $0 to $10M and over 200,000 global community members. She was also the first head of marketing at Sales Hacker, Inc. (acquired by Outreach) which helps connect B2B sales professionals with the tools, technology and education they need to excel in their careers.

12 Product Design Leaders To Follow In 2019

Love building digital products with amazing user experiences? Product Designers as a job title has blazed a trail in tech for the past decade with the rise of Facebook VP of Design Julie Zhuo leading the industry.

We look to Product Design leaders at companies of all sizes to find insight in their careers and map the rise of Product Design as a profession. Lucky us — many of these leaders speak publicly, tweet and share their expertise and thought leadership.

Here are 12 Product Design Leaders to Follow in 2019:

Christine Fernandez – Stitch Fix VP, Product Design

Christine’s Proudest Moment: “There’s so much work that I’m proud of, but my biggest accomplishment is definitely the teams I’ve built over the years, and helping some of the best designers I’ve had the pleasure to work with grow into leaders. Design now has such an important seat at the table – at the executive level, in boardrooms, and shaping the future at the most innovative companies. It’s been quite a journey, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of leading that change.”

Christine Fernandez is a Vice President of Product Design at Stitch Fix. Previously, she was Chief Experience Officer at Art.com, Head of Design at Uber, and worked as Creative Director at R/GA, frog, Razorfish, Schematic and FCB. Connie holds a B.A. in Graphic Design and a minor in East Asian Studies from University of Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter at @ctfernandez and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Connie Yang – Coinbase Director, Design

Connie’s Proudest Moment: “I scaled a team from 3 to 20 in a year – including establishing the functions of User Research, Product Writing, and Brand Design. I did not expect to do that, nor did I think it was even possible. You never know until you actually try.”

Connie Yang is a Director of Design at Coinbase. Previously, she spent six years at Facebook as a Product Designer. Prior to that, she was a UI Director at Twist and PopCap Games, Art Director at ReignDesign and began her career as a Graphic Designer working in advertising. Connie holds a B.A. in Graphic Design and a minor in East Asian Studies from University of Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter at @conniecurious and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Erica Weiss Tjader – SurveyMonkey VP, Product Design

Erica’s Proudest Moment: “Landing this role as VP of Product Design at SurveyMonkey 2 years ago – not only because it’s a great opportunity with an amazing company, but also because this role represents a shift in my willingness to take risks, aim high, and flex my leadership muscles.”

Erica Weiss Tjader is a Vice President of Product Design at SurveyMonkey. Previously, she spent six years at Quantcast as the Director of Product Design, where she was responsible for building the design and research functions. Prior to that, she was an Interaction Designer and User Researcher at Move, eBay and Yahoo. Erica holds a B.S. in Cognitive Science and B.A. in Communication Studies from UCLA. Follow her on Twitter at @ericatjader and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Huda Idrees – Dot Health CEO

Huda Idrees is CEO at Dot Health. Prior to founding Dot Health, she was Chief Product Officer at Wealthsimple. Prior to Weathsimple, she was a Product Designer at Wave, an Interaction Designer at Shaken Media Collective, and an UX Designer at Wattpad. She began her career as a Web Developer. Huda holds a BASc. in Industrial Engineering from University of Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @hidrees and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Irene Au – Khosla Design Partner

Irene’s Proudest Moment: “I had the honor and privilege to build the industry’s most influential and talented design teams over the last two decades. At Yahoo! and Google, we established the gold standard for user experience and design for the internet that continues to shape the profession in this industry today, and we elevated design’s strategic importance in both companies.”

Irene Au is a Design Partner at Khosla Ventures. Prior to Khosla, she was Vice President of Product at Udacity and build and ran design for all of Google and Yahoo! for many years. She began her career as an Interaction Designer at Netscape. Irene holds a M.S. in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter at @ireneau and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Julie Zhuo – Facebook VP, Product Design

Julie’s Proudest Moment: “Helped Facebook scale from 8 million college students to billions of users worldwide.”

Julie Zhuo is a Vice President of Product Design at Facebook. She started as Facebook’s first intern in 2005, was hired as a product designer at Facebook, and has been working at Facebook for over a decade. She published in 2019 “The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You.” Julie holds a M.S. and B.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University. Follow her on Twitter at @joulee and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Katie Dill – Lyft VP, Product Design

Katie’s Proudest Moment: “My great achievement and greatest joy has been the teams I have had the pleasure to build at Lyft and Airbnb. Great things come from great teams, and my focus as a leader has been finding just the right mix of folks that can come together as one to build lasting change. A strong culture full of people that inspire each other and elevate each other’s work is the best thing I have ever built.”

