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137 / 3 Tips for Fostering a Culture of Change, with Zoia Kozakov

Hosted by Paul Gebel & Sean Flaherty




Zoia Kozakov

JP Morgan Chase

By day, Zoia Kozakov heads up device-based Digital Wallets (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay, etc.) at JPMorgan Chase, enabling millions of customers to transact using digital payment capabilities.  

By night, Zoia is on the Advisory Board of WIN: Women in Innovation and hosts a podcast of the same name, which has 40,000+ listeners from 250+ countries. On the side, Zoia also runs her own nonprofit focused on scholarships and financial literacy for creatives. She is also a Venture Partner at Lalotte Ventures, an early-stage VC and a proud Parsons School of Design and Columbia University alum.  


Among the many hats product managers wear is that of change agent. In many respects, product management is change management. PMs always seem to be flexing their approach to new circumstances, adapting to evolving markets and technologies, and side-stepping organizational landmines. “It’s hard,” says Zoia Kozakov, “especially when the change you’re trying to bring about might actually move the needle.” Zoia heads up device-based Digital Wallets at JPMorgan Chase.

Product Momentum caught up with Zoia Kozakov following her talk at the 2024 NY Product Conference, where she shared her observations on change management (and resistance to it) within the context of innovation and organizational culture. In her keynote and during our conversation, Zoia offered 3 key takeaways:

Embrace the Momentum

Not surprisingly, everyone here on the podcast team believes strongly in the power of momentum; Zoia builds on this notion, encouraging product managers to establish a mindset of continuous wins to keep team members motivated. “Building momentum with continuous wins is a way to keep everybody well-spirited,” Zoia says. “But remember that what keeps you well spirited is likely very different from what keeps me well spirited.”

Recognize the Symptoms of Resistance

Zoia highlights the dangers of organizational apathy as a symptom of momentum-sapping resistance. “To me, disassociation is the worst one,” Zoia adds, “and it shows up when that person who derails your meeting (or doesn’t speak up at all) becomes the villain of your whole change management effort.”

Find Your Innovation-Culture Fit

Zoia introduced the NYPC audience to the notion of innovation-culture fit – and maybe even coined a new term in the process. Product managers often experience resistance to change because the organization’s culture of innovation doesn’t align with their own. “PMs need to evaluate the innovation fit,” Zoia advises. “If working on process enhancement feels like innovation to you, then you should go work at the company that sees the world that way. But if you want to build a rocket ship, there are some that do that too.”

Zoia’s journey reminds us that change management is not just about implementing new strategies, but also about fostering a culture of continuous improvement, proactive engagement, and innovation alignment.

ITX’s 2024 Product + Design Conference is fast approaching! Reserve your ticket now to hear from John Maeda, Denise Tilles, Ryan Rumsey, John Haggerty, Prerna Singh, and more.

Paul [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to Product Momentum, where we hope to entertain, educate and celebrate the amazing product people who are helping to shape our communities way ahead. My name is Paul Gable and I’m the Director of Product Innovation at it, along with my co-host Sean Flaherty and our amazing production team and occasional guest host. We record and release a conversation with a product, thought leader, writer, speaker, or maker who has something to share with the community every two weeks.

Sean [00:00:43] Paul, what a great episode!

Paul [00:00:45] Zoia was such a fun conversation.

Sean Flaherty [00:00:47] It was a lot of fun.

Paul Gebel [00:00:48] The openness and vulnerability about the mistakes that she’s made, I think, you know, really more power to her. I think to the more open more of us were or are or could be.

Sean Flaherty [00:00:58] We can learn from each other.

Paul Gebel [00:00:59] I think there’s real power in those kinds of conversations, but change management was the main topic. We really kind of went far afield with a lot of interesting ideas. What was some of the top takeaways that you got out of that?

Sean Flaherty [00:01:10] For me it’s the it’s the intersection of culture and innovation and like really looking at the culture that you have and the culture that you want and how innovation, how much innovation you need, how you define innovation, like, you know, obviously a topic that’s close to our hearts.

