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TD Magazine Article

Stuart Crabb

An interview with Stuart Crabb, Head of Learning and Development, Facebook

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Sun Jan 01 2012

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Head of Learning and Development

Facebook

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Palo Alto, California

Stuart Crabb is responsible for learning and development at Facebook. Prior to joining Facebook, he was a senior consultant at The Marcus Buckingham Company, and the former head of talent development at Yahoo! Crabb has spent 22 years in the human resources field with Yahoo!, Oracle, Compaq/HP, and Siemens. He holds a masters degree in human resource management from the University of Portsmouth, and a bachelor of laws from the University of Westminster in London. He has been a speaker at the Human Capital Institutes Engagement and Retention Conference and the Wisdom 2.0 Conference on mindfulness at work, and is a keynote speaker later this month at ASTDs 2012 TechKnowledge Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Stuart Crabb is responsible for learning & development at Facebook, including leadership and manager development, acculturation of new employees, sales and product training, and diversity and inclusion. Prior to joining Facebook, Crabb was a senior consultant at The Marcus Buckingham Company, supporting strengths-based consulting and coaching assignments. He is also the former head of talent development at Yahoo! Originally a lawyer by education, Crabb has spent 22 years in the human resources field with Yahoo!, Oracle, Compaq/HP, and Siemens. He has lived in Australia, Germany, Scotland, and now the United States, although he is a native of the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom.

Crabb holds a masters in human resource management from the University of Portsmouth, and bachelor of law from the University of Westminster in London. He has been a speaker at the Human Capital Institutes Engagement and Retention Conference and the Wisdom 2.0 Conference on mindfulness at work, and is a keynote speaker at ASTDs 2012 TechKnowledge Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, in January.

Q| How did you first become interested in the learning field?

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I spent the first four years of my professional HR career as an HR generalist working for an aerospace engineering company at a manufacturing plant in southern England (although in those days, the HR profession in the UK was called "Personnel"). This was a heavily unionized production environment, with an almost completely closed shop. Not surprisingly, my role reflected a heavy emphasis on employee relations matters, working closely with members of the management team and the recognized trade unions at the facility to tackle productivity challenges and resolve a wide variety of individual and collective employee relations problems.

An early mentor during this time introduced me to a great deal of psychological theory--particularly around motivation, change, and personality type--and coached and encouraged me as I begun to explore this field in more depth. This was the beginning of my lifelong fascination with workforce behavior and type, particularly as it relates to motivation and ability to think or act differently, and subsequently helped to shape my career direction.

Q| Do you actually use Facebook for learning initiatives in the company?

Yes--the Facebook employee team uses the platform we built for our users as a means to connect, share ideas, and curate content with each other every day. The Facebook platform was built as a base plate to enable new ideas, products, and services to be shared between users across the social graph as a powerful way to build community and personalized value for every user. We decided that for our internal audience we should apply the same thinking, so we built internal learning forums using our groups product, and several e-learning applications, rather than buy just another off-the-shelf program. This class is accessible to our all our managers worldwide over Facebook.

Given that our mission at Facebook is to provide the means for the world to be more open and connected, how can we not eat our own dog food in pursuit of the same sharing and distribution of ideas and perspectives within our own company? Facebook is a terrific place for these ideas to be shared.

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Q| What's so powerful about Facebook is the ability to connect people. Does that have an impact on how work is done there?

One of the most important things to understand about our company and the conversations that go on here is to understand just how really zealous we all are about product innovation. We have an incredible team of designers, engineers, and product specialists working to bring exciting experiences to our 800 million users, in a way that is as fast and reliable as possible.

Some of the most incredible products that weve brought to the market were built by a handful of amazing people and sometimes by our least experienced employees. We actively encourage and expect internal debate and testing of new products, and problem solving through hackathons, discussion threads, social forums, and heads-up sessions where employees can come together. We think this type of discussion and debate is an integral part of what lands a great product.

I often think that there is this kind of implicit assumption from people outside the company that everybody inside Facebook agrees with every thing we do, or with every feature or product change we launch, but very often we dont. Weve had some very intense debates over the years, and I think its an extremely healthy phenomenon when an organizations founders can step back and let those big internal conversations happen.

The other powerful way we see the importance of connecting people within the learning field is the importance of connecting our people to the best of who they are individually. For several years we have been deploying a strengths-based approach to our learning and performance management process as a way to connect every employee to their best self.

Q| Facebook is based on our desire to connect with one another and share. Do you see openness as being a key value to your employees?

Yes, absolutely. I think to some extent that philosophically challenges many of the traditional norms of organizations: the role of the manager and organized trade unions for instance, or the belief that the executive is the sole preserve of decision making. We know that the so-called Millennial generation demands and wants a larger voice in shaping decisions inside organizations, which will probably turn many of these traditional norms and systems on their heads in the years ahead. These young professionals simply wont tolerate being in a culture that doesnt give them that. We see a great deal of this at Facebook, and we think that breeds a healthy and engaging culture.

I remember discussing this point of view a few months ago at a conference in Atlanta. After my speech, a really wonderful woman caught up with me afterward and explained that, although she loved the speech, she felt there was no chance to effect that kind of change with her employer, the federal government.

The really interesting thing about this view is that were just at the crest of a wave that will impact all organizations over the next five to 10 years. As Boomers retire, and Millennials enter the workforce in greater numbers, we have to be ready as a profession to deal with these changing attitudes and behaviors, and their effect on our corporate cultures. Even the federal government will have to recognize that slow-moving, stodgy cultures will fail to attract innovative thought if they arent prepared to take some of the bold leaps in communication and openness.

Q| How much does your learning group affect the company culture?

Pretty significantly, I think. The learning group is responsible for driving the new hire experience, supporting manager development, and designing leadership and individual contributor programs. We also are responsible for sales and product training, as well as diversity and inclusion in the company. We have a fully global team deployed in Asia, Europe, and the United States with a key focus on creating an impacting experience for new employees, managers, and leaders at Facebook.

For example, every single employee that is hired into Facebook goes through a 1.5-day onboarding program with the company, followed by a 100-day on-ramping experience of a structured learning curriculum. In the program, we spend a lot of time sharing and discussing our core mission and the potential for a world where everyone is connected. In many ways, this event is designed to validate their decision to come to Facebook by helping them understand the way we work and our expectations of how they should be behaving in a way that continues to drive those values so that we dont lose them.

We gauge employee engagement through an all-employee survey, known as The Awesomeness Survey. We run this as a deep culture audit several times a year and use the insights to get the right people strategy. Were proud to say that, in 2011 more than 95 percent of employees felt that Facebook was an awesome place to work.

Q| Where do you see the field of learning heading in the near future?

I think some issues will be relatively stable, whilst other areas of our work probably will evolve. Im also gratified as a learning professional, just how much some things come back around as important and useful once again! For instance, at Facebook, we have been deploying the Situational Leadership framework this year with our new managers and have been delighted with its impact in this community. Here are three areas which I think will need a vice from a learning professional in the organization in the next few years:

Helping new employees fit better into organizations will only become more and more important as the war for great talent continues. It is absolutely vital for organizations to accelerate the employees time to readiness, to move fast and keep competitive advantage.

Secondly, I also think the role of the people manager is changing. The concept of the manager-subordinate relationship is becoming less and less relevant to the Millennial generation. They demand a more equal voice and a constant stream of feedback and recognition from their manager and peers. So I think the role of managers over time is probably going to be much less one of administrator and coordinator, and more that of coach and trusted adviser. Organizations have to support and be ready to help managers make that kind of behavioral shift and look for ways to manage some of the traditional work they did a different way.

And finally, greater cultural awareness and sensitivity is also a big deal in the organization of the future, and the learning professional needs to be ready to support this. There are several ways of looking at this: the value of greater inclusion and diversity on the performance potential of an organization; the integration and efficiency of decision making in distributed regional and global teams; the tone that influencers set in the zeitgeist of the organization. These all have big implications for programming like onboarding, manager awareness, coaching, and assessment.

Q| Can you give us a preview of what youre going to be discussing during your keynote at ASTDs upcoming TechKnowledge Conference?

One of the things that I think is really powerful and want to examine at the conference is the demographic change were seeing in society as Boomers enter retirement and the Millennials enter the world of work, and the impact of these changes on organizational life generally, and HR practice and policy specifically.

The attitudes of this new generation toward opportunity, reward, career development, feedback, and access to learning are much more aggressive and quite different from the generations that came before them. Balancing work and life doesnt seem to adequately describe this generations needs, so much as their expectation that they can blend the two. Theyre much less tolerant of some of the traditional archetypes of managing and authority and decision making. Theyre much more interested in being part of a community. This is going to force organizations to change the way in which they manage the performance management process.

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