Women@Austin May Roundtable Recap

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Katherine Shappley, VP of Global Business at Facebook, posed this question at the Women@Austin May roundtable. This question has guided and motivated her and her Facebook team to innovate while also not losing one of the  company’s most important assets: people and culture.

Katherine Shappley is familiar with the nuances of people management. In addition to her role as a VP, Shappley also leads Facebook’s Austin offices, where she stewards their culture, workflow, and ethics. While she emphasized that Facebook’s cultural values, mission, and vision remain consistent globally, she spoke about several things that guide her leadership locally. She looks to build social value, move fast, be bold and open, and ensure that the focus always remains on impact. So what lessons can entrepreneurs learn about company culture, retention, and productivity from Facebook’s successes?

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First, Shappley emphasized that they “play to our people’s strengths and create fulfilling work.”. She shared that after newly-hired engineers complete their training at Facebook, they are given a list of current engineering needs and asked which job they want to work on. “We want to put people in a position where they can play best,” said Shappley.

Shappley also emphasized the importance of being able to move fast, and shared an anecdote about the creation of Facebook Live. Facebook Live came about through employee feedback. Engineers saw user behavior around videos and put together a prototype for proposal. Leadership was willing to listen, and greenlit the project.

That engineering team was then sent into Lockdown, a method Facebook uses to ensure focus. Those in Lockdown come together for a short period of time to focus on just one thing, and this is how a complex program like Facebook Live was launched in only 60 days. “We move fast, but we move with intention,” said Shappley,. “We changed from move fast and break things, to move fast and build stable infrastructure. We have had to evolve given the dynamics of the world, the size of our platform, and our associated responsibility.”

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As Facebook scales rapidly, many wonder how their values and mission manifest themselves in the company culture. Shappley revealed that at Facebook, behavior based on their values “comes organically, but with intention. When Mark began hiring and building the company, he looked for the types of behaviors he wanted to see in new employees, to look at what behaviors people already possessed, rather than hiring for aspirational concepts.”

Shappley also credited Facebook’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion as a key to their great company culture. Rather than only emphasize diversity in the hiring process, Facebook continues the inclusion journey by offering a multitude of employee resource groups. The traditional mindset for employee resource groups is ‘get your work done, and then you can go to this activity,’ but Shappley says that Facebook sees it differently: “We look at our resource groups as an important point of leverage for our community” and encourage employees to get engaged in multiple Employee Resource Groups. Shappley also cited Sheryl Sandberg’s radical honesty and open communication in the face of her husband’s death as an inspiration to employees to be transparent and authentic in the workplace.

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But transparency in the workplace isn’t limited to personal matters. Facebook employees are encouraged to be open about their professional lives as well. “Being as open as we possibly can about business enables people to have the context they need to make decisions,” Shappley said. “So many companies fail, and often it wasn’t a mystery to people in the organization that things weren’t going well, it’s that people didn’t feel empowered to say anything.”

At the end of the day, Shappley knows that she leads the office, but that “the culture lives not from the top down, but within each of our employees. Our mission and values are global, and we want to give people direct for where we’re going. But I still ask my staff ‘how do you want to make this your own culture?’ Remember, this is your company, and every person brings something to the culture. And that’s how we evolve and stay relevant as we move forward.”

Our next roundtable will be in August. Speaker and location to be announced soon. Follow Women@Austin on Facebook and Twitter and join our group on LinkedIn for our upcoming events and the latest news in female entrepreneurship.

Christine Fahey