Paul Gebel [00:01:24] Yeah. And she hit on the idea of momentum, which obviously we’re big fans of. But the the idea that you can start to build change within your organization slowly, organically, naturally, but talking to people in the way that they need to be spoken to, I think is a it’s a superpower.

Sean Flaherty [00:01:40] And finding places to celebrate. Like we know that’s important. Yeah.

Paul Gebel [00:01:45] Lots of good stuff.

Sean Flaherty [00:01:45] Yeah. Let’s get after it.

Paul Gebel [00:01:47] Let’s get after it.

Paul Gebel [00:01:50] Well, hello and welcome back to another episode of Product Momentum. We’re here joined today by Zoia Kozakov. We are really excited by the content you just shared and want to dig a little bit deeper into it.

Zoia Kozakov [00:01:59] Let’s do it.

Paul Gebel [00:02:00] Before you jump in, can you share a little bit about yourself, of your background and what got you here today? For those who haven’t encountered you before?

Zoia Kozakov [00:02:06] Yes, absolutely. First of all, thank you for having me. I’m a big fan of what you do and your podcast and always good to link up with fellow podcasters. So, in my day job, I head up device digital wallets, at JP Morgan Chase and a non-fancy way of saying that that is basically your Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and using your Chase cards and that. Yeah, I’ve been in product for about five years. I’ve also done pre-seed stage companies and then another financial institution. And today I was really excited to talk about change management, because I think a lot of the times we focus on our wins, and I enjoy talking about many of my failures today.

Paul Gebel [00:02:41] Well, it’s very, I think, humbling to see someone so open and vulnerable sharing some of those stories. I actually want to start with a question that came at the end of your talk about momentum, and we’re obviously fans of momentum. We named our podcast after it. The idea of prewiring conversations and capitalizing on wins, big and small. And as you’re navigating through these, you know, you’re essentially moving people’s cheese. You’re taking you’re taking something that is comfortable and safe and presenting an opportunity to excel, but also open yourself up to the possibility of failure and, you know, capitalizing on this idea of momentum and building that into the conversations you’re having in organizations, how can product managers start to become change agents in the midst of this, this evolution within their orgs?

Zoia Kozakov [00:03:29] For sure. So, I think one thing that I probably should have started my talk with is that change is hard, especially if that change is actually moving the needle. I did touch on this a little bit, and I think the notion of momentum is, you know, when we set out to create a change, we think it’s going to succeed. And that’s all very positive. As you actually get to the execution, it gets harder and harder and harder. So, I view momentum and building out continuous wins as a way to keep everybody well spirited, if you will. And so, I think again, I think that goes back to what’s going to keep you well spirited versus you versus me is going to be very different. Which is why I really make sure that you start with figuring out what the goals of the other people are, and then you create wins that cater to their momentum. And what is needed to enable that.

Sean Flaherty [00:04:19] Product management is like the art of change management. Like that’s what we do like everything, right? We’re constantly trying to adapt to the market. We’ve got teams that are changing and shifting often underneath us. Like we’ve got all sorts of engineering practices that are changing on the fly and new tools are becoming available. It’s change management. It’s pretty spectacular ever-changing environment. So, this concept of small wins and momentum, what you’re calling momentum I think is really powerful.

Zoia Kozakov [00:04:46] Thank you.

Sean Flaherty [00:04:47] What do you see as like symptoms that teams experience when they don’t have momentum.

Zoia Kozakov [00:04:52] You know I think there’s a couple of different things. It’s also just about how people deal with challenges. Yeah, I think the worst one is actually disassociation, because a lot of the times people think when you have somebody in a meeting derailing you, that person can become the villain of the change management effort. I actually think the villain of the change management effort is the one who says, yeah, great. It doesn’t speak up at all.

Sean Flaherty [00:05:17] Oh, yeah. The ‘puffer fish’.

