Facebook HR exec: Here’s what differentiates a ‘great’ manager from an ‘okay’ manager

Managers play such a crucial role in a company's success that six years ago Facebook decided to identify what differentiates a "great" manager from an "okay" manager, says vice president of HR Janelle Gale in an interview for job review site Glassdoor's Best Places to Work Tour.

After analyzing an internal workplace engagement study, Facebook found that great managers at the company are those who aren't managing in the traditional sense, says the HR exec. "[Great] managers at Facebook are not command and control. They don't lead from the front," explains Gale. "It's not about directing work."

Notably, the social media giant took the top spot on Glassdoor's Best Places to Work in 2018 list, which is chosen by employee reviews of the company.

The HR exec says that using the word manager to describe their roles at Facebook is misleading in a way because "great" managers aren't actually managing and controlling those under them.

"That is really not what they do," says Gale. "At Facebook, the great managers are supporting, they're taking care of people, they're reinforcing people's strengths, they're trying to make sure they get the opportunities to learn and grow in their jobs."

Unlike "okay" managers, great ones work "side-by-side" with their employees. "It's almost like [they're] supporters, not managers," explains Gale.

This hands-off management style is one that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg uses himself as CEO. Zuckerberg said last year on LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman's podcast "Masters of Scale" that he gives his engineers the freedom to experiment because it promotes risk-taking and leads to innovation.

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He reiterates the sentiment in a recent WNYC "Freakonomics Radio" podcast and says that the "real art" to managing is allowing people to do things that he disagrees with. This enables his employees to be creative and empowers them to test new strategies that could be successful. "I believe a lot in giving people freedom," says Zuckerberg.

This framework is reinforced throughout the company and has helped Facebook place the right people in managerial positions, explains Gale. "We pick people who are really happy to be in management."

For those not interested in becoming managers at Facebook, employees can still be promoted to senior level specialist positions. In these roles, they work as individual contributors rather than overseeing a team. "Literally, we have VP-level individual contributors," says Gale. "If management is not their strength, we don't want them managing."

Employees who do love to manage are hand-selected for those jobs but still have the ability to opt out and explore other paths. "If they decide management is not for them, then they move off and it's not a scarlet letter," says Gale. "That way we get the people that are really good at it in those roles."

To see what it takes to score a job at Facebook read the HR chief's top three tips on what the company looks for in an applicant.

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