How Sheryl Sandberg Approaches Hiring and Motivating Talent

December 21, 2015

Clearly, Sheryl Sandberg knows something about recruiting and motivating talent.

For the past eight years, she’s served as the COO of the one of the most successful companies in the world: Facebook. She’s also one of the newest members of the billionaire club and the author of one of the most transformative and influential books about women in the workplace ever written: Lean In.

What’s her secret? How does she approach hiring and motivating talent, while continuing her pledge to give women the same opportunities as men?

Recently, she did a question-and-answer session with Quora and answered those exact questions. Here are her responses that tied most directly to recruiting and motivating top talent:

Question: What personality characteristics does Sheryl Sandberg look for when making hiring decisions?

Sandberg’s answer: At Facebook, we're looking for builders. We believe our journey at Facebook is only 1% done, so we want people who can help us build technology, products and our business into the future. We don't look for a specific background or skill-set when we make hiring decisions. As my friend and Instagram COO Marne Levine says, we hire athletes and cross train them. We find people with great skills and abilities who care about our mission of making the world more open and connected and who share our core values: Be open, focus on impact, and move fast.

Question: How does one build a great company culture across several locations in different timezones?

Sandberg’s answer: Facebook’s culture reflects our mission to make the world more open and connected. “Be open” has been one of our core values since the beginning. Our openness sets us apart and helps us move fast. It gives people the context they need to prioritize and work autonomously on the projects that are highest impact. It shows even our newest team members that Facebook is their company and they are responsible for our mission and our culture, no matter where in the world they are located.

There's no one secret ingredient, but here are a few of the things we do to get work done and maintain our culture:

1. We have hard conversations. 

We know we'll never achieve our mission if we aren't communicating openly and honestly with each other. Honest feedback delivered frequently and with good intent is what helps us build better products and develop better leaders. It makes us stronger as individuals and as a team. I believe that if you're not having a hard conversation at least once a month – and doing it respectfully – you're not helping yourself and others meet your collective potential.

2. We use our product.

We're Facebook friends with our coworkers (so we know what's going on in each other's lives, no matter where we're located), we use Facebook Messenger to communicate instantly (so we're always in touch), and we use Groups to connect on projects or passions (so we have a place to share information and have transparent discussions).

3. We remind ourselves that our journey is only 1% done.

We celebrate our accomplishments, but always remember that we're still in the early days of achieving our mission — we have a lot of work to do, and we're excited about the future.

Question: What should men do (and not do) to support the growth of women in tech?

Sandberg’s answer: One of my favorite posters at Facebook says, “Nothing at Facebook is Someone Else’s Problem.” The inequities that persist are everyone’s problem – gender inequality harms men and women, racism hurts whites and minorities, and equal opportunity benefits us all. We need to help everyone understand that equality is necessary for our industry and economy.

We quite simply can't afford to miss out on the contributions of half the population. The numbers of women in tech are plummeting: Women were 35% of CS majors in 1985, but only 18% today. Women are missing out on high-impact, flexible, well-paid, and exciting careers, and the industry is missing out on their ideas. By 2020 the United States will have 1 million unfilled roles in computer science and engineering — if women majored in CS at the same rate as men we could cut this gap in half.

There is a huge incentive for men to support the growth of women in the workplace and many things men can do:

1. Educate yourself and others about bias. 

One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have. All of us - including me - have biases. Organizations which consider themselves highly meritocratic actually show more bias.

To share just one example, people with so-called “black-sounding names” get fewer callbacks for interviews after submitting resumes than those with “white sounding names” – and applicants called Jennifer are likely to be offered a lower salary than applicants called John. We need to educate ourselves about bias and take actions to manage our biases. At Facebook, we developed a Managing Bias training and made it available online for others to use:

2. Start or join Lean In Computer Science and Engineering Circles. 

The solution to getting more women into CS is…getting more women into CS. This is because stereotypes are self-reinforcing; computer science and engineering classes feel “male” because they are dominated by men. As one CS student told me, “There are more Davids than women in my CS department.” We can all help women feel less isolated by creating communities to support them.

Facebook partnered with LinkedIn, Anita Borg, and LeanIn.Org to launch Lean In Circles for students and professionals in Computer Science and Engineering. Lean In Circles are small groups that meet regularly to support each other. Circles help women — and men!— Lean In to their ambitions and their work. 80% of members credit their Circle with making a positive change in their life. More than 240 CS&E Circles have been started and thousands of women and men have joined the chapters online. Learn more and get invovled at:

3. Be a 50/50 partner at home.

We cannot get to an equal world without men leaning in at home — and those who do have stronger marriages and healthier, happier, more successful children. If you're a manager or leader, think about what you can do to make work work for parents.

For example, at Facebook we believe that mothers and fathers deserve the same level of support when they are starting and growing a family so we offer all parents around the world four months of paid leave. In fact, Mark is on paternity leave now. #leanintogether.

*Image from Fortune Live Media

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