Zoia Kozakov [00:05:19] Yeah. And then basically you walk away being like, do you have anything to say to me? Do you have any ideas? And they don’t. And so, I think a symptom disassociation to me is the worst one. Apathy. Yeah, exactly. I think that the scary thing about the loud person in the room is that they can flip the believers to being nonbelievers, which is why, again, I over-capitalize on the continuous pre-meeting before the meeting, because again, you can preempt that person for blowing up your meeting. If you call out like, oh, we know XYZ may be a risk. Here’s how we’re thinking about it.

Sean Flaherty [00:05:53] Yeah, well, you also spent a lot of energy in your talk talking about vision and the importance of vision and having a clearly articulated vision that people even can sign up for. Because if you don’t, if you don’t have that starting point, I think it’s very hard to get people aligned.

Zoia Kozakov [00:06:07] Yeah. And you lose sight of where are we even going?

Sean Flaherty [00:06:09] Yeah. And you run the risk of having to delve into organizational politics to kind of maneuver around, like, but if you have a good vision and everybody’s agreeing with it, it’s easier to get people rowing the boat in the same direction. Yeah.

Zoia Kozakov [00:06:23] Yeah.

Paul Gebel [00:06:24] One of the questions that we used to ask all the time on the podcast is, what is your definition of innovation? And it was fascinating getting so many different answers – to a person. Every time we asked a question, we would get a different definition.

Sean Flaherty [00:06:36] Pretty diverse set of answers. What is innovation? It’s wild.

Paul Gebel [00:06:39] Your notion of innovation culture fit clicked something into place for me that we were actually chatting about off camera a little bit earlier in the day. You know how it it’s just this oddity where people can have the same idea generally of what innovation means. But when you pin them to a definition, it’s sometimes wildly disparate what ends up coming out and what’s meaningful to people. And that’s what I think you are getting at with innovation culture fit. My definition of innovation might be different than Sean’s definition of innovation, but that doesn’t mean that one is right, and one is wrong. It’s really about how we express it, how we go through and perceive the world differently. I’m wondering if you, you know, for those who haven’t heard this phrase that I think you coined, innovation culture fit, what does this mean to you? How are people so to place themselves on a map?

Zoia Kozakov [00:07:25] I think it’s a couple of different things. There are product managers for different things that come in in different stages. I, as somebody who consider myself to be a little bit of a dreamer, believe that, like, I want to be the person that comes to a company and works on that edge case project, on that wild investment, and even that looks very different at a different company. And very transparently, I found myself having this preconceived notion of what innovation was, which was like, let’s fly to the moon on a rocket ship. And then I would get to a company, say, a financial services company, which says, we’re not flying to the moon. And that’s not our idea of innovation. We have many, many millions of customers and this is their money. We can’t be messing that up. Right. And so, then it’s like, okay, the two things can happen. If I come in with a delusional idea of innovation, I might be banging my head against the wall because they’re not interested and vice versa. And that’s why for me, when I say when people evaluate product culture fit, a term I wish I’d coined, but I didn’t, and it’s like, am I coming into a company that’s going to value an engineering background or a design background? We should also be evaluating the innovation fit. So, if you’re fine to work on innovation process enhancement processes, then you should find that company. If you want to go build a rocket ship, there are some that do that too.

Sean Flaherty [00:08:46] There’s a organizational psychologist named Robert Quinn, who’s done a lot of work on this concept of organizational culture in the context of innovation, really. He’s got like a four-quadrant model talks about customer focus versus R&D internal focus and flexibility versus structure.

Zoia Kozakov [00:09:04] Yes, I that’s the other axis to add to what you’re saying is also again like what does success look like to you. Because some people can say I’m good to do R&D for two years, launch nothing. And I feel like I worked in innovation, right. Some people are like, well, I want to launch something out of here. And so, then they’re fine to launch something that’s maybe a little bit less out there, but launches and that’s the it’s a bunch of different axes of how you consider your career.

