Updated: Oct 19
When it comes to operating the biggest social networking site in history, you want to make sure that the day-to-day operations of your company run like clockwork. To make something like Facebook work without a hitch, you need a COO that knows how to effectively delegate and get things done. That’s the job description of Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg’s right-hand woman that he trusts to keep his life’s work afloat. Today, you’ll learn how the COO of one of the biggest tech companies can inspire you to manage your own organisation more effectively.
In today’s blog, we’re discussing Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, and how some of her business practices can help you with running your business.
WHO IS SHERYL SANDBERG?
You don’t get to be second-in-command to someone like Mark Zuckerberg without at least a few credentials under your belt. Fortunately, Sandberg has quite the resume. Prior to joining Facebook as its COO, Sandberg was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, and was involved in its philanthropic arm Google.org. Before that, Sandberg served as Chief of Staff for United States Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence Summers. So, she knows her way around people, and how to make them as productive as possible.
WHAT HAS SHE DONE FOR FACEBOOK?
If you’ve ever seen an ad on Facebook that is suspiciously exactly what you were just thinking of, you can thank Sandberg for that. She spearheaded Facebook’s data-driven advertising platform, and has completely changed the company’s finances. So, what strategy does someone in her position have for maximising productivity in such a competitive industry as social media? In an interview with CNN, Sandberg describes her tactic of “ruthless prioritization” that she believes extracts as much value from her workers as possible:
“I strongly believe in ruthless prioritization. Sometimes people think of prioritization as only doing things that will have a positive impact on your business. But ruthless prioritization means only focusing on the very best ideas. It means figuring out the 10 things on your list and, if you can't do all 10, doing the top two really well. Ruthlessly prioritizing can get hard because you're always trying to do more, but it's one of the best and most important ways to stay focused.”
LEARN HOW TO PRIORITISE EFFECTIVELY
Any good leader understands how to prioritise. When you’re presented with the burden of over choice and many opportunities for your business to develop, it’s up to you to determine the highest priorities for your company and establish an effective direction to achieve your long term and short-term goals. Don’t fall into the trap a lot of CEOs and COOs make of spreading your company out and trying too many things at one time – you should seriously consider what your company needs to seamlessly grow and expand while minimising risk. Sandberg argues that it’s crucial to value quality over quantity, ensuring that you can fulfil a few tasks to a high standard over fulfilling many tasks whilst cutting corners and delivering an unsatisfactory result. With so many new ideas being developed seemingly every week in social media, a good leader knows what their company is capable of and forfeits a variety of opportunity to pursue endeavours that are certain to be profitable and worthwhile.
HOW DOES SHE KEEP UP WITH TRENDS AND INNOVATION?
When you’re in an industry that constantly innovates and changes with the trends, it can be difficult to keep up. Social media in particular is incredibly volatile, with user bases swapping between platforms almost unpredictably. If you don’t capitalise on trends within a month of them being conceived, you run the risk of losing a significant portion of your consumer base overnight. While this threat is highly prevalent in the social networking industry, it can still exist in others. When asked how Sandberg stays on top of trends and recent innovations in her industry, she responded:
“At Facebook, we think about meeting people where they are and anticipating where they're going. For example, when we decided to shift to mobile, we made sure all our products were designed mobile first. If a team came into a product review with only a desktop version of a product, they had to go back to the drawing board. It felt like a risk at the time, but it turned out to be one of the best things we've done for our business.”
SHE MAKES SURE TO TALK WITH HER TEAM
Sandberg has a “no half-measures" policy in how she leads Facebook. If you’re going to try something new, you better go all the way with it. As in the example she gave about mobile development, it’s important that your team works on a united front – any inconsistencies or discrepancies ought to be resolved quickly and efficiently so that your company can grow in a predictable and stable manner. This isn’t something you can be expected to do on your own – when you’re working with a team that requires a lot of creative input, it’s important to take their input into consideration, especially in how you can lead more effectively. As Sandberg says, “Ask for feedback — and take it well. Even when you're in positions of leadership, it's important to listen to feedback and use it to do better. People who do this will keep learning and growing. It also builds great trust within your teams.” How can any team member trust the direction you’re taking them when they feel that they don’t have a say in how the company is operated? Keep in mind that company cultures and workflows can change dramatically overtime – don't assume that the business practices you employed a few years ago will still work effectively today. Talk to your team, and they’ll give you some key insights into how you can be an optimal, modern leader.
LEARN HOW TO ADAPT TO NEW CIRCUMSTANCES
If there’s anything that can be learned from Sandberg’s position and leadership style, it’s her ability to adapt. When she was graduating from Harvard, Mark Zuckerberg was still in pre-school and the Internet had only recently been invented. Despite this, she’s remained on top of one of the biggest internet companies in the world and has led it to incredible success. As Sandberg puts it, “There's no straight path to where you're going. If you try to draw the line, you won't just probably get it wrong — you'll also miss big opportunities.” No-one could have predicted that a website that started from the drunken mind of a Harvard student would become the most influential website of the twenty first century, but a good COO knows how to roll with the punches and understands when to be reactive versus when to be proactive.
“Careers are not ladders but jungle gyms,” she says, “You don't have to have it all figured out. But I do think you can have two goals at once: a long-term dream and a short-term plan. Set personal goals for what you want to do in the future and what you want to learn in the next year-and-a-half. Ask yourself how you can improve and what you're afraid to do — that's usually the thing you should try.”
DON’T BE AFRAID TO INCORPORATE YOUR VALUES INTO YOUR LEADERSHIP
Sandberg’s legacy doesn’t stop at being the No. 2 at Facebook, however. Outside of the tech scene, she’s known as a bestselling author and advocate for feminism in the workplace. Her 2013 book "Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" is an impactful piece on women empowerment and is a lesson to all COOs on the importance of values in how they lead. Her second book, "Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy" details her personal experiences with being a widowed mother and how she overcomes difficulties both within her business and her personal life; the lessons therein are vital for any leader who wants to be adaptive and able to jump over any hurdles that they encounter in the operations of their business.
Sheryl Sandberg is a great example of a leader who can adapt to circumstance and identify what their business needs to truly succeed in a competitive industry. Her philosophy of “ruthless prioritisation” is something that all COOs should consider implementing into their own business – focussing only on those ideas and opportunities that are at the top of your list and realising them to a high standard. Her ability to adapt to new situations and markets is commendable and a quality that all good COOs should endeavour to implement within their own leadership.
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