If you speak with Sandhya Devanathan, Managing Director of Gaming, Asia Pacific (APAC) at the Facebook company, her deep tech industry knowledge might lead you to think she has spent her entire career in tech. But before she joined Facebook five years ago, she worked at top financial institutions for 15 years. “Adapting to Facebook—adjusting to a new reality—was one of the hardest things I’ve done, but super supportive teams all around the company helped a lot,” says Sandhya.
“When it came to banking, I knew the industry really well. I knew about fintech, but Facebook and the digital consumer tech landscape were brand new to me. I faced a steep learning curve managing teams that function very differently from traditional companies. Banking can be a very hierarchical industry. At Facebook, you lead with purpose and passion, empowering your people and supporting them all while achieving shared goals. Having a shared vision, purpose, and sense of community is very important here.”
Fast forward to 2020 and the job market is wildly different, largely due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. At Facebook, much like other companies, people are onboarding remotely, missing out on the opportunity to meet both their teammates and their managers in person. While this is challenging for new employees, it’s also a challenge for leaders.
We sat down with Sandhya for a discussion on how to navigate through change and what it takes to succeed in today’s job market.
How has the current global pandemic changed your approach to leadership?
“This is an entirely new world. We’re all navigating something we’ve never experienced before. People starting new jobs are having to do so from home, while leaders are learning how to manage teams remotely. All of these things have an impact on culture.
Leading through change must start from a place of empathy and this is more important now than ever before. Everyone is going through something. We need to give people space and grace to process what they’re experiencing. Leaders must also have the humility to understand that we are constantly in learning mode because there is so much change happening around us.
At the same time, it’s important to try to bring a little lightheartedness and fun into the work we do, but do so in a natural way. Recreating those moments we miss—running into colleagues in hallways or having coffee chats—helps foster creativity and creates a deeper sense of belonging. One example is a survey we did where we asked hobby and travel related questions, then came together as a team to guess each person’s answers. It was a lot of fun and also helped us learn more about each other.
And, we have to make self-care a priority. With lines blurring, it’s often a struggle to remember to focus on yourself. To be a good leader, it’s important to take moments to refuel and—to borrow a phrase from the airline industry— “put the oxygen mask on yourself first so you’re in the best position to help others.” This is something I am still learning to do!
Given the current state of the world, what would you say are the most in-demand career skills of today?
“For soft skills, the ability to deal with ambiguity is key. If you’re looking for a playbook or a clear roadmap, that likely won’t happen. You need to have a certain level of independence and the ability to quickly adjust to change.
The second is collaboration. This is especially important during this period where many companies are shifting to full time remote work, or giving employees the option to return to the office or work from home, or take a hybrid approach. Communication and collaboration are critical when you don’t have the opportunity to meet regularly in person.
Across Facebook offices, we have posters that say ‘Give more than you take,’ and I also look for that when I’m talking to candidates—in terms of how they show up. We talk about this all the time as a team. It’s not just the business and the revenue we track. It’s also about our mission and how connected we feel with our community and our clients. Are we bringing the world closer together?
Another important soft skill that is very important is resilience. You may deal with people who move slower than you or need to pivot or stop their work with you to focus on their own challenges and priorities. Even if you have broad awareness, there could be sudden industry headwinds or a whole economy could collapse. You live in markets that are vibrant but also somewhat volatile, so having resilience is very important.
When it comes to hard skills, it’s important to have a deeply analytical mindset even for non-technical roles. For example, beyond the present work and the next marketing campaign, we have to think about data-driven advice on markets to expand into. We need to consider things like cross-border insights, roll-out strategies, and advice on digital transformation.
The other hard skill I look for is planning ability and execution rigor. We look for people who are able to set a strong strategy, but setting strategy is useless if you can’t break it down into what needs to get done today and what needs to play out longer term. Foresight should be matched equally by planning and execution.”
What are your thoughts on the new jobs of today, and how has the current pandemic changed that landscape?
“I think all jobs will become new eventually. For example, before conversational commerce, you didn't need people to manage chatbot services. What started off as disruption in retail with ecommerce is now fintech, healthtech, edutech. Over a period of time, these industries are going to be fairly ubiquitous and tech will become a part of every industry.
We’re seeing this now as a side effect of the pandemic. Many job sectors have been deeply impacted and companies are being forced to rethink and transform their business models. For example, we’re seeing a lot of small businesses coming online for the first time, creating new opportunities, from website design and marketing to analytics and monetizing. To support small businesses, Facebook launched a $100 million grant program earlier in the year to help them weather the disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
One thing candidates should also consider during this time of change is expanding their skill set. With the push for companies to move online, and also the surge in demand for products and services that have seen tremendous growth given so many people are at home — the gaming industry, for example — there are also opportunities to pivot your career path. Facebook partnered with Coursera on a digital marketing certification course to help people gain a competitive advantage and get industry-recognized education in this field.
Are there any trends you’re noticing when it comes to the new jobs of today?
“I think the new part will be the speed at which all of this has to happen at once as everything keeps changing and evolving. One day, you could be in a certain role. Tomorrow, the whole company may pivot to something else. You should be ok with that. Agility and adapting to a steep learning curve is key.
When our team first started, it was just the Facebook app—then we expanded to other platforms like Instagram and Messenger. Within a short time, our team has had to upskill and understand products across platforms. There have also been big industry trends that have changed the platform. Video is slated to be 80% of the world’s internet traffic by 2021. Facebook has evolved as a platform for posting text to one for posting pictures, and now videos.
I also think that relocation has been a big trend during the pandemic. When people work from home, your proximity to the office matters less, and your quality of life matters more. Regions like Asia Pacific will see more growth as it’s such an exciting market and there are reports that the market could rebound faster than other areas.
Are there any key learnings from the last six months that you’d like to share?
I’ve been reflecting a lot on how the pandemic has changed things. One area in particular is related to working mothers. Recent studies have shown that one in four women may opt out of the workforce given the demands of juggling being a parent and having a career. I see this as a moment, and tremendous opportunity, for companies and leaders to really evaluate how they’re showing up for their teams. How are we supporting new moms? How are we giving people space to balance these new demands?
Retention is critical and people development should always be a long-term strategy. It’s really easy to lead when things are easy. But how we, as leaders, respond to times of crisis is when true leadership shines through. If we’re not showing up for our people in times of crisis, why should they stay? A huge part of this goes back to leading from a place of empathy.
At Facebook, we were one of the first large tech companies to pivot to a full time work from home policy at the start of the pandemic. We paused reviews so people didn’t need to worry about performance evaluations. A lot of companies immediately looked at cost-cutting measures. Facebook put people first. And we prioritized showing up for the community through donations and also through work we’ve done with organizations like the World Health Organization. All of this made me feel really supported and very proud to be at Facebook.
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