How LinkedIn Works to Make its Managers Best in Class

August 29, 2016

When I started as head of global talent at LinkedIn in 2013, we were in the midst of hypergrowth. In the following three years, we more than tripled the size of our workforce, going from 3,000 people to roughly 10,000.

When your company grows that quickly, you can lose your culture, fast. If our values weren’t clearly defined as we were bringing in all those new people with their own ideas, we could have lost what made us LinkedIn.

To ensure that didn’t happen, my initial thought was to focus on our executives, as they are key to defining our culture. Thankfully, they weren’t an issue. Our workforce had overwhelmingly positive things to say about our executive team and our CEO, Jeff Weiner.

That said, I soon found out that another group is just as critical as senior leadership for defining our culture – our people managers. No matter how strong our leadership is, our people managers have far more impact on our employees’ day-to-day lives. And, if our people managers aren’t strong, there’s a problem.

It’s not that we had bad management at LinkedIn. It was solid, but I wanted to make it spectacular. So, over the past couple of years, we have emphasized making our managers best in class.

What a great manager at LinkedIn looks like

Before we could improve our managers, we had to define what a great manager looks like. After discussing it, we agreed that a manager is someone who gets the most out of his or her people and creates an environment where all employees feel valued.

The problem is managers tend to subconsciously favor people like them. Say the manager is an extrovert – chances are that manager will connect more with extroverts than introverts on their team, and that those extroverts will flourish more because of that.

Since this is subconscious, managers rarely fix this on their own. It will only stop when someone else points it out and provides effective training. We found that once managers recognized their own patterns, they were better prepared and eager to change. They recognized that diversity of thought and creating a high performing, engaged team was critical to all of our success.

Also, we encourage a positive environment, and we want to celebrate our wins. However, a boss shouldn’t be an unabashed cheerleader. One of our core values at LinkedIn is to be open, honest and constructive.

For managers, that means three things:

  • A great manager needs to be able to give and receive feedback effectively.

  • A great manager should set goals and create a “check in” cadence that works for both parties to ensure effective execution.

  • A great manager should have career conversations with their employees and set clear development goals with them.

Again, we had a solid management team at LinkedIn. But we did see occasional deficiencies in these areas, so we took action.

Why we build “heat maps” for each manager

Before we could get prescriptive on how to help specific managers, we needed to clearly define each one’s areas of improvement. We created “heat maps” for each of our managers that identified those areas.

So what’s a heat map?

A heat map is a reflection of various data inputs that suggest which areas managers are strong in and which areas they are weak in. For example, maybe they are really good at making their employees feel included but do a poor job of giving constructive feedback. Or vice versa. Everyone has something they can work on.

So how do we get the data for these heat maps?

We have a variety of ways to measure the strength of our managers. They include:

  • Our Employee Voice Survey, which we send out at least twice a year. For that, we ask our employees about their experiences at LinkedIn, including specific questions on how they feel about their managers.

  • Our employee exit survey, which occurs when an employee leaves LinkedIn. While this is a retroactive view, it does help us address any deficiencies a manager might have. If a manager’s team has high turnover, this is particularly critical.

  • Our job candidates survey, in which we solicit feedback from applicants who interview with our managers. This measures their experiences. A big part of a manager’s job is hiring well. We want our managers to be talent magnets not talent detractors.

Explaining ManageIn

To help our managers improve, we built the optional (although strongly recommended) ManageIn program. ManageIn is a three-day in-person training session for managers that seeks to serve as their mirror, among other things.

By that, I mean we want to show managers their strengths, highlight areas for further development and explore their subconscious biases. For example, say a manager is an introvert. We want that manager to know how that personality type can be interpreted by a diverse team. Are the extroverts on the team “hearing” enough? Is the manager engaging with the team socially enough to bring it together?  

Once the manager is consciously aware of these dynamics, he or she can guard against subconsciously favoring introverts. The manager can avoid leading a team that misinterprets silence.

In addition, we provide training via role-playing and other means on conflict resolution, communication and other skills that all managers need. From there, we also assign a coach to each manager. Coaches work with managers for four sessions after ManageIn to help them become stronger leaders. To build a skill, one must practice.

If a manager needs more help after those four sessions, the coach will stay on and continue to act as a mentor.

One thing we want to instill during ManageIn training – managing is a privilege. Many people become managers because they see it as a way to advance their careers. To guard against that, we have designed career paths at LinkedIn so people can advance their careers without getting into management.

At LinkedIn, we only want managers who fully understand the responsibility a manager has – specifically, that they have a tremendous impact on the happiness and development of their team members. Once a person fully appreciates that, they instantly become a more compassionate, more effective leader.

Training beyond ManageIn

As effective as our ManageIn program is, we’ve found that its in-person training session and four coaching sessions aren’t enough. A single training course can’t cover every topic, and people don’t retain everything they’ve learned in their three days at ManageIn, or even during their four coaching sessions.

Because of this, we continue to provide training to our managers via courses and other online resources that allow our managers to improve their skills as needed.By giving them access to these online resources, they can learn what they need, when they need it.

How our managers improved

So how has it gone? How have we improved our managers?

I never like to declare mission accomplished, as we are constantly a work in progress. But the results have been promising so far.

For example, ManageIn alone has made our managers 8 percent more effective, on average, according to our employee survey data. We see that number continue to improve with the online training that follows.

But those are just numbers. Think about what that really means.

From a business perspective, it means our culture is stronger than it was before. I’ve always believed that our culture here at LinkedIn is one of our biggest competitive advantages. And we’ve found that a strong culture allows us to attract, retain and inspire the great people we need to thrive as a company.

More importantly, think about what having better managers means to our employees. While still not perfect, it means more of our people here at LinkedIn feel both comfortable and challenged at work. It means more people are excited to come to work each day.  It means they feel like their voices are being heard.

And that, to me, is something to be celebrated.