Katie Dill is a Vice President of Product Design at Lyft. Prior to Lyft, Katie was at Airbnb as a Director of Experience Design. Prior to that, Katie worked at frog design for five years, where she began her career as a Design Analyst. Katie holds a B.S. in Industrial Design from Art Center College of Design, and a B.A. in History from Colgate University. Follow her on Twitter at @lil_dill and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Kim Lenox – Zendesk VP, Product Design

Kim’s Proudest Moment: “I have had the privilege to nurture a number of burgeoning designers into design leaders. Seeing how they grow their careers, take new leadership roles and bring their own contribution back to the design community is one of my fondest rewards as a design leader.”

Kim Lenox is a Vice President of Product Design at Zendesk. Prior to Zendesk, she was a Director of Product Design at LinkedIn. Prior to that, she was a Senior Manager of Interaction Design at HP Palm. She has held a number of roles in research, interaction design and UX Design, and has consulted and freelanced. Kim holds a B.F.A. in Photography from San Jose State University. Follow her on Twitter at @uxkim and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Kim Williams – Indeed Senior Director, UX Core

Kim’s Proudest Moment: “I have had the honor of orchestrating Design and Brand Systems teams at brands that focus on connection. First at eBay, and now at Indeed, where I am proud to be building a team of talented product designers, technologists, and creatives. My team inspires and challenges me daily, as we work on creating experiences that further empower job seekers during their job search.”

Kim Williams is a Senior Director of UX Core at Indeed. Prior to Indeed, she was at eBay for two years, working in roles from Head of Brand Systems to Creative Director for eBay’s human interface group. Prior to eBay, she was as a Creative Director for Oglivy & Mather, Serious-Gaming Agency, and Weber Shandwick. She began her career as a Designer for consumer goods companies. Kim holds a BFA in Visual Communications with an emphasis in Graphic Design. Follow her on Twitter at @kimwms_.

May-Li Khoe – Khan Academy VP, Design

May-Li’s Proudest Moment: “Despite having worked on so much of Apple’s product line and have a pile of patents as a result, I’m proudest of putting pink hearts and technics 1200s into MacOS, and building a diverse & inclusive kickass design team at Khan Academy.”

May-Li Khoe is a VP of Design at Khan Academy. Prior to Khan Academy, she was at Apple for over seven years, working in roles from Interaction Designer to Senior Product Design Lead. She began her career at IBM as a Research Assistant for three years, and was at MIT Media Lab as an Undergraduate Research Assistant for three years. May-Li holds both M.Eng and S.B. in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT. Follow her on Twitter at @kayli and her product design thoughts at Medium.

Ratna Desai – Netflix Director, Product Design

Ratna’s Proudest Moment: “My greatest achievement has been to build diverse teams and create the conditions necessary for design to live alongside technology and business strategy. Both at Netflix and Google, I was able to connect individuals to the right opportunities within very different organizational cultures. The key has been to lead with authenticity and adapt my approach to complement the culture and design’s relationship to other functions. The successes have come when open-minded, passionate and hardworking teams selflessly collaborate to do their most meaningful work. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the best product ideas thrive, transform industries and shape society.”

Ratna Desai is a Director of Product Design at Netflix. Prior to Netflix, she was at Google for four years leading multidisciplinary UX design teams. Prior to that, Ratna was at frog design for six years as a Creative Director, an Art Director at Gap and Korn Ferry, and began her career as a Marketing Associate at the Wall Street Journal. Ratna holds a B.S. in Graphic Design and B.A. in Rhetoric & Communication from UC Davis. Follow her on Twitter at @RatnaDesai1.

Susan Dybbs – Collective Health VP Product & Design

Susan Dybbs is a Vice President of Product & Design at Collective Health. Prior to Collective Health, she was at Cooper for four years leading the interaction design team as Managing Director. Prior to that, Susan lead UX consulting for a few years. She began her career as an User Interface Designer at Microsoft. Susan holds a M.D. in Interaction Design from Carnegie Mellon University and a B.A. in Design, Urban Studies, Psychology from New York University. Follow her on Twitter at @dybbsy and her product design thoughts on Medium.

Product Designers – We Want To Hear From You!

Tell us about your Product Design experience, resources, and nominations!

Thanks to Samihah Azim, Women Talk Design, and Latinx Who Design.

Stay up-to-date with Girl Geek X! To get notified of future events and news, join our mailing list!

You can also follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.