Sean Flaherty [00:09:29] Yeah. And I also think there’s room for a lot of that inside of an organization. And if you don’t if you don’t think of it that way, you just kind of like have an ad hoc sort of culture. But I really love this concept of being purposeful about thinking of innovation as an important cultural component. Like, how does it fit in? What are we trying to do here? Do we need some big revolutionary things, or do we need small incremental innovations? And how are we going to organize our discussions and our thinking around how we’re showing up for the market and how we’re showing up for our people?

Paul Gebel [00:10:01] I want to shift gears just a little bit outside of the four corners of your talk and highlight a little bit of the work that you do in the world, because you are bringing so many interesting conversations to your podcast.

Zoia Kozakov [00:10:11] Women in Innovation.

Paul Gebel [00:10:12] Women in Innovation. And you’re coming up on or have passed 200 episodes now?

Zoia Kozakov [00:10:16] Yeah. I mean, it’s like 123.

Paul Gebel [00:10:19] II think there’s, you know, a lot of great, conversation that I’ve listened to. I think there’s a lot of room to grow in the conversations that you have. And I’m wondering if you could share maybe 1 or 2 favorite conversations that you’ve had that kind of stand out. I think you started in the middle of the pandemic, and we’re just kind of like dealing with some stuff. And while all of that was going on, you had a really clear voice and brought some really interesting conversations. What stands out in your memory as some of the favorite moments on your own podcast?

Zoia Kozakov [00:10:46] I appreciate that, I think, yeah, for me, starting my podcast was really solving a personal problem that gained momentum because other people were having this problem. As you said, I started it in the pandemic when my career was blowing up and like, not in the good way, and life was blowing up. And I thought to myself, like, what does the Chief Innovation Officer at Citibank, what is she doing at this time? What is the Chief Innovation Officer at the NBA doing at this time?

And so, some of the ones that I think are really interesting is actually Laura Tucker Mariam, she is, you know, a big a part of the family, the New York Product Collective. Product conference and the INDUSTRY family and Product Collectible and all of that. So, she’s fantastic. Also, Cassidy Fein, I had on my podcast as well, some others actually. So, Amy Brooks, who’s the Chief Innovation officer of the NBA, I’m honestly speaking not a big sports person. So, I thought the idea of having her on was very cool, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to take back from that conversation. And I think my overall pitch for all of these different guests is we can all learn from each other’s industries and problems, and I think that they’re just fantastic guests that I’ve been blessed with.

Paul Gebel [00:11:55] That’s so cool. I think Amy’s was the first episode that I found you through. I have been following ever since. Really cool stuff. I think, you know, just taking that one level deeper as you’ve been exploring this very out in the open and, and kind of sharing your journey, the content that you’re focusing on is, is change management as you’re going through change. So, there’s this meta sort of nexus of a lot of really cool things happening all at once. Can you share you know, a lot of product managers find themselves adrift and with layoffs on a lot of folk’s horizons and, you know, a lot of, you know, uncertainty, how can people take this and use it for power, for good? How can they take change management and turn it into a superpower, if maybe they haven’t dialed that into a tool in the toolbox yet?

Zoia Kozakov [00:12:38] Yeah. So, you know, everything is a mindset consideration. I think one thing I will say is a lot of the times, you know, you get a job, hopefully you’re passionate about it. Hopefully you’re good at it. I think it’s Scott Galloway that talks about like the Venn diagram of those two things, and then you kind of get into the space and you’re comfortable, maybe you’re growing, maybe you’re not, and then the world comes crashing down on you, whether it’s because your change management effort failed or because you got fired. And I think that what happens is that it opens up. It brings you back to basically square one, in a sense, where you start asking yourself the fundamental questions again, is, was this actually the kind of company that I want to work on? Am I still in this industry because I have experience in it, or because I like the industry? Do I want to work at a big company or a small company? So I think obviously, hopefully everybody keeps their jobs and all the stability in the world, but I think that it kind of takes off this veil that you’ve had over your eyes and it pushes you to other things. I think the other thing, and this goes back to the birth of my podcast, when I was in a moment of WTF is going on in the world and in my life. It forced me to be a problem solver. And that problem solving has led me to, like you said, almost 150 episodes, incredible guests, 40,000 downloads all over the world. So, I see it as an opportunity.

Sean Flaherty [00:13:58] Yeah, there you go. And I think the most important thing, one of the most important things for product leaders is to always be learning because, you know, the environment is ever changing. Like, when do we stop? Like hearing about some new concept and product.

Zoia Kozakov [00:14:12] And technology, industry and problem for sure.

Sean Flaherty [00:14:14] Yeah, I think it was. Robert Sapolsky defines evolution as the ability of a species to adapt when the environment changes and we know the environment’s ever changing. So, we have to keep learning so that we’ve become more and more adaptable.

Zoia Kozakov [00:14:26] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that’s why we shouldn’t be afraid of change. It’s obviously it’s natural to be. But I think you have two options. You either embrace it or you get left behind.

Paul Gebel [00:14:36] Right. So there’s a product owner or a product manager or someone just starting out in the career. Listening to this episode right now, hearing you’re all the way down the road and really, you know, achieving this high level of visibility and success, helping so many people out, how can we start to encourage people who are dipping their toe into this field and just, you know, it’s attractive to many people who are generalists who maybe have an expertise like you, shared your expertise in shopping and having a credit card. They maybe have an expertise in, you know, some field or discipline. I wonder, and sometimes I’ll be honest, I worry that we place an emphasis on you have to be a domain expert in the product that you’re building. Just curious if you could respond to that in in light of where we’ve been in change management. Does a product manager need to develop that domain expertise or is product management a skill in a vacuum? And this is obviously a rhetorical question.

Zoia Kozakov [00:15:33] No. But I think there’s a couple of things. I think if you don’t have a domain, again, it’s neither a good or a bad thing. The question is what do you have. Right. So, for some people it is domain. And I do say like there are some people I speak to, especially in financial services, they’ve done true finance their whole lives and they’re like, oh, I want to be a product manager now. Like, your best bet is actually to be a product manager in a financial services finance-oriented field, right? So that can be a superpower in, in and of itself. And that being said, if you don’t have the domain expertise, for me, I’ve always focused on like, what are the skillsets that I have and the experiences.

So, for example, for me having the design skills, even though I abuse them, as I talked about in my talk, having those design skills was something that I kind of used as my superpower. Yep. And so I think again, and goes back to, I think this is a career that actually pushes you to self-reflect a lot at every stage. I think nothing is a given. Just because you were a product manager in one company doesn’t mean that you’re going to get the next opportunity. So, I think it’s about self-reflection and like figuring out what is your secret sauce?

Paul Gebel [00:16:35] Awesome. Yeah, I love that perspective.

Sean Flaherty [00:16:37] Well, thank you for joining us. This has been great episode. And, it was really fun watching your talk here in New York Product Collective.

Paul Gebel [00:16:43] Yeah. Before we let you go, how can people find you if they haven’t encountered your podcast yet or the things that you write and talk about? What what’s the best place to to track you down and learn from what you’re sharing in the world?

Zoia Kozakov [00:16:53] I appreciate it. I am a big fan of LinkedIn. I think it’s a great space to connect with people. So my LinkedIn is, so hopefully not too hard to find. My podcast is Women in Innovation and I have Substack too, which I dabble in writing, so it’s called Product Box. So, you can find me on all of the things.

Paul Gebel [00:17:12] Thank you for sharing what you’re sharing. You’re making the world a better place by doing it. And we really appreciate the time that you took to come and chat with us today. It’s been a blast.

Zoia Kozakov [00:17:18] Thank you both.

Paul Gebel [00:17:19] Cheers.

Paul Gebel [00:17:22] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening. We really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get. So please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.


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