Treating Employees Like People Makes Them Work Like Machines
The truly awesome part of Facebook's company culture isn't the unlimited holidays or the free lunches, says Stuart Crabb, former Global Head of Learning. It's something much deeper.
Stuart Crabb founded and created the Learning & Development function at Facebook while serving as its Global Head of Learning. As chief architect of Facebook’s now famous strengths-based high-performance culture, he was part of the force that rocketed Facebook to the top of Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in Corporate America. Crabb built the company's Sales Training function, co-founded its Diversity & Inclusion work, and supported employee information and education programming when Facebook become a public company. A veteran of the tech industry, he led HR & Learning at startups during the last two cycles of hyper growth and innovation, most notably at Portal Software and Facebook, as well as Yahoo!, Siemens, Compaq/HP, and British Aerospace. He also was a senior consultant with The Marcus Buckingham Company, a world leader in strengths development. Crabb is now a founding partner in Oxegen Consulting LLC, a Palo Alto-based consulting practice that helps late-stage startups and small companies develop their performance cultures. Stu has traveled, lived, and done business in more than 40 countries. Originally from England, he now lives in Palo Alto, California with his husband Brian, and their three daughters, Lydia, Phoebe, and Esther.
Stuart Crabb founded and created the Learning & Development function at Facebook while serving as its Global Head of Learning. As chief architect of Facebook’s now famous strengths-based high-performance culture, he was part of the force that rocketed Facebook to the top of Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in Corporate America. Crabb built the company's Sales Training function, co-founded its Diversity & Inclusion work, and supported employee information and education programming when Facebook become a public company.
A veteran of the tech industry, he led HR & Learning at startups during the last two cycles of hyper growth and innovation, most notably at Portal Software and Facebook, as well as Yahoo!, Siemens, Compaq/HP, and British Aerospace. He also was a senior consultant with The Marcus Buckingham Company, a world leader in strengths development.
Crabb is now a founding partner in Oxegen Consulting LLC, a Palo Alto-based consulting practice that helps late-stage startups and small companies develop their performance cultures. Stu has traveled, lived, and done business in more than 40 countries. Originally from England, he now lives in Palo Alto, California with his husband Brian, and their three daughters, Lydia, Phoebe, and Esther.
Stuart Crabb: We live in a world that is completely fascinated by weaknesses and takes strengths and positive emotions for granted. You only have to pick up the newspaper to see that. You only have to see the way people slow down on a freeway when there’s an accident. To understand your credit worthiness, we look at the amount of debt you carry. To try and understand what makes a happy customer we go talk to angry ones. Everywhere you look you’ll see this focus upon weaknesses as a basis to understand performance excellence. Now I think there’s lots of reasons for that. Some of that speaks to the human condition and the way in which the brain interprets external information and external threats. We’ve only told half the story about performance inside organizations. We’ve really cracked the code around understanding how to identify and really overcome those areas that people struggle in. But most organizations are not having conversations about how to build a positive engaging work culture. And they’re not having conversations about how to leverage people’s strengths at work.
This is an enormous game changer for organizations and for Facebook what we found is that those employees that felt that they had the opportunity to engage their strengths most of the time at Facebook were more likely to be high performing. They were more likely to be part of a higher performing team. They were more likely to stay longer with the company and it was also a key driver of fulfillment. In other words, their experience of work is a meaningful experience was massively promoted by the experience and the opportunity to be able to leverage their strengths every day.
We did it in a number of ways. There’s no question that the consequences of many performance problems can be traced back to a poor hiring decision. So hiring for strengths is critical right out of the gate. If you create the right conditions for candidates to share and reveal their strengths to you then you have the right opportunity to determine whether or not they’re going to be successful in this role. But it goes beyond just the hiring process. Starting an internal conversation within the culture of the organization was something that we also did very, very early on. Encouraging all new employees that came through the new hire orientation to take the Clifton Strengthsfinder so they could start to understand their strengths and what they may mean. Training managers to help managers understand how to have a conversation when it came to setting goals or giving feedback or sitting down and talking about longer term creative element were all essential ways in which we inculcated this message. We also launched a strengths based coaching program for all people managers and leaders in the organization which specifically focused on the better half of where they were having impact and helping to bring some balance to what is in many respects an obsession with weaknesses and a focus on fixing ourselves which can be important if it has the potential to derail us. But in most cases is a really, really poor place for you to be investing your time and energy when it comes to your own development.
You know that Facebook is one of the world’s best companies to work at. You’ve heard the heavenly details, right? We all have. Some of the less lucky ones dream about them while they scrape the bottom of their company's instant coffee can with a teaspoon, hoping to gather enough dehydrated crumbs to stay awake through the next team meeting.
But the real success of Facebook’s company culture goes deeper than free granola, segways, and ping pong tables. Stuart Crabb – founder of Oxegen Consulting, and Facebook’s former Global Head of Learning – was the chief architect of this legendary work environment, solidifying its reputation and talent during a crucial period in the company’s development. All those recreational gadgets and perks that are part of Facebook’s folklore are really only the most visible layer of a culture that is anchored in something more important: people’s strengths.
According to Crabb, we are unhealthily obsessed with weaknesses and negativity. Bad news headlines are more clickable than good news stories, and out in the real world you only have to observe people slowing down on a freeway to look at a traffic accident to know it’s true. Great novels aren’t written about happy people. A film about the perfect couple will never sell.
