Sheryl Sandberg Shares 7 Ways to Build Resilience Into Your Company Culture As You Scale
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Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business -- and at Entrepreneur.com, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences on our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: to lead an organization to scale, you have to be as skilled at breaking plans as you are at making them.
As a company scales, so does its culture. Sheryl Sandberg knows this better than anyone, having managed a team of four during Google’s early days to overseeing more than 17,000 staffers at Facebook.
Key during scale, according Sandberg, is being intentional about shaping a culture that’s resilient. Says Sandberg, “The most successful organizations over the long run are the most resilient ones.”
But what does it take to be resilient? How can a changing staff and culture remain strong despite massive shifts and bumps in the road? Sandberg discusses all of this in a special conversion for on Masters of Scale, a 10-episode series hosted by Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner, exploring unconventional theories for growing businesses. In this week’s episode, Sandberg shares stories, along with advice on creating a resilient culture, for companies both big and small. Below are excerpts from the conversation -- as well as anecdotes not included in this week’s podcast -– published first on Entrepreneur.
1. Think ahead.
The culture you have when just starting out you not necessarily going to be the exact same one you will have when your business has hundreds, if not thousands of employees. Yet, there are steps you can take to ensure some culture elements are preserved, including thinking ahead.
Birthday celebrations helped bring this point home for Sandberg. At first, birthdays were celebrated that day and then that week. “Eventually, we had a huge sheet cake with quarterly birthdays—my team was 4,000 when I left—and everyone's name’s on it,” she tells Hoffman. Now it sounds like that wouldn't matter, but it did—because if you started out and we celebrated everyone's birthday, and we took that away, that was a problem. Now I'm not saying, ‘Be mean and don't celebrate birthdays,’ I'm saying figure out what your systems are going to look like later, and do it now.”
2. Don’t just talk about diversity, do it.
“I don't just mean racial, national, age, gender -- all of that diversity is super important, we need to hire that -- I mean, in addition to that, cognitive diversity which you get from all those backgrounds, but also just personality diversity,” says Sandberg.
If any company should tout this, it is Facebook. The company is all about people – 1.8 billion people all over the globe. So, the ability to think differently and have unique approaches to problems is imperative. And for Sandberg, it starts from the top down.
“We are very different,” Sandberg says of her and Zuckerberg’s work style. “We are separated by obviously gender, 15 years, he's my boss, he's 15 years younger, completely different personalities, completely different working styles -- and I think’s that served Facebook well.”
3. Talk about your mission -- all the time.
For some founders, discussing the mission statement is a one-and-done deal. You told employees on their first day, it is a tagline on your company’s Twitter bio and there are posters around your office with your values on them – everyone should know your company’s mission. Not so, says Sandberg.
“You have to repeat your mission, and your purpose, and the values you care about, over and over and over,” she says.
One way they do it at Facebook is to start every meeting with the company’s purpose. ‘“This is the Facebook mission,’ ‘this is the Instagram mission’, ‘this is why WhatsApp exists,’ is so powerful -- even if everyone knows it by heart --because it reminds you where you're headed, and why you're going there.”
4. Make failure acceptable.
“You have to embrace organizational failure,” says Sandberg, adding it shouldn’t just be a top-down structure; everyone should feel comfortable speaking up.
“I think one mistake that I've made, that I make again, is remembering that whatever you talk about, or whatever you measure, people are going to react.”
For Sandberg, it was unintentionally issuing a ban on PowerPoint presentations for everyone at the company.
“I don't love PowerPoint presentations in meetings for me, because I want them to be more discussions,” says Sandberg. Yet, people continued to do so. “So one day -- probably more frustrated than I needed to be -- I just said, ’No more PowerPoint at any of my meetings."’
While Sandberg thought it meant just meetings with her, the company understood it as PowerPoint presentations were prohibited in all meetings, including those with clients. So, at the big global sales conference, Sandberg had to clear the air.
“I got on the stage and I said, ‘One, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. Two, it is on me that if you all thought that, and that was a stupid idea, you need to speak up and tell me,’” she recalls. “It was just a really good lesson that I needed to be super careful that things didn't get taken too far, but also that I needed to make sure people could speak up.”
5. Accept genuine feedback.
For employees to feel okay making mistakes, leaders need to own up when they make them, too.
“Mark does it, I do it, I make mistakes all the time,” says Sandberg, adding, it is not only important to acknowledge when you messed up, but “being open to feedback, thanking people for the feedback.”
One woman at Facebook, who some may think takes this advice to the extreme, is Carolyn Everson, the head of the company’s global sales team.
“She shares her performance reviews in a Facebook group with 2,400 people,” says Sandberg, “‘Here's what I'm working on, here's what you've told me I need to do better.’ That's showing that we really value feedback, and we don't have to pretend to be perfect.”
6. Relentlessly prioritize.
For any company, big or small, there is a finite number of resources. Leaders need to determine what areas to focus on, and what ones to ignore. But it isn’t always easy.
At Facebook, Sandberg explains the company focuses on “non-goals,” or ideas that people should focus on after a goal is achieved.
One anecdote she provides deals with Facebook’s ad network. “Over a long time, our non-goal for ads was an ad network. We now have one,” she says “It was a good idea, but we had to build our own ad systems, and targeting and measurement systems first, before we got to the ad network.”
Not only does this allow people to openly discuss ideas for longer term goals, but it also sets a precedent for other non-goals.
“You would see someone come up with an idea, and someone else would say, ‘That's a great idea,’ and then the person would say, ‘But it's not as good of an idea as an ad network,’ and that's a non-goal,” she says. “So it set a floor for what we were going to invest in that everyone could understand, and it made it theirs.”
7. Let people bring their whole selves to work.
Often, it is hard to separate your personal life from your professional one. Emotions, stresses and family-life trickle into your workday. Instead of expecting people to suppress these feelings, let people be themselves.
“It is in those personal relationships that we find meaning, even at work, she says. “I never believe that you can be a personal self some hours and a professional self in others. Bring your whole self to work.”
And that doesn’t mean talking all the time about your personal life, rather, “it means we acknowledge, it means we are there for each other, we are flexible with what people need, and then we can form the relationships that create that collective resilience.”
For more anecdotes and lessons from Sandberg's journey to scale, check out the latest episode of this new series below. Listeners can also access the podcast on Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify and other streaming platforms.