Facebook CEO: People And Culture Matter More Than Ever Before

It’s rather ironic and unusual; in a world that’s being disrupted by technology, it’s people and culture that are most important.

That’s what Stephen Scheeler told me on my podcast recently, and I couldn’t agree more.

Stephen is the former CEO of Facebook for Australia and New Zealand, and had many tips for startup founders around where they are getting their digital strategy wrong.

Stephen began the podcast with some terrific advice I wish every startup founder could hear:

“Ultimately, businesses, whether they’re traditional businesses, digital businesses — whether it’s the 19th century, 20th century, 21st century — succeed and fail based on the people that are brought into them, and how well those people’s talents are unleashed. This has not changed. I think if anything, it’s probably become accelerated in the age of digital because everything’s accelerated. Things move faster. Competition is more intense. Disruption happens more quickly. So if you’ve got a culture and you’ve got people that are not using the best of their talents, and if they’re not the best, most talented people that you can find to bring into those roles, your chances of success are lower than ever.”

So how was Facebook ran when Stephen was there as CEO?

It’s one of the ironies I found working at Facebook for so many years…Facebook spent more time on people and leaders and culture than any other company I’ve ever worked for. And that’s ironic in the age of technology that people are becoming more important than ever. But I really think they are.

Hiring the Right Staff for Startup Success

So how do we get this right? Stephen explains:

“There’s a lot of things to get right with people. People are…software that’s not easily reprogramed, that’s the way I would say it! And software that reprograms itself. And so your question is, how do you find people?”

Stephen says there are two things that are most important:

“One is, before you can talk to anybody, be really clear about what you’re trying to build. So what’s the product or direction you’re trying to go in? What’s the mission of the company and the aspiration of the business? And then what kind of talent and skills do you need? And what kind of strengths do you need and the people are going to hire to bring in to make things happen? So it’s really kind of building a blueprint for what do you need.”

Stephen says there are another two steps:

“Then you’ve got to go out and do two things: one, you’ve got to be able to sell that blueprint to the talent that you identify and then two, you need to convince that talent to come on board and then give them the opportunity to unleash their talent and their skills. Now, all these things are easy to say, they’re very hard to do because, again, people are software that is hard to reprogram, but it often reprograms itself. So when you start to build a culture internally, it’s it is really important as a leader, even in the early days, to be really close to how — not just how you people are performing — but how are they feeling?”

Stephen says it’s these sort of questions that help you be the best possible leader for your staff and startup:

“How much differential effort are they giving you and how much is that? How is that making them feel, you know? Do they feel like this is a place where I’m making a difference? I’m using my best talents. I’m focusing on my strengths. I’m proud of what I’m doing. I’m delivering on something that, I go home at night and I’m excited and I keep thinking about it, or is it the opposite of those things? And that’s something that, again, is hard to do. Leaders have got a lot on their plate, but it’s probably one of the most important jobs they’ve got to do to be successful.”

Delegation: How Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the Google Founders Became better leaders

Stephen says all of our leadership styles are different:

“We are not all going to be Winston Churchill just because war breaks out. We are who we are. So you need to be. You need to be relatively realistic about the type of leader you can be.”

Stephen says the best leaders can be both aspirational and inspirational:

“They split the two roles in how they put themselves. And over time they hire other people to take bits and pieces of that off of them, people who can do those bits better. A lot of tech companies over time, the successful founders, will often hire another person to run the company, to essentially be the CEO or the COO while they migrate to a higher level staff because they realize — Bill Gates realized this with Microsoft — the guys who founded Google realized that over time, (and) I think Mark Zuckerberg is realizing, that somebody else is probably better running the detail of the company rather than them. I think over time, the best founders come to that realization. What are they good at and what can they hand off to other people?”

Does this article help you with your leadership and startup aspirations? Feel free to share it with someone you think should read it!


For more wisdom from Stephen Scheeler, listen to the full podcast here.

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