There is a negativity bias that pervades our personal, artistic, and corporate worlds: job interviews are often exercises in concealing your weaknesses, and an impending job review brings on a weighty stress about the areas you might be failing, rather than achieving.
Crabb turned that attitude on its head while at Facebook and championed the philosophy that people are at their best when they are allowed to access their strengths. Tapping into an employee’s brilliance and allowing them the opportunity to customize their role results in higher performing teams and individuals, longer employee retention, and a greater sense of fulfillment. Tom Rath, author of the best-selling book StrenghsFinder, also supports this idea: "People who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general."
Employee engagement is also key, and a lot of that comes down to investing in thoughtful training of managers. "Managers play a key role in driving engagement and we know that the relationship to the manager will always trump the brand," Crabb says, in Strategic Leadership Review. "Doesn’t matter how great your company is or how awesome your product is, if your manager sucks, you don’t want to be there. And so the appointment of managers and the training of managers is something we take very seriously."
Crabb encourages all employees to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder test so they can identify their assets and play to their strengths.
To know more, visit Oxegen Consulting
Why do people with bigger hands have a better vocabulary? That's one question deep learning can't answer.
- Did you know that people with bigger hands have larger vocabularies?
- While that's actually true, it's not a causal relationship. This pattern exists because adults tend know more words than kids. It's a correlation, explains NYU professor Gary Marcus.
- Deep learning struggles with how to perceive causal relationships. If given the data on hand size and vocabulary size, a deep learning system might only be able to see the correlation, but wouldn't be able to answer the 'why?' of it.
One of the scientists with the Viking missions says yes.
- A former NASA consultant believe his experiments on the Viking 1 and 2 landers proved the existence of living microorganisms on Mars
- Because of other conflicting data, his experiments' results have been largely discarded.
- Though other subsequent evidence supports their findings, he says NASA has been frustratingly disinterested in following up.
Gilbert V. Levin is clearly aggravated with NASA, frustrated by the agency's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge what he considers a fact: That NASA has had dispositive proof of living microorganisms on Mars since 1976, and a great deal of additional evidence since then. Levin is no conspiracy theorist, either. He's an engineer, a respected inventor, founder of scientific-research company Spherix, and a participant in that 1976 NASA mission. He's written an opinion piece in Scientific American that asks why NASA won't follow up on what he believes they should already know.
Image source: NASA/JPL
Sunset at the Viking 1 site
As the developer of methods for rapidly detecting and identifying microorganisms, Levin took part in the Labeled Release (LR) experiment landed on Mars by NASA's Viking 1 and 2.
At both landing sites, the Vikings picked up samples of Mars soil, treating each with a drop of a dilute nutrient solution. This solution was tagged with radioactive carbon-14, and so if there were any microorganisms in the samples, they would metabolize it. This would lead to the production of radioactive carbon or radioactive methane. Sensors were positioned above the soil samples to detect the presence of either as signifiers of life.
At both landing sites, four positive indications of life were recorded, backed up by five controls. As a guarantee, the samples were then heated to 160°, hot enough to kill any living organisms in the soil, and then tested again. No further indicators of life were detected.
According to many, including Levin, had this test been performed on Earth, there would have been no doubt that life had been found. In fact, parallel control tests were performed on Earth on two samples known to be lifeless, one from the Moon and one from Iceland's volcanic Surtsey island, and no life was indicated.
However, on Mars, another experiment, a search for organic molecules, had been performed prior to the LR test and found nothing, leaving NASA in doubt regarding the results of the LR experiment, and concluding, according to Levin, that they'd found something imitating life, but not life itself. From there, notes Levin, "Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA's subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results."
Image source: NASA
A thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil photographed by Viking 2
Levin presents in his opinion piece 17 discoveries by subsequent Mars landers that support the results of the LR experiment. Among these:
- Surface water sufficient to sustain microorganisms has been found on the red planet by Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix and Curiosity.
- The excess of carbon-13 over carbon-12 in the Martian atmosphere indicates biological activity since organisms prefer ingesting carbon-12.
- Mars' CO2should long ago have been converted to CO by the sun's UV light, but CO2 is being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as happens on Earth.
- Ghost-like moving lights, resembling Earth's will-O'-the-wisps produced by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been seen and recorded on the Martian surface.
- "No factor inimical to life has been found on Mars." This is a direct rebuttal of NASA's claim cited above.
Image source: NASA
A technician checks the soil sampler of a Viking lander.
By 1997, Levin was convinced that NASA was wrong and set out to publish followup research supporting his conclusion. It took nearly 20 years to find a venue, he believes due to his controversial certainty that the LR experiment did indeed find life on Mars.
Levin tells phys.org, "Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications. I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." (Staat is the author of To Mars with Love, about her experience as co-experimenter with Levin for the LR experiments.)
Finally, he and Straat decided to craft a paper that answers every objection anyone ever had to their earlier versions, finally publishing it in Astrobiology's October 2016 issue. "You may not agree with the conclusion," he says, "but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."
Nonetheless, NASA's seeming reluctance to address the LR experiment's finding remains an issue for Levin. He and Straat have petitioned NASA to send a new LR test to the red planets, but, alas, Levin reports that "NASA has already announced that its 2020 Mars lander will not contain a life-detection test."
Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.
- Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
- The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
- The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.