Facebook’s lead HR consultant explains how the company radically changed the way it trains managers

Marcus buckingham
Marcus Buckingham. The Marcus Buckingham Company

As a young manager in the early aughts, Lori Goler was profoundly impacted by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman’s 1999 management guide “First, Break All the Rules.”

When she joined Facebook in 2008 as its head of HR, she decided to reach out to Buckingham through his consulting and software firm The Marcus Buckingham Company for some guidance. Buckingham has had a close relationship with Facebook ever since.

In 2011, Goler approached Buckingham with a straightforward but difficult question: How can we train leaders without using a standardised training class?

Over her three years at Facebook, its employee count had jumped from around 800 to around 3,000 employees, and the company was on a scaled growth trajectory (today it has around 16,000 employees). She and the rest of Facebook’s leadership were afraid that rapid growth could dilute performance if they were unable to control performance across such a large company.

After coming together, Goler decided that the best way to do this would be to skip the classroom and go with one-on-one, personalised coaching for every manager, built on their individual strengths.

“Prior to that moment, coaching was always thought of as something you give to a broken executive, before you fire them,” Buckingham said. But Goler told him, “No, wherever I see excellence in the world, I see coaches.”

Buckingham and Goler then built a program where every new manager at Facebook would receive a personal coach who would check in every two weeks for an hour-long phone session. In the introductory session, the coach would assess what the manager’s strengths are and build on those for the following sessions.

Lori goler
Facebook’s VP of People Lori Goler speaks at the 2016 AOL Makers conference. Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images

Goler adopted Buckingham’s notion of being a “strengths-based organisation,” which means that leadership finds what employees excel at and place them in those roles rather than trying to get them to bolster their weaknesses. The personalised coaching is intended to avoid the “one size fits all” nature of a typical training class.

“We’ll give you some of the same content that you would get in the classroom but we’ll teach you how to lead one person, one situation, one context at a time,” Buckingham said.

Additionally, the personalised sessions are contextualized by the seven traits that an internal survey found the best managers had: They care about their team members, they provide opportunities for growth, they set clear expectations and goals, they give frequent and actionable feedback, they provide helpful resources, they hold their teams accountable for success, and they recognise outstanding work.

The Marcus Buckingham Company now has about 30 coaches working with Facebook employees around the world, and Buckingham said that the practice has been so effective that they have adopted it for other clients.

“It’s a phenomenally cool way to learn if you’ve never learned how to lead a team,” Buckingham said. “You don’t get shoved in a classroom with a binder and go through a bunch of models. Somebody goes, ‘OK, let’s figure out what your strengths are, let’s figure out what your team is doing, and let’s listen to your psychology, your challenges, your struggles, and help you learn how to lead in the context of your actual team.”

“It totally changed for us how you execute learning for team leaders.”

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