Women in leadership positions often find themselves faced with a cognitive conundrum. How to be themselves, and leverage some of the big benefits of effective communication that women tend to demonstrate, while at the same time attempting to break into a culture that is often dominated by more type-A male colleagues.
They may be able to adopt a page from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s playbook.
Writing for Bloomberg, Sarah Frier discusses a unique – and arguably feminine – approach to employee communication, one that focusses on openness and sharing, promoted by Sandberg. In addition to her role at Facebook, many know Sandberg for her wildly successful book on women in the workplace – Lean In.
Frier writes, “Sandberg’s message of openness and empathy may come across as a self-serving schtick. Facebook’s COO encouraging people to overshare is like Exxon Mobil promoting oil. But since she’s one of the most powerful women in business, you can’t just dismiss her as the Chief Emoting Officer.”
Frier quotes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg giving credit to Sandberg for encouraging executive-level openness. “‘When Sheryl first came to Facebook, she started a tradition of checking-in to our leadership meetings,’ he wrote in an email. ‘Checking-in’ means each person around the table is invited to discuss their current emotional and professional state before they get down to business. ‘Nine years later, we’re still doing it.’”
Checking-in is only one example of how Facebook has encouraged a sharing culture. This type of sharing is part of the fabric of the Facebook culture. The HR department invites new employees to join, and participate in, a Facebook group of their peers where collaboration takes place. “Milestones and failures are publicized on the network, as well as “Faceversaries”—anniversaries of workers’ start dates,” writes Frier.
While such a strong culture of sharing might seem like it’s almost uniquely suited to a social media giant like Facebook, other companies with varying business models and values are finding ways to promote sharing in their settings, says Frier. She points to Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors Co. and Doug McMillon, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., as two examples.
All of this sharing and openness might seem to have minimum benefit other than a possible impact on employee morale, but companies with such cultures are actually seeing dividends in the form of customer engagement—and loyalty. “It’s Sandberg-inspired postmodern marketing,” says Frier. “A corporate attempt to strengthen bonds with customers via an abundance of sharing that in a prior era might have seemed unbecoming.” Frier quotes former Facebook employee Mike Hoefflinger: “It makes us trust them more, or at a minimum, know them more, and that’s good for loyalty over time.”
Sandberg is a great example of a prominent businesswoman rejecting – at least in part – the second half of the balancing act that women in leadership have long found themselves forced to follow. Rather than assuming the traits of her male counterparts, Sandberg has engendered a culture of sharing, compassion and openness at Facebook, and its users as well as other major businesses have noticed the positive impact.
How you adopt similar practices in your organization? Could you build a stronger culture of sharing?