Catherine Courage is currently the VP of Ads and Commerce User Experience at Google, where she’s been since October 2016. This is his third time around in a tech customer experience role, previously having held similar jobs at DocuSign and Citrix. I’ve known her for several years and I thought she’d be a great guest because of the tech space background, the multiple times experiencing the role, and her overall understanding of products, experience, and how to navigate silos. She didn’t disappoint.
Don’t necessarily just pitch the role
If you’re interested in a specific place (or even a role), you need to earn the right to do the work. So look at the ecosystem around their product and experience and pitch how to improve that. The role will follow. Remember: people want to know how you’re going to drive results, as opposed to what role you want/deserve.
How did she move to Google, and what does she do there?
The Google role allowed her two major advantages:
- She could understand a full ecosystem of experiences.
- The Ad/commerce space is a major revenue driver at Google, so it was close to a ‘power core’ there and allowed her to work with sales as well.
Once she got there, she realized there was a ton of interaction with different departments all over Google, in large part because of the primacy of that area as regards revenue.
Her initial steps at Google
She began with a three-step process:
- What is important to the company? How do individual incentives work? Is there a five-year plan?
- How can internal and external empathy be developed in terms of employees and customers?
- Setting priorities — for the business as a whole, and “going where there’s suction,” meaning teams/people who want to change things and be seen as successful in the business.
I liked the “suction” term because I’ve always told clients “Don’t be a beggar,” and I think that’s crucial — especially in companies where the CCO role might be a brand new concept. (That’s not the case at Google, but often is the case.)
Communication and storytelling
Catherine has a background in psychology, and often speaks of the importance of communication and storytelling. One great story she tells in this podcast is the whole idea of email or posting. Oftentimes, people think “Oh, I sent this email or posted this update. I communicated.” In fact, they didn’t. They just sent something out. It might not be received at all. To communicate better, you often need to understand storytelling and what will resonate with people.
This helps with silos too, of course. Most of work is heavily execution-focused, especially at big, billion-dollar, scaled companies (like Google). Priority and context can fall through the cracks within communication unless there’s a degree of storytelling.
Catherine also talks a lot about impact and influence, which is mostly about engaging stakeholders — but more importantly, knowing what matters to your stakeholders so that the stories you use are concepts they’ll actually listen to.
In her managerial training (with managers that report into her), they often discuss the arc of stories and how to tell stories successfully. This is actually somewhat rare in high-revenue B2B spaces (as Google Ads can be), because oftentimes the focus there shifts to “Well, we’re driving a lot of revenue, so why should we care about something like the arc of stories?”
300+ people were inherited by Catherine at Google
The breakdown is:
- Visual designers
- Interaction designers
- Front-end coding
- Writers/content creators
- Program managers
Those are the biggest chunks. She doesn’t have 300 direct reports, no. There are managers within these roles that ultimately report up to Catherine.
One of the best parts about Google for her is an experienced set of peers running other product groups, which reduces the “loneliness at the top” feeling you can have around CX at some other orgs.
How has she been/will she define success?
At the time of this taping, she had been at Google about nine months.
Q1 was primarily about learning as much as she could.
Q2-Q3 have been about understanding the publisher/advertiser landscape (crucial in ads) and determining which teams under her are “role model” teams.
Finding those role model teams can help her scale what “success” looks like for anyone in the 300+ who report up to her.
In terms of setting incentives, Google has an internal set of objectives — and Catherine has tried to make sure there are shared objectives between her team and the stakeholders of the various teams under her. Ultimately a lot of this comes back to (a) revenue and (b) system performance; the incentives tend to be around those spaces. Some include:
- Customer satisfaction
- How quickly people on-board
- Customer retention
SERP (search result pages) change constantly at Google. Tons of testing/analysis. Some of that work comes from her shop, so every day when you Google something, Catherine has a hand in that.
The Pay It Forward Question
What do you know NOW that you wish you knew THEN?
- Understand your journey: Her transition from Salesforce (a small company where people were growing together) to Citrix (a 20-year company with no focus on experience at that point) is a good example here. You need to understand your journey, where you’re at, and how the transitions are going to be challenging. At Citrix, she was tasked with driving culture change, for example — but people didn’t know who she was, why she was there, etc. Some were threatened. Your career arc is a journey, and understanding it and the various roles you serve is crucial. It will also give you a deeper appreciation for company culture, which — until you think about things this way — can often seem like a fluffy term.
- Ask for help: It’s OK and doesn’t make you weaker. Paradoxically to some, it makes you stronger.
- The C-Suite won’t unite organically: You need to drive that, especially around vocabulary and incentives.
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