Sheryl Sandberg knew when she joined Facebook as its COO in 2007, her success at the company depended on her relationship with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, she told the graduating class of Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management on Saturday.
She immediately asked Zuckerberg if he would be willing to give her feedback every week, including any problems he may have. He not only liked the idea, Sandberg said in her commencement speech, he wanted the relationship to be reciprocal.
“For the first few years, we stuck to this routine and met every Friday afternoon to voice concerns big and small,” she said. “As the years went by, sharing honest reactions became part of our relationship, and we now do so in real time rather than waiting for the end of the week.”
Sandberg explained how much she admires Zuckerberg’s willingness to accept criticism from the people who work for him, saying she knows firsthand that it can be difficult to develop transparency between bosses and employees.
For example, she told the Tsinghua graduates, in her early days of Facebook she would encourage her employees not to use PowerPoint presentations when they met as a team so that meetings didn’t feel so formal and rigid. After two years, she declared that PowerPoints were no longer allowed in meetings with her.
“About a month later I was about to address our global sales team,” Sandberg said, “when someone said to me, ‘Before you get on that stage, you really should know everyone’s pretty upset about the no PowerPoint with clients thing.'”
She was shocked, since slideshows were necessary for client meetings. She just didn’t want meetings with her own employees to feel like client meetings.
It showed her that the level of transparency she built with Zuckerberg should be applied to all levels of the company — and all companies, for that matter. If employees were too afraid to speak with their bosses honestly, misunderstandings could result in problems that affected the business.
Sandberg told the graduates that after she learned about the misinterpretation of her PowerPoint rule, she told her team that the “next time you hear a bad idea — like not doing proper client presentations — speak up. Even if you think it is what I have asked for, tell me I am wrong!”
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