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What are your job's lighthouse questions?
One of the earliest lessons I learned about surviving or thriving inside a rapidly scaling organization is that job descriptions expire immediately. As soon as you're onboarded, all those lovely bullets are already out of date because things are changing so fast.
At Facebook, I learned to give myself questions as a guide for how to think about my job. Questions simply last longer than declarative statements. Scaling is like living inside a storm at all times; you want to find anchors — lighthouses — that help keep you pointed in the right direction regardless of what’s going on around you.
In my first (ok second) role at FB, I worked in a pretty broad, vague job on the People team. I won’t bore you with the long story of how I ended up in that job, but I basically served as the project manager for all company wise HR projects — performance management, engagement, etc — as a partner to the head of People on all things “culture” and as the owner of employment branding or marketing for recruiting. This was super early: I built the first real perf management system that Facebook had and the first engagement surveys; I went on a two year quest to find words to describe who we were without using the word “Hacker” because we weren’t comfortable with it (ultimately we convinced Mark to own it :); I rewrote our values with Mark and some other folks. It was chaos! The best kind. I was constantly working on new and interesting things because the company was growing and changing so fast.
Inside that chaos, I found it really hard to explain what my job was at first. It was not a standard job and I kept getting handed new things. Eventually, instead of saying I owned “defining our employment brand” or “figuring out how to scale our values”, I found it really helpful to define my job as answering these two questions:
- how do we talk to the world outside about what it's like to work at Facebook?
- who do we want to be when we grow up? [this was a question Mark asked so I stole it]
Those questions were great because they were
a little too big for me to own (aka probably my boss’s job but that's fine) and
easy to always keep track of why they're important to the company.
I tend to find that if you check those two boxes, the question is a lighthouse. That means you've defined it at the right level to last regardless of whatever changes around you.
When I moved on to the mobile team to help build the Facebook phone (story for another day), one thing I knew was that the project and my role was about something much bigger than the phone. So I gave myself the following lighthouse question:
How do we become more than just an app on someone else’s platform?
That question helped keep me sane and clear through all the crazy twists and turns on that project. I always knew what we were aiming for and why.
I now use lighthouse questions as a management tactic. I give people guiding questions for how to think about their purpose and their focus inside the company instead of any kind of bulleted list. “What is our approach to SMBs?” “How do we reach our next 1,000 customers?” “How do we 10x our revenue?” “How do we double our employees count next year and not have everything break?” These questions could all be someone's job.
Questions that need answering as the focal point for your job can act as a lighthouse in the storm of scaling. Regardless of all the changes, those questions will always need to be